Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, the now freed American hikers who were held in an Iranian prison after being convicted for espionage, appeared before cameras and reporters in New York on Sunday and gave prepared statements about their detentions in Iran. According to reports, the Gulf sultanate of Oman paid for both of the men’s bail ($500,000 each), the same fee that was paid for Shourd’s bail by Oman last year.
Bauer, a freelance journalist, along with Sarah Shourd, a teacher and women’s rights activist, and Fattal, an environmentalist, were arrested July 31, 2009 while hiking in Iraqi Kurdistan. Shourd was released last year. Bauer’s and Fattal’s remarks were critical of American foreign policy towards Iran as well as the Iranian government’s treatment of it’s own people.
“The only explanation for our prolonged detention is the 32 years of mutual hostility between American and Iran. The irony is Sarah Josh and I oppose U.S. policies towards Iran which perpetuate this hostility. We were convicted of espionage, because we are American,” said Bauer. He continued, “It’s that simple. No evidence was ever presented against us. That is because there is no evidence and because we are completely innocent.”
Towards the end of the men’s remarks, they began naming specific world leaders, public officials, and celebrities who the two believed helped with gaining their freedom. In fact, the two hikers specifically named among others: Venezeulan dictator Hugo Chavez, Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu, Code Pink’s Cindy Sheehan, liberal writer Noam Chomsky, and actor Sean Penn.
“From the very start, the only reason we have been held hostage is because we are American. Sarah was held for 410 days. The two of us were held for 781 days. That is far longer than the American hostages at the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979,” said Fattal.
Fattal and Bauer gave no clue as to why they were hiking on the border of Iraq and Iran, but their views of U.S. foreign policy and those who they thanked in their remarks may actually begin to paint a picture as to why they were hanging out in such a dangerous region in the world.
All three appear to be heavily involved in left-wing foreign policy activism overseas. In 2009, according to Reuters, 80 left-wing policy activists signed a letter to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad asking for the release of all three hikers: (bolding is mine)
The prominent collection of academics, intellectuals, artists, adventurers, writers, journalists and activists, urged Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to make good on his pledge to pursue maximum leniency for the three.
“To continue to detain them without due process raises grave concerns that Iran is holding these three young Americans for political purposes and calls into question Iran’s stated commitment to the rule of law,” the group said in a letter.
The signatories included, Ms. Magazine co-founder Gloria Steinem, Mother Jones magazine editor Monika Bauerlein, civil rights activist the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope, peace activist Noam Chomsky and antiwar activist Medea Benjamin, who founded the group Code Pink.
Also signing were Palestinian activist Hanan Ashrawi, Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson, former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and 1976 Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire.
Code Pink activists have gone to Iran in the past on left-wing political missions. This begs the question if the three American hikers were in the region as a result of a left-wing political activism mission that went awry at the last minute. The hikers’ statements on Sunday seems to give more evidence to this. Here’s a blog post from a 2008 Code Pink trip to Iran:
Our first meeting was with our dear friend Rostam Pourzal, who works with the anti-sanctions group CASMI. Rostam used to live in Washington DC, but moved back to Iran recently. Thank goodness he came to greet us, because it turned out that the government person who was supposed to set up our schedule today didn’t show up. So Rostam filled in the day for us with an amazing variety of activities and meetings.
First, he brought over a filmmaker, Habib Ahmadzadeh, who works on films that deal with the Iran-Iraq war. Habib took us out to a delicious lunch in a typical, old Persian restaurant where we ate scrumptious lamb, eggplant and kabobs. Then we went to his office, but along the way he stopped to show us the old, abandoned U.S. Embassy. It is now surrounded by murals with anti-American slogans—a stark reminder of the harsh rhetoric emanating from both governments.
Shane Bauer excoriated the both the U.S. and Iran. He asked, “Sarah, Josh, and I have experienced a taste of the Iranian regime’s brutality. We’ve been held in total isolation of everything we love…stripped of our rights and freedom. You may ask us, ‘Now that you are free, can you forgive the Iranian government for what it has done to you?”
“Our answer is this: How can we forgive the Iranian government when it continues to imprison so many other innocent people and prisoners of conscience. It is the Iranian people who bear the brunt of this government’s cruelty and disregard for human rights.”
Bauer also said, “In prison, every time we complained about our conditions, the guards would immediately remind us of comparable conditions at Guantanamo bay. They would remind us in other parts of the world and the conditions that Iranians and others experience in prisons in the U.S.”
“We do not believe such human rights violations on the part of our government justify what has been done to us. Not for a moment. However, we do believe these actions on the part of the U.S. provide an excuse for other governments, including the government of Iran to act in kind,” Bauer explained.
The hikers’ defenders will say Shourd, Fattal, and Bauer were on a innocent excursion and nothing else, but the hikers’ explicit political statements on Sunday as well as high profile left-wing political connections may make many wonder if their trip had less to do with sight-seeing and more to do with political activism overseas.