Editors’ Note: On June 23 The Nation published a story–based on a five-month investigation by Babak Sarfaraz and the Investigative Fund of The Nation Institute–that presented powerful evidence that three US hikers (Shane Bauer, Josh Fattal and Sarah Shourd) were seized by Iranian forces in Iraqi territory. We located two Kurdish eyewitnesses to the arrest who saw uniformed guards from NAJA, Iran’s national police force, walk into Iraqi territory, where they lack jurisdiction, and apprehend the hikers.
Now, a US military report released by WikiLeaks corroborates our story. The initial military field report, made just hours after the hikers were detained, is labeled "(Criminal Event) Kidnapping," and reports the "kidnapping of 3 Americans who were being taken to the Iranian border." The military report says that the Americans "were hiking near the Iranian border when taken," and includes a grid of possible locations where the hikers were seized–all of which are in Iraq. The report identifies Bauer, Fattal and Shourd as "Tourists/Reporters."
While initial military assessments are sometimes incorrect and later amended, the New York Times contacted a US government official who served in Iraq who told the Times that the field report was "generally consistent with what he had been told by Iraqi officials–namely, that the hikers were close to the border but on the Iraqi side."
The release of this document by WikiLeaks raises as many questions as it answers. Why did the US military not make this information public in the days immediately after the hikers’ arrest, when such information could have pressured the Iranian government to release the hikers? Was this report conveyed to the US State Department—and if so, when? When The Nation contacted the US State Department in June, a spokesman told us that our article was the first time State had been presented with the claim that the hikers were seized by Iranian forces in Iraqi territory.
The military report concludes with an "S2 [military intelligence] assessment that "The lack of coordination on the part of these hikers, particularly after being forewarned, indicates an intent to agitate and create publicity regarding international policies on Iran." This conclusion is at odds with what family, friends and colleagues of the hikers–including this magazine where Bauer worked as a freelance journalist–have said about the hikers, namely that they were there as tourists who had no intent to report on Iran, much less "agitate and create publicity." Did this perhaps faulty intelligence assessment play a role in determining how the US military and later the US State Department dealt with the case?
Sarah Shourd was released on September 14, 2010. Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal are still in Iranian custody and face a trial on November 6 for illegal entry and espionage.
Our June 23 article appears in full below. –Richard Kim
US Hikers Were Seized in Iraq