THE HIKERS COME HOME: On July 31, 2009—just a few weeks after The Nation had published his cover story on the US-trained Iraqi Special Operations Forces—Shane Bauer, along with his friends Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal, were arrested by Iranian authorities along the Iran-Iraq border. In the days that followed, a small circle of Shane’s colleagues did what we could to fill in gaps of information and help their families get sound advice. It felt like a dramatic but short-term crisis; we anticipated Shane, Sarah and Josh’s release within hours, maybe days.
In fact, 781 days went by before the ordeal came to an end. Shane and Josh are finally reunited with their families and with Sarah, who was released last year. During their two years in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison, they were held in almost complete isolation and allowed just fifteen minutes of phone calls and a single, brief visit from their mothers. According to Josh, they repeatedly went on hunger strikes just to get letters from loved ones. “In prison,” he says, “we lived in a world of lies and false hope.”
A few things stand out about this saga. First, the jaw-dropping courage and devotion of the families of Shane, Josh and Sarah—especially their mothers, Cindy Hickey, Laura Fattal and Nora Shourd. There was no justice system to which they could directly appeal, no diplomatic ties between the United States and Iran and, most distressing, no regular access to information about their children’s condition. Yet they waged a tireless campaign, taking to Twitter, Facebook, filmmakers, morning TV talk shows, radio and the global media.
The second thing that stands out is the courage of Iranian journalist Babak Sarfaraz, who reported for The Nation on the circumstances of the arrests. Sarfaraz and his researchers risked their lives to bring us the story, which was published on June 23, 2010, and quoted witnesses alleging that the three hikers had, in fact, been abducted on the Iraqi side of the border.
Finally, now that Shane is free, it is remarkable to hear his account of the incarceration; his compassion for others who are still unjustly being held by the Iranian regime; and his frank but nuanced acknowledgment of how, in the eyes of that regime, the US government’s treatment of “war on terror” suspects played a role in legitimizing his abuse at the hands of Iranian prison guards.
“There are people in Iran who are imprisoned for years simply for attending a protest, for writing a pro-democracy blog or for worshiping an unpopular faith,” he said in a statement, calling on Iran to “release all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience immediately.”
“In prison,” he went on, “every time we complained about our conditions, the guards would immediately remind us of comparable conditions at Guantánamo Bay. They would remind us of CIA prisons in other parts of the world and the conditions that Iranians and others experience in prisons in the US. We do not believe that such human rights violations on the part of our government justify what has been done to us…. However, we do believe that these actions on the part of the US provide an excuse for other governments, including the government of Iran, to act in kind. Thank you.” RICHARD KIM