Iran Hikers: U.S. Government Pawns

Shirin Sadeghi – Huffington Post August 29, 2011

Since Iran announced its verdict last week for the pair of American hikers caught in 2009 along the Iran-Iraq border, the American media’s Iran bashing has slid into its comfort zone. And once again a human rights issue has been transformed into a tool for prejudice.

Instead of helping with the case of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, the last two years have been used as an opportunity for the United States government and the mainstream media, over which it has such immense influence, to attack Iran.

The ongoing characterization of Iran as an evil-doer also stokes the fires of prejudice against Iranians and Iranian-Americans.

In addition, it ignores the serious concerns that Iran has about foreigners destabilizing the country from within. Many Americans don’t know that the area of the Iran-Iraq border where these young men were found is a particularly sensitive one due to heightened British and American efforts in recent years to sow the seeds of secession amongst Kurds in the region.

U.S. Holds Iranian Political Prisoners

Dismissing Iran’s sovereignty and using the young hikers’ case to position a negative image of Iran among Americans is not conducive to the release of these two men and is a useful distraction to the fact that the U.S. government itself is in possession of a number of Iranian political prisoners, some held in the United States and others held in Iraq.

It was not long ago that the U.S. government valued journalist Roxana Saberi enough to get her out of that same Iranian prison in five months. These young men have clearly not been given the priority that Saberi received. Bauer and Fattal have been imprisoned in Iran’s Evin prison for two years now.

The treatment of their case raises the question whether they are being used as part of an Iran strategy that depends on sustaining American public opinion against Iran.

At the height of their recent trial, which ended in an eight-year sentence (the exact sentence Saberi was given not long before it was reduced and she was released), a State Department report was officially released stating that of all the countries in the world, “the most active state sponsor of terrorism in 2010” was Iran – and it “had a direct impact on international efforts to promote peace.”

That ill-timed comment appeared as the United States is actively involved in wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Libya.

U.S. Policy on Border Crossers

The anti-Iran strategy is even more curious when one considers that the U.S. government doesn’t exactly have the ethical legs to stand on when it comes to the treatment of political prisoners and people crossing borders without visas.

Imagine what would happen if an Iranian and his buddies were caught hiking on the U.S. side of the Texas border without a visa. They might be treated with – let’s call it “concern.”

If you – U.S. citizen you, or U.S. visa-holder you – have ever been randomly checked by the TSA in an American airport – been insulted, violated and groped – magnify that for a moment. Your experience might give you some idea of what happens behind closed doors to visa-less, undocumented people, who find themselves on the wrong side of the U.S. border.

In the United States, detention centers are, for many immigrants, a dead zone, where they lose a grip on their families and their futures. Some await official word for months or years. Contact with their families is – for many – nonexistent. Almost all of them suffer in anonymity, usually without a lawyer and any knowledge of their rights and means of recourse.

None of them have actually committed a crime by being undocumented: Immigration violation itself is not a crime but a civil issue that is meant to ignite a formal immigration process.

Remember Gitmo?

And then there is the sad, illegal and inhumane state of affairs known as Gitmo.

In Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. government is incarcerating individuals (including journalists), who have had nary a lawyer, a trial or contact with their families for years – and in some cases nearly a decade. For these prisoners there have been numerous reports of abuses. And in their case, most were not on the wrong side of the U.S. border, but on the wrong side of the borders of U.S. government interests.

This practice of grabbing foreign nationals and charging them with high crimes like espionage and terrorism with little to no evidence needs to come to an end – no matter if it is being done in Guantanamo Bay or Evin prison.

May he who is without hypocrisy cast the first stone. Otherwise, may he who claims to be more democratic set an example for the rest of the world to follow.

It might actually do Bauer and Fattal some good.