The release of detained American hikers Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer by the Iranian government last Wednesday was a rare bit of good news. They have now arrived back in the United States and on Sunday gave their first press conference on US soil.
Josh and Shane were detained by the Iranian authorities, along with their friend Sarah Shourd, while hiking along the Iraq- Iran border in 2009.
They were held in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison on espionage charges for more than two years. They had little contact with the outside world and communication with their families was almost impossible.
There was an overwhelming sense that the duration of their incarceration had more to do with politics and events outside their control than with the actual circumstances of their case.
Perhaps worst of all, the physical abuse of detainees was commonplace in Evin Prison. Josh Fattal told reporters:
“Many times — too many times — we heard the screams of other prisoners being beaten, and there was nothing we could do to help them.”
The appalling treatment of detainees in the Iranian prison system is hardly a new story but Shane Bauer dropped a bombshell when he told the press conference that:
“Every time we complained about our conditions, the guards would immediately remind us of comparable conditions at Guantanamo Bay… We do believe that these actions on the part of the U.S. provide an excuse for other governments, including the government of Iran, to act in kind.”
As Congress debates new provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would keep Guantanamo open indefinitely, this is an important reality check for policymakers.
When Iranian prison guards are telling you that your system is no different then theirs, you need to take a good long hard look in the mirror.
Guantanamo Bay has become a global byword for injustice and abuse but it is important to note that it doesn’t just undermine the credibility of the United States, it also empowers by example tyrannical regimes around the world to abuse prisoners in their custody with relative impunity.
Josh and Shane’s case reminds us that those prisoners sometimes include US citizens.
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