I didn’t write anything about the Iranian seizure of British sailors and marines until now. Its an old game the Iranians play – think of the American embassy seizure in Teheran. And why not do it – there haven’t exactly been consequences for seizing the American embassy. Carter tried and failed to effect a rescue, and to this day its not exactly clear what the deal was between Reagan and the Iranians in 1980. (We do know there was a later deal involving missiles and a bible and a cake for the Ayatollah, but that doesn’t exactly qualify as punishment either – not for the Iranians and not for the Americans that were involved.)
Unfortunately, at one point, at least with respect to the Iranian activities of this kind, we (a broad we: Anglo-Americans) had something of a moral authority. But it gradually went away. I recall how the US violated international law by sending soldiers into the Nicaraguan embassy during the Panama invasion and trucked away whatever they found, just as an example. But my ambivalence to the story is best described by three letters to the editor in today’s LA Times:
Re “Freed British sailors say their confessions were coerced,” April 7
The British sailors captured by Iran say they were “put up against a wall, hands bound, blindfolded, and there were people cocking weapons in the background.” They were also kept in isolation for a few days and threatened with seven-year prison sentences.
American officials capture a large number of terrorism suspects, keep them in isolation for years, waterboard them, strip them naked, coerce confessions and never tell them when they will be freed. They are never charged or allowed to have a fair trial. I think I’d rather be captured by the Iranians any day.
The next time the U.S. government boasts about “confessions” made by detainees held at Guantanamo Bay for several years, remember the “confessions” made by the British sailors after only a few days in custody in Iran.
There was a time when the Iranians’ treatment of the captured British sailors would have caused American outrage. Now, thanks to President Bush, our response to tales of solitary confinement is, “What, no waterboarding?”