- (Photo:REUTERS/Jumana El Heloueh)
After 781 days in an Iranian prison with no outside communication, two Americans were freed from captivity last week under a $1 million bail deal. After spending time with family in Oman, they are now back on U.S. soil and eager to speak out about their ordeal.
Within hours of their arrival in the U.S., Americans Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer spoke at a press conference on Sunday in a Manhattan hotel. The two were arrested by the Iranian government in July of 2009, along with their friend Sarah Shourd. All three allegedly crossed into Iranian territory while hiking in Kurdistan, a part of northern Iraq. Once taken into custody, the Iranian government accused them of being spies.
The pair claims they have no idea whether they actually crossed the border during their hike or not.
"Even if we did enter Iran, that has never been the reason the Iranian authorities kept us in prison for so long," Bauer said. "The only explanation for our prolonged detention is the 32 years of mutual hostility between America and Iran."
"From the very start, the only reason we have been held hostage is because we are American," Fattal said. "Iran has always tied our case to its political disputes with the U.S."
The two described their two-year ordeal in their 8- by-13-foot cell as living in "a world of lies and false hope." Solitary confinement, they said, had been the worst experience of their lives. They were often told that their families had stopped writing to them and that the American government had given up on trying to free them.
In actuality, their government was working hard for their freedom and Fattal’s mother, Laura, sent one letter to her son each day he was imprisoned.
While in isolation, they were only allowed a total of 15 minutes of phone calls with their families.
"We have been held in almost total isolation from the world and everything we love," Bauer said.
To keep their sanity and some sense of normalcy, the pair would exercise each day and grill each other on trivia questions. They would also read whenever and whatever they could.
"They were very serious about their exercise and they used water bottles as weights in their cells to build muscles," Laura Fattal told ABC News.
Not only were they lied to, but often times were blindfolded and beaten. However, it was the noise from the other prisoners that haunted them the most.
"Many times, too many times, we heard the screams of other prisoners being beaten," Fattal said.
Shourd said Bauer was beaten and Fattal was pushed down a flight of stairs during their imprisonment together. Shourd, who was released for medical reasons in September 2010, told CNN that the screams that echoed within the prison "will always be with me."
"I don't know what was being done to them," she continued. "But not being able to help another human being, being completely impotent and unable to do anything to ease their suffering, is something I'll never forget."
Bauer and Fattal went on to condemn the Iranians but also criticized U.S. foreign policy and practices. The irony of the ordeal, Bauer said, was that all three of the hikers have always opposed U.S. policies toward their captors’ country which they claim make Iran more hostile.
The U.S. and Iran have had a long and hostile relationship since the 1979 Iranian revolution when a favorable Iranian government was replaced by the anti-American leader Ayatollah Khomeini. For years following the revolution, the U.S. has accused and opposed Iran's intentions of building nuclear weapons. Iran denies such intentions.
Some of the pair's seemingly political statements have raised a few eyebrows around Washington. Bauer said that whenever they would complain about the horrific conditions in Tehran’s infamous Evin Prison, their jailers would "immediately remind us of comparable conditions at Guantanamo Bay. They would remind us of CIA prisons in other parts of the world."
“We do not believe that such human rights violations on the part of our government justifies what has been done to us. Not for a moment. However, we do believe that these actions on the part of the U.S. provide an excuse to other governments, particularly the government of Iran, to act in kind.”