Two Americans held in Tehran since 2009 on spying charges have arrived in the United States with sharp criticism of Iran, saying they were detained because of their nationality, not their actions.
Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer returned to the United States on September 25 following their release on September 21 on $1 million bail.
Fattal and Bauer were arrested with their friend Sarah Shourd along the Iraq-Iran border in July 2009. Shourd had been released on $500,000 bail a year ago.
Last month, Fattal and Bauer were sentenced to eight years in prison after a trial held behind closed doors in Tehran. Washington denies the group were spies and U.S. President Barack Obama has said they should never have been detained.
Speaking at a press conference in New York on September 25, Fattal told reporters the case against them was a complete fabrication by the Iranian regime.
"It was clear to us from the very beginning that we were hostages," Fattal said. "'Hostage' is the most accurate term because, despite certain knowledge of our innocence, the Iranian government has tied our case to its political disputes with the U.S."
Bauer said no evidence against them was ever produced in court, and that the only explanation for their prolonged detention was "32 years of mutual hostility between America and Iran."
"The two court sessions we attended were a total sham. They were made up of ridiculous lies that depicted us as being involved in an elaborate American-Israeli conspiracy to undermine Iran," Bauer said. "Sarah, Josh, and I have experienced a taste of the Iranian regime's brutality."
Bauer and Fattal at the first session of their trial in Tehran on February 6.
Iran charged the three with espionage and illegally entering Iran. Bauer and Fattal say they were hiking in the border region between Iraq and Iran and were detained by an Iranian soldier who had beckoned them to come closer. Bauer says they still don't know if they actually crossed the unmarked border on their own or were taken into Iran from Iraqi territory by the Iranian soldier.
"But we would like to be very clear," Bauer said. "This was never about crossing the unmarked border between Iran and Iraq. We were held because of our nationality."
Bauer and Fattal's release coincided with Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's visit to New York for the UN General Assembly. Ahmadinejad, at odds with Washington and other Western governments over Iran's nuclear program, described the release as a humanitarian gesture.
But Fattal says there was nothing humanitarian about the way he or other prisoners were treated at Tehran's Evin prison.
"We had to go on hunger strike repeatedly just to receive letters from our loved ones," Fattal said. "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 men spent the first three months of their detention in solitary confinement before they were put in a 2.5-meter by 4-meter cell together. They say they spent their time reading and testing each other on various topics and were allowed a short time in an outside room to exercise daily.
Fattal said that during 781 days in jail, they had a total of 15 minutes of phone calls with their families and one short visit from their mothers.
"We applaud the Iranian authorities for finally making the right decision regarding our case," Fattal said. "But we want to be clear that they do not deserve undue credit for ending what they had no right and no justification to start in the first place."
Bauer said whenever they complained about their treatment, the guards would remind them of conditions at secret CIA prisons and at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where terrorism suspects are held.
Bauer said human rights violations at Guantanamo Bay do not for a moment justify the treatment that he, Fattal, and Shourd received from Iranian authorities.
written by Ron Synovitz, with agency reports