Roxana Saberi and U.S. Detainees

'This isn't America, we don't waterboard here'

Roxana SaberiThose words were spoken to Roxana Saberi by her Iranian captors while she was being detained in 2009. Think about that. While it might not be accurate, it is a fact that Iran treats its foreign detainees accused of hostile acts better than we do. Yes, the Iranians extracted a coerced confession from Saberi. But the coercion, while reprehensible, did not involve torture. They only threatened a 20-year prison sentence and mentioned the possibility of the death sentence. Routine "bad cop" district attorney behavior in America. (click the photo for the video snippet)

Also reprehensible, but also much better than America's behavior, was Saberi's treatment by the Iranian courts. Saberi was arrested on January 31, 2009. During the first week in March, her detention was publicly acknowledged and she was allowed access to a lawyer. She was charged with espionage on April 8th and convicted in a closed-door trial and given an eight-year sentence on April 18th. Many groups immediately protested this decision, including the President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. An appeal was heard May 10th and her sentence was reduced to a two-year suspended sentence the next day. Saberi was in the U.S. shortly thereafter.

Some U.S. detainees were and are hidden from the Red Cross for years. Many were tortured and most were and are routinely subjected to inhumane treatment. Most detainees were never charged with a crime. Access to a lawyer is as impossible as the government can make it. The right to challenge their detention in a court of law was only allowed after a Supreme Court decision forced it six years after Guantanamo opened. Even when prisoners are ordered to be released, it takes months or years for it to actually happen. Or it might never happen: 58 Yemeni prisoners are slated for release but are not allowed to be returned to Yemen, so they are staying in Guantanamo indefinitely.

Again, indefinite detention anywhere of anyone is absolutely horrible. The point is just how horrible America's record is, even when compared to despotic regimes like Iran. The current human rights violation of the three U.S. hikers is a tragedy. It is a disgrace that, from only our non-Iraq detentions, we've done worse to thousands of people.

Saberi's website and book, Between Two Worlds: My Life and Captivity in Iran.

UPDATE: There is no denying, Iran is a brutally repressive country. 12,000 executions since 1979. (Source) The U.S. had 1,225 in the same period. (Source) Although, Texas had 463, or 1 in 43,197 people. The average population over this time period is 20 million people. Iran, with 55 million people on average, this stat is 1 in 45,833. So Texas has executed more people per capita than Iran since 1979.

Another point that arises from the NYR Blog post - international condemnation can influence Iran. So far, it has done almost nothing for our detainees. The closest case might be of David Hicks, an Australian convert to Islam, who did get out of Guantanamo and received a lighter sentence in exchange for a confession and a gag order on mentioning torture. And the deal was directly negotiated between Dick Cheney and David Howard, the Australian Prime Minister. So, it's not very close.