The hostages held in Iran described beatings, theft, the fear of bodily harm while being paraded blindfold before a large, angry chanting crowd outside the embassy, having their hands bound “day and night” for days or even weeks, long periods of solitary confinement and months of being forbidden to speak to one another or stand, walk, and leave their space unless they were going to the bathroom. In particular they felt the threat of trial and execution, as all of the hostages “were threatened repeatedly with execution.” The hostage takers, among other things, played Russian roulette with their victims.
(from Denver Post, by Matthew Barakat of the Associated Press) McLEAN, Va. — To some of the Americans subjected to mock executions and other torment during more than a year as hostages in Iran more than 30 years ago, it seems like a mistake to trust the regime in Tehran to keep its promises in a nuclear deal brokered by the U.S. and other world powers.
The prolonged hostage crisis that began in 1979 gnawed at American emotions and touched off decades of animosity between the U.S. and a nation that had once been an ally. The latest deal has been touted as a trust-building endeavor, though some who endured captivity are skeptical.
“It’s kind of like Jimmy Carter all over again,” said Clair Cortland Barnes, now retired and living in Leland, N.C., after a career at the CIA and elsewhere. He sees the negotiations now as no more effective than they were for the Carter administration, when he and others languished in Iran as hostages.
Retired Air Force Col. Thomas E. Schaefer, 83, called the deal “foolishness.”
“My personal view is, I never found an Iranian leader I can trust,” he said. “I don’t think today it’s any different from when I was there. None of them, I think, can be trusted. Why make an agreement with people you can’t trust?”
Schaefer was a military attache in Iran who was among those held hostage. He now lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., with his wife of more than 60 years, Anita, who also takes a dim view of the agreement…
The [recent] agreement between Iran and six world powers—the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany— is to temporarily halt parts of Tehran’s disputed nuclear program and allow for more intrusive international monitoring of Iran’s facilities. In exchange, Iran gains some modest relief from stiff economic sanctions and a pledge from Obama that no new penalties will be levied during the six months.
The hostage crisis began in November 1979 when militants stormed the United States Embassy in Tehran and seized its occupants. In all, 66 were taken hostage. Thirteen were released less than three weeks later in 1979; one was released in July 1980; the remaining 52 were released Jan. 20, 1981.
To be sure, the former hostages have varying views. Victor Tomseth, 72, a retired diplomat from Vienna, Va., sees the pact as a positive first step.
Tomseth, who was a political counselor at the embassy in Tehran in 1979, had written a diplomatic cable months before the hostage crisis warning about the difficulties of negotiation with the Iranians. Among other issues, Tomseth wrote that “the Persian experience has been that nothing is permanent and it is commonly perceived that hostile forces abound.”
As a result, he wrote that Iranians are more likely to be preoccupied with the short-term gains of an agreement and to treat negotiations as adversarial.
Still, he said in a phone interview Monday that it is possible to cut a mutually beneficial deal with them. …
John Limbert, 70, of Arlington, who was a political officer held hostage during the crisis and later became deputy assistant secretary of state for Iran in 2009 and 2010, also supports the deal. He said he does not view it in terms of whether Iran can be trusted, but whether the regime recognizes that a deal is in its own interest.
“I would say there is a consensus among the leadership, and the consensus is, ‘We like to stay in power. We like our palaces. … We’ve seen the alternatives in Egypt and Tunisia,” where established regimes have been toppled, Limbert said. …
Although the hostages were largely unaware, the hostage crisis dominated the American consciousness, as images of blindfolded hostages were broadcast nightly. A failed attempt to rescue the hostages in April 1980 resulted in the deaths of eight American servicemen. President Jimmy Carter’s inability to resolve the crisis contributed to his defeat in the 1980 elections.
For other hostages, though, their experience has led them to the conclusion that attempting to negotiate and expecting Iran to live up to its end of the bargain is a losing proposition. Sgt. Rodney “Rocky” Sickmann, 56, of St. Louis, then a Marine sergeant, remembers clearly being told by his captors that their goal was to use the hostages to humiliate the American government, and he suspects this interim deal is in that vein.
“It just hurts. We negotiated for 444 days and not one time did they agree to anything … and here they beg for us to negotiate and we do,” he said. “It’s hard to swallow. We negotiate with our enemies and stab our allies in the back. That doesn’t seem good.”
The deal may also have a direct effect on some of the hostages who have long fought to sue the Iranian government for damages. The new agreement calls for $4.2 billion in frozen Iranian assets to be released, which could make it more difficult to collect a judgment on any successful lawsuit.
“And what do we get out of it?” asked Barnes. “A lie saying, ‘We’re not going to make plutonium.’ It’s a win-win for them and it’s a lose-lose for us.”
Associated Press writer Gene Johnson contributed to this report from Seattle.
(Originally published on Nov. 26.) Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from the Denver Post and the Associated Press. Visit the website at denverpost.com.
1. How does former hostage Clair Cortland Barnes view the Obama administration’s deal with Iran over their nuclear weapons program?
2. How does retired Air Force Col. Thomas Schaefer view President Obama’s deal with Iran? Why?
3. Describe the deal the Obama administration and others made with Iran.
4. a) How many hostages did the Iranians hold captive?
b) For how long were they held?
5. For what reason does John Limbert support the Obama administration’s deal with Iran?
6. How does Marine Sgt. Rocky Sickmann view the potential success of the deal with Iran?
7. Ask a parent, and a grandparent what they remember about the Iran Hostage Crisis, whether they support the Obama Administration’s deal with Iran, and to explain why or why not.
How American citizens taken hostage in Iran were treated by their captors:
The most terrifying night for the hostages came on February 5, 1980, when guards in black ski masks roused the 52 hostages from their sleep and led them blindfolded to other rooms. They were searched after being ordered to strip themselves until they were bare, and to keep their hands up. They were then told to kneel down. “This was the greatest moment” as one hostage said. They were still wearing the blindfolds, so naturally, they were terrified even further. One of the hostages later recalled ‘It was an embarrassing moment. However, we were too scared to realize it.’ The mock execution ended after the guards cocked their weapons and readied them to fire but finally ejected their rounds and told the prisoners to wear their clothes again. The hostages were later told the exercise was “just a joke” and something the guards “had wanted to do”. However, this affected a lot of the hostages long after.
Michael Metrinko was kept in solitary confinement for months. On two occasions when he expressed his opinion of Ayatollah Khomeini and he was punished especially severely in relation to the ordinary mistreatment of the hostages—the first time being kept in handcuffs for 24 hours a day for two weeks, and being beaten and kept alone in a freezing cell for two weeks with a diet of bread and water the second time.
One hostage, U.S. Army medic Donald Hohman, went on a hunger strike for several weeks and two hostages are thought to have attempted suicide. Steve Lauterbach became despondent, broke a water glass and slashed his wrists after being locked in a dark basement room of the chancery with his hand tightly bound and aching badly. He was found by guards, rushed to the hospital and patched up. Jerry Miele, an introverted CIA communicator technician, smashed his head into the corner of a door, knocking himself unconscious and cutting a deep gash from which blood poured. “Naturally withdrawn” and looking “ill, old, tired, and vulnerable”, Miele had become the butt of his guards’ jokes who rigged up a mock electric chair with wires to emphasize the fate that awaited him. After his fellow hostages applied first aid and raised alarm, he was taken to a hospital after a long delay created by the guards.
Different hostages described further Iranian threats to boil their feet in oil (Alan B. Golacinski), cut their eyes out (Rick Kupke), or kidnap and kill a disabled son in America and “start sending pieces of him to your wife”. (David Roeder)
Four different hostages attempted to escape all being punished with stretches of solitary confinement when their attempt was discovered.
The hostage released for multiple sclerosis, Richard Queen, first developed symptoms of dizziness and numbness in his arm six months before his release. It was misdiagnosed by Iranians first as a reaction to draft of cold air, and after warmer confinement didn’t help as “it’s nothing, it’s nothing”, the symptoms of which would soon disappear. Over the months the symptoms spread to his right side and worsened until Queen “was literally flat on his back unable to move without growing dizzy and throwing up”.
The cruelty of the Iranian prison guards became “a form of slow torture.” Guards would often withhold mail from home, telling one hostage, Charles W. Scott, “I don’t see anything for you, Mr. Scott. Are you sure your wife has not found another man?” and hostages’ possessions were stolen by their Iranian hostage takers.
As the hostages were taken to the plane that would fly them out of Tehran, they were led through a gauntlet of students forming parallel lines and shouting “Marg bar Amrika,” (death to America). When the pilot announced they were out of Iran the “freed hostages went wild with happiness. Shouting, cheering, crying, clapping, falling into one another’s arms”. (from wikipedia)
The Iranian Hostage Crisis:
In the wake of the Iranian Revolution, anti-American sentiment was widespread in Iran, and the staff at the U.S. embassy in Tehran, which at one time numbered more than 1,400, was reduced to a skeleton crew of roughly 70.
In February 1979, just weeks after deposed ruler the Shah of Iran (Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi) fled Iran, the embassy was besieged and briefly taken over by armed students. One Iranian embassy employee was killed, and a number of Americans were wounded. Iranian authorities assured the Americans that security around the embassy would be improved. However, as Britannica reports:
- In October 1979 the U.S. State Department was informed that the deposed Iranian monarch required medical treatment that his aides claimed was available only in the United States; U.S. authorities, in turn, informed the Iranian prime minister, Mehdi Bazargan, of the shah’s impending arrival on American soil.
- Bazargan, in light of the February attack, guaranteed the safety of the U.S. embassy and its staff.
- The shah arrived in New York City on October 22. The initial public response in Iran was moderate, but on November 4, 1979 the embassy was attacked by a mob of perhaps 3,000, some of whom were armed and who, after a short siege, took 63 American men and women hostage. (An additional three members of the U.S. diplomatic staff were actually seized at the Iranian Foreign Ministry.)
- Within the next few days, representatives of U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Tehran-based diplomats from other countries attempted but failed to free the hostages. An American delegation headed by former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark – who had long-standing relations with many Iranian officials – was refused admission to Iran.
- The U.S. responded by freezing Iranian assets and leveraging international support against the government in Tehran.
On November 17, 1979, Khomeini ordered the release of 13 hostages, but the remaining captives were the focus of intense diplomatic and military efforts. As Britannica describes:
- Almost from the beginning of the crisis, U.S. military forces started formulating plans to recover the hostages, and by early April 1980 the U.S. administration, still unable to find anyone to negotiate with in a meaningful fashion, was seeking a military option.
- Despite political turbulence in Iran, the hostages were still being held by their original captors in the embassy complex.
- On April 24 a small U.S. task force landed in the desert southeast of Tehrān. From that staging point, a group of special operations soldiers was to advance via helicopter to a second rally point, stage a quick raid of the embassy compound, and convey the hostages to an airstrip that was to be secured beforehand by a second team of soldiers, who were to fly there directly from outside Iran. The soldiers and hostages would then withdraw by air. However, the operation was fraught with problems from the beginning. Two of the eight helicopters sent for the operation malfunctioned before arriving at the first staging area, and another broke down on the site. Unable to complete their mission, U.S. forces sought to withdraw, during which one of the remaining helicopters collided with a support aircraft. Eight U.S. service members were killed, and their bodies, left behind, were later paraded before Iranian television cameras.
- The Carter administration, humiliated by the failed mission and loss of life, expended great energy to have the bodies returned to the United States. ….
- All diplomatic initiatives in the hostage crisis came to a standstill, and the hostages were placed, incommunicado, in new, concealed locations.
- A U.S. trade embargo, directed against Iran, followed, but it did little to resolve the diplomatic stalemate that the hostage crisis had become. The onset of hostilities with Iraq spurred the Iranians to return to the bargaining table, and indirect negotiations were carried out, with Algerian diplomats serving as back channel couriers for both sides.
- An agreement having been reached, the hostages were released on Jan. 20, 1981, just minutes after the inauguration of Pres. Ronald Reagan. The timing of the event [showed the world that the Iranians were afraid of what Reagan would do to them to get the hostages back when he took office. That is why they released them just as Reagan was inaugurated.] (from britannica.com)
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