Hiking In the Danger Zone

Update below.

It is hoped that the enormous amount of data on the Iraq war 2003-2010 which have been made public by Julian Assange and WikiLeaks this week will keep analysts busy for the coming weeks. Amazingly, the leaked 391,832 military documents, the so called Iraq War Logs, contain a note about the three American hikers, Shane Bauer, Joshua Fattal and Sarah Shourd, who had been arrested on 31 July 2009 when unintentionally trespassing into Iranian territory. A fourth one had not joined the group but had received a call from Sarah Shourd that they had been surrounded by armed men. The incident happened in the Kurdish Iraq-Iran border area about 40 miles southeast of As Sulaymaniyah. See a satellite image here. Sarah had been released only recently, after more than one year in detention for “humanitarian reasons” due to health issues. Probably, a bail of $500,000 had been paid by Oman’s Sultan Qabous bin Said al Said.

The leaked military document may in fact shed new light on the hikers’ motivations and may underscore the Pentagon’s and the Obama Administration’s concern that sensitive information, if revealed to the public, may in fact harm.

As the New York Times reports yesterday, in the leaked military report the seizure of the hikers was generally considered a kidnapping. This view has also been expressed in some western mainstream media. The leaked report gives detailed information as regards the exact location where the kidnapping incident happened: grid 38SNE 267 395. It seems that the whole enterprise was under close surveillance of American officials. Once they had been detained at 1600, there were several logs indicating briefings and other activities.

The leaked report also suggests that the three hikers had in fact not been “tourists” but rather activists. It says,

“S2 ASSESSMENT: The lack of coordination on the part of these hikers, particularly after being forewarned, indicates an intent to agitate and create publicity regarding international policies on Iran. The leadership in Iran benefits as it focuses the Iranian population on a perceived external threat rather than internal dissension. Kurdish leaders remain concerned about international perceptions regarding security as they seek to increase investment in the KRG. Expect KRG leadership to intervene to return the 3 individuals and the Iranian government to accuse them of being spies. Additionally, KRG leadership may impose additional restrictions on private activities near the Iranian border.” (Emphasis added.)

No good news for the two remaining hikers, Bauer and Fattal, who are still detained and who are going to be tried next month.

Update November 2, 2010. In a rather implausible attempt of correcting the emerging impression that she and her two hiker-friends had been activists seeking publicity when having approached the Iraq-Iran border last July, Sarah Shourd yesterday gave an interview to The New York Times which had published the WikiLeaked report on the incident quoting an unidentified official saying that, “The lack of coordination on the part of these hikers, particularly after being forewarned, indicates an intent to agitate and create publicity regarding international policies on Iran.” Iran’s Prosecutor General Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei has, in the meantime, postponed the scheduled trial of Joshua Fattal and Shane Bauer “until the person (Shourd) is summoned.” Sarah Shourd had been released from Evin prison in September upon a huge bail of $500,000 due to serious health problems had been paid, probably by the Omani Sultan Qaboos.

Last updated November 2, 2010.

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