The Iranian government has announced that they will try the three American citizens who strayed across an unmarked border into Iran in late July. But the question remains: how can the U.S. government help free them? And what should the families do to make this perplexing story be over?
Considering similar patterns in the past, it's almost clear that the three young adventurists are not spies. In fact, if the Iranian authorities had any evidence in this regards, they would have presented it months ago in a public trial to embarrass the U.S. government; something they thrive on.
At this time the families are facing two scenarios.
First, the three Americans, Sarah E. Shourd, 31; her boyfriend, Shane M. Bauer, 27; and their friend, Joshua F. Fattal, 27 will be released soon. It's likely that the Iranian Judiciary will sentence them to a few years in prison, similar to what happened to Roxana Saberi last year in a show trial, and then shortly after, they will release them on a humanitarian basis, showing its good will towards the American people.
The families could push this scenario by making the case a "personal" and "humanitarian case" rather than a political case. That said, the more the families ask for help from the Obama administration, the less they will get from Tehran. In fact, expecting the Obama administration to do any good to this case is like expecting Ahmadinejad to drink apple martinis in his Tehran office.
The more the families push the political button, the more they push the Iranian government to consider the second scenario; using the three Americans in prison as bargaining chips or a mockery of Washington's vulnerability towards Tehran's defiance; making the case more perplexing than it is now.
And why should Iran rely on what the secretary of the state Hillary Clinton or President Obama say about those three "hikers"? The Iranian leaders see no difference between President Bush and President Obama, as one hardline newspaper in Tehran put it a while ago; "Obama is George Bush with a black mask."
Despite Barack Obama's positive gesture towards Tehran since his 2008 campaign, Washington is getting ready to put more sanctions on Iran, and the possibility of conducting a military strike against Iran's nuclear plants is increasing. Whether it's solely to show a strong face to the defiant Ahmadinejad, to bluff, or an actual reality, the idea of stopping Iran's nuclear program at any cost is being heard more and more in Washington.
Also, unlike the three Americans whose arrests were based on illegal entrance into Iran, in 2007, four Iranian diplomats were captured in Northern Iraq and released a year later without any explanation as to why they were arrested in the first place. If they were terrorists or criminals, why were they released? Remember, those four diplomats never entered into the U.S. illegally.
Moreover, while the U.S. media continuously calls the three Americans "the hikers," considering all the continuous post-revolution hostility between the two governments, why should Iranians believe that they are just "hikers" in the first place? Who has ever been picked out of the Iranian-Iraqi border of Kurdistan for hiking; a place that has been the battle -ground of Kurdish opposition with Iranian soldiers and a haven for human smugglers?
A review of Seymour Hersh's pieces in the New Yorker over the past years suggests that the U.S. sends its agents to the Western borders of Iran, and put their feet into the shoes of the paranoid Iranian intelligence who believes everybody entering Iran, legally or illegally, is a spy until proven otherwise.
There is no doubt that the Iranian government should allow these three young Americans access to lawyers, and more importantly, allow them talk to their parents regularly and release them on bail until the trial; a free and fair trial that meets all international standards. But in order to make the first scenario happen, the families of Shourd, Shane and Fattal, should try to go to Iran instead of Washington to ask for help.
The three mothers should apply for visas, go to Tehran, and stay there until the release of their children. The Iranian government can try those in prison, but cannot prevent their families from seeing them and speaking to them. It will not be surprising if they were to meet Mahmoud AHmadinejad in Tehran, a man who is addicted to publicity, and have him free them immediately, just as was the case with the 15 British sailors in 2007.
The paranoid Iranian government has every reason to keep all three of them for longer than they already have. But let's remember, at this time, the image of Tehran has been damaged dramatically from the post elections crackdowns. Yet there may be wise people in the Ahmadinejad's administration who desperately want to show that the government is humane and has good will. If there is a way with the Iranian government that works, this is it.