A comparative look at captive treatment

Lessons can be learned from the British hostage debacle.

by Ramla Bile

The recent tiff between Britain and Iran calls for increased cooperation regarding maritime standards. The situation is indicative of Western hypocrisy regarding military provocation and the treatment of captives.

Regardless of whether the sailors and marines were within the maritime standard Britain accepts, it’s safe to suggest that 1.7 miles of a supposedly enemy state is close enough to exist as a threat. If the same incident occurred in the United Kingdom or the United States, leaders and citizens alike would be in uproar. Suppose an Iranian ship, specifically, a highly militarized one such as the H.M.S. Cornwall was floating 1.7 miles from U.S. territory. Such an offensive act would warrant an aggressive response. Furthermore, it should not be left to Britain and the United States to identify what is “Iranian water.” This decision should be left for the nations in question and the international community to determine.

Apart from the politics of maritime legalities, we must examine the impact of human suffering. For anyone who is fortunate enough to not have to endure the apprehension of fearing for life, the trauma that must result from captivity in a foreign land is perhaps underestimated. It’s unfortunate that these 15 individuals were subject to the treatment they faced, but this situation also presents an excellent opportunity for reflection. The images that were televised show the hostages meeting and exchanging words with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and having tea. It couldn’t be more obvious that this was all a PR stunt to boost Iran’s moral standing in the global community. No one is convinced that this was “just a compulsory vacation,” as conveyed by Ahmadinejad.

However, it’s evident that the situation presents a stark contrast to the treatment of individuals that are held captive by our very own country. The mere thought of President George W. Bush meeting with the detained individuals before sending them home with gifts is both inconceivable and laughable. It is, after all, the United States that actively condone and even mandate torture and secret detention centers.

In fact, Guantanamo’s conditions continue to worsen while more detention centers are opening across the globe. Ethiopia, the new epicenter for fighting the war on terror, is now home to an influx of “al-Qaida suspects” from Somalia who face interrogation by U.S. agents. In a statement by Human Rights Watch, the organization fears not only mistreatment for those detained, but also harsh conditions and execution under Ethiopian detention. In Guantanamo, there is yet another hunger strike, leaving us to question what types of conditions must exist for people to attempt suicide or starve themselves to the point of being force-fed.

Given the reality of the treatment that others face, our leaders are not in a position to dictate positions or make demands they themselves do not honor. The actions of this administration continue to erode the credibility of America in the global sphere, and this introduces a threat to citizens. Fortunately, the situation of the British hostages ended well, but for the sake of protecting its own citizens, the United States and the United Kingdom must change their existing policies regarding the treatment of those detained. Conversely, there is a burden on the citizens of these states to demand more.

The story that was perhaps missed in this controversy is the extent to which Iranians were vocal when it came to demanding the freedom of the hostages. It’s easy to assume that states represent peoples, but societies are more complex than they are portrayed on the news. In this moment of anxiety, the Iranian people pulled through. When it comes to the corrupt policies of the United States and the United Kingdom, let us hope that the same observations can be made with British and American citizens.

Ramla Bile welcomes comments at [email protected]