Sunday, August 21, 2011

What the Hell Were They Doing There, Anyway?

Of course, I mean the three Americans who went hiking in Kurdistan, somewhere along the Iraq-Iran border, and were snatched by Iranian authorities and charged with espionage.
On July 31, 2009, Shane Bauer, Joshua Fattal and Sarah Shourd, who had decided to go for a nice hike on oh, say, the Iraq-Iran border in a war zone, were arrested by the Iranians and ultimately charged with espionage. Ms. Shourd was later freed on $500,000 bail. Mr. Bauer and Mr. Fattal have just been found guilty and were sentenced to eight years in prison.
Now, don't get me wrong. I don't for one second believe the Iranians. I even pretty much think the Iranian border patrol crossed the border into Iraq to make the snatch, probably at gunpoint. But Jesus, what in the hell were these Americans doing there? What in hell were they thinking?
I get that it's Kurdistan, and that Kurdistan is different from Iraq, not the least of which is that the Turks have been shelling the place and running air strikes. Whatever else it might be, Kurdistan is not on Conde Nast's or Lonely Planet's list of don't-miss vacation places.
These three are not dummies. Mr. Bauer is an honors graduate from U.C. Berkeley, speaks Arabic. Mr. Fattal is also a Berkley graduate, in environmental economics. Ms. Shourd, also a Berkeley graduate, taught English in Syria, where she was living with Mr. Bauer.
Here are the reasons given. Believe what you will.
  1. They were spies.
  2. Mr. Bauer was a freelance journalist working on a story about the elections in Kurdistan.
  3. Mr. Bauer and Mr. Fattal were intensely curious about the entire Middle East and were willing to be live-off-the-land travelers to satisfy and insatiable quest for knowledge and understanding.

Cut them all the slack you want. Okay, they lived in Syria and somehow supported themselves. It was time to go out on a knowledge quest. Ms. Shourd had a week off from her teaching duties, so why not. Choices, among others:

  1. Turkey
  2. Jordan
  3. Saudi Arabia

Hmm. As the crow flies from Damascus, where they were living, to the point in Kurdistan where they were nabbed, it looks to be about 1,000 miles. In that part of the world, traveling that far is, well, hard. It's not like they have interstates. It's not like you can get a Eurailpass. And for a week?

A hike in Kurdistan was the agreed-on best option?

Back to the title: What in the hell were they doing there, anyway?


  1. This is one of those things that no one will ever know the truth about, probably not even those involved. I'm sure the accounts vary on it so wildly, depending on which media outlet you read, that each one borders on complete nonsense in some way. That the American press uses the word "hiking" to describe what they were doing there (such an innocent, wholesome activity!) is just one thing that makes it impossible to understand, and all of the reporting about it suspicious.

  2. So much we will never know. And you're tempted to get into the whole trust fund hippy indulged kids, which we know populate the Bay Area. And that might be terribly unfair. But absent facts, you can go anywhere.