Monday, April 09, 2007

Iranian Prisoners, Then And Now

Some time ago, Reuel Marc Gerecht reviewed Mark Bowden's book on the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis -- Guests of the Ayatollah: The First Battle in America's War with Militant Islam. This is what Gerecht said in the Wall Street Journal about the behavior of Americans taken prisoner after Iranian students – one of whom may have been the current president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the merciful – stormed the American embassy in Iran:

“John Limbert, an academically trained, Persian-speaking diplomat -- who probably has the softest heart for Iran among the hostages -- is in solitary confinement in the city of Isfahan, 200 miles from Tehran, after the failed Desert One rescue mission. (President Carter, after long delay, had sent fuel-tanker planes, gunships and helicopters to recapture the embassy; in a night-vision-goggle debacle set into motion by a sandstorm, a helicopter and a plane collided in the desert; the aborted the mission left the burnt remains to be toyed with by revolutionary clerics.) Mr. Limbert has no idea regarding the whereabouts of his compatriots until an Iranian guard, whom he is tutoring in English, asks him the meaning of the words ‘raghead,’ ‘bozo,’ ‘mother-f’ and ‘c-sucker.’ ‘Limbert laughed,’ Mr. Bowden writes. ‘It warmed his heart. Someplace nearby, his captors were still coping with the United States Marine Corps.’

“The most brazen and hard-edged of the hostages is Michael Metrinko, a street-wise former Peace Corps volunteer and Persian-speaking diplomat who declares war on the gerugangirha, the hostage-takers. Using his vast knowledge of Persian culture, psychology and slang, Mr. Metrinko fights back. Beaten repeatedly, held in solitary confinement, hooded, tied up and denied food, he never stops searching for means to annoy and emasculate his captors. At one point he tries to derail the interrogation of an Iranian friend before him by baiting his interrogators to beat him (he succeeds). Even on his last day of captivity, on the bus to the airport, Mr. Metrinko verbally lashes out at a guard's offensive behavior by making a very Persian reference to the guard's mother and the procreative act; he is again beaten and then thrown off the bus. (A last-minute intervention by Iranian officials gets him on the plane to Germany.) Throughout, Mr. Metrinko is a proud, outraged man whose anger grows more intense precisely because he loves Iran so profoundly.

“To verify some of Mr. Bowden's reporting, I sent an email to Mr. Metrinko, who is now working in Afghanistan. A short, rough, not particularly handsome fellow, Mr. Metrinko remarked that he hoped that this book, like Mr. Bowden's "Black Hawk Down" (1999), would become a movie. He really wanted Brad Pitt to play him, since "that's the way I would really like to remember myself." Mr. Pitt should be so lucky as to play such a part.”

And this is a current report from a London newspaper:

“One of the hostages, Dean Harris, 30, an acting sergeant in the Royal Marines, told a Sunday Times reporter yesterday: ‘I want £70,000. That is based on what the others have told me they have been offered. I know Faye has been offered a heck more than that. I am worth it because I was one of only two who didn’t crack.’”

The times, they are a‘changing.

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