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NEW YORK (AP) — Two American hikers held for years in an Iranian prison came home Sunday, declaring that they were detained because of their nationality, not because they might have crossed the border from Iraq.

Joshua Fattal and Shane Bauer arrived in New York on Sunday morning, ending their diplomatic and personal ordeal with a sharp rebuke of the country that sentenced each to eight years in jail for espionage and illegally walking into Iran. They say they may never know if they actually stepped across the border while hiking and getting lost.

“From the very start, the only reason we have been held hostage is because we are American,” Fattal said at a news conference at a Manhattan hotel. “Iran has always tied our case to its political disputes with the U.S.”

The two 29-year-olds were freed last week under a $1 million bail deal and arrived Wednesday in Oman, greeted by relatives and fellow hiker Sarah Shourd, who was released last year.

The men’s families said Sunday they don’t know who paid the bail.

The men’s saga began in July 2009 with what they called a wrong turn into the wrong country. The three say they were hiking together in Iraq’s relatively peaceful Kurdish region along the Iran-Iraq border when Iranian guards detained them. They always maintained their innocence, saying they might have accidentally wandered into Iran.

The two men were convicted of spying last month. Shourd, to whom Bauer proposed marriage while they were imprisoned, was charged but freed last year before any trial.

A beaming Shourd faced reporters and cameras that packed a conference room at the Parker Meridien hotel.

“There’s a huge burden lifted off of all of our chests — so much joy,” she said. “Shane and Josh and I are beginning our lives again, and there are so many new joys that await us; I’ve never felt as free as I feel today.”

But her face darkened when she was asked whether the men had been mistreated in captivity. She said Bauer was beaten and Fattal forced down a flight of stairs.

The men took turns reading statements, surrounded by relatives and Shourd. They didn’t take questions from reporters.

Fattal said he wanted to make clear that while he and Bauer “applaud Iranian authorities for finally making the right decision,” they “do not deserve undue credit for ending what they had no right and no justification to start in the first place.”

The two countries severed diplomatic ties three decades ago during the hostage crisis. Since then, both have tried to limit the other’s influence in the Middle East, and the United States and other Western nations see Iran as the greatest nuclear threat in the region.

The hikers’ detention, Bauer said, was “never about crossing the unmarked border between Iran and Iraq. We were held because of our nationality.”

He said they don’t know whether they had even crossed into Iran: “We will probably never know.”

The irony of it all, Bauer said, “is that Sarah, Josh and I oppose U.S. policies towards Iran which perpetuate this hostility.”

The two also detailed the difficult conditions in the Tehran prison where they were held in near-isolation.

“Many times, too many times, we heard the screams of other prisoners being beaten and there was nothing we could do to help them,” Fattal said.

Added Bauer: “How can we forgive the Iranian government when it continues to imprison so many other innocent people and prisoners of conscience?”

They said their phone calls with family members amounted to a total of 15 minutes in two years, and they had to go on repeated hunger strikes to receive letters. Eventually, they were told — falsely — that their families had stopped writing them letters.

“Solitary confinement was the worst experience of all of our lives,” Fattal said. “We lived in a world of lies and false hope.”

They kept in shape physically and mentally by lifting water bottles, discussing books and asking each other questions, family members said. And they ripped slivers of cloth from prison blindfolds to secure their footwear so they could run for exercise.

The two managed to hold on to reality by reading letters from family members that included news of what was happening in the world, Bauer’s mother, Cindy Hickey, told The Associated Press.

Fattal said their release last week came as a total surprise.

On Wednesday, he said, they had just finished their brief daily open-air exercise and expected, as on other days, to be blindfolded and led back to their 8- by-13-foot cell.

Instead, the prison guards took them downstairs, fingerprinted them and gave them civilian clothes. They weren’t told where they were going.

The guards then led them to another part of the prison, where they met a diplomatic envoy from Oman.

His first words to them: “Let’s go home.”

Hours later, the gates of Tehran’s Evin prison opened and the Americans were driven to the airport, then flown to Oman.

The days following their sudden release, Fattal said, made for “the most incredible experience of our lives.”

Shourd was with the families to greet the two on the tarmac at a royal airfield near the airport in Oman’s capital, Muscat. At about 20 minutes before midnight Wednesday, Fattal and Bauer, wearing jeans and casual shirts, bounded down the steps from the blue-and-white plane. The men appeared very thin and pale, but in good health.

The first hint of change in the case came last week when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Fattal and Bauer could be released within days. But wrangling from within the country’s leadership delayed efforts. Finally, Iranian defense attorney Masoud Shafiei secured the necessary judicial approval Wednesday for the bail — $500,000 for each man.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry called their release a gesture of Islamic mercy.

Until their release, the last direct contact family members had with Bauer and Fattal was in May 2010, when their mothers were permitted a short visit in Tehran, which Iranian officials used for high-profile propaganda.

Since her release, Shourd has lived in Oakland, Calif. Bauer, a freelance journalist, grew up in Onamia, Minn., and Fattal, an environmental activist, is from Elkins Park, Pa., a Philadelphia suburb.

Bauer and Shourd were living in Damascus, Syria, when Fattal came to visit and the three went hiking.

On Sunday, the men’s families told reporters that they hadn’t made plans for what they would do next — except for carving out some private time together. They would not say where they were sleeping on Sunday night.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (50)
  1. cal says:

    I dont ever recall a POW getting this kind of publicity. The media is way out of touch. My grandpa was right when he called these two “donkeys”.

    1. markH says:

      We don’t know your grandfather, so why would his opinion matter here? What is YOUR opinion and why? State these and you have my attention-or else put grandpa on for a while so we can talk directly to him. Peace.

      1. Zombo says:

        Does the snotty MarkH “know” these pampered and ignorant hikers? I’m certain I know markH’s moron PC-Zombie opinion…

  2. stubby says:

    I say they really are spies as Iran claims. NOBODY is that stupid to go hiking in a war zone along a border with a hostile country. Let’s give these spies, however inept they are at it, a hero’s welcome.

    1. Brian Larson says:

      Possible. But sadly, I think you are underestimating the possibility that SOMEBODY could be that stupid, especially some lib Berkley grads, who act surprised that they could have been held hostage because they are American’s.

      1. MIke says:

        We will see how stupid it is when they make money on the book and possible movie rights telling their story. I am sure you and your friends will be too busy doing something more important like watching cartoons and playing video games.

  3. Steve says:

    What’s up next for these idiots. I’m sure a good old American Wedding and Sarah face covered with a Burka. Then on to a ghost writer to publish their book. Then to Hollywood where they sign movie rights. The only fools besides them to believe the California trash is worthy of news headlines are the New Outlets. We don’t care. Were sick of looking at them.

    1. Tina says:

      Why do you need to share your opinion when you don’t care? Envy is not good Steve, maybe you should join the military, get out of your parents basement and see the world….

  4. dlm says:

    I am so over these two. Who cares anymore. I wish they would just go away, really …just go. No more on these two WCCO, please………

  5. markH says:

    “Iran’s Foreign Ministry called their release a gesture of Islamic mercy.”

    If this is true, then we can only conclude that their arrest, detention, abuse, and the infliction of terror in these individuals was an example of Islamic sadism and religious absolutism.

    1. digg says:

      when are you going for a hike???? this time I hope you do it on the border of afghanistan and pakistan.. that way we will send Hillary to talk to the taliban for your release…

  6. Enough says:

    Do any of the 3 of them, plus there parents think that anyone in this counrty gives a sh it on them returning. I am sick of looking at them. CCO enough is enough

    1. markH says:

      There is no doubt in my mind that if it were you, you would be pleading with anyone for help. I find your callousness, indifference, insensitivity, and inhumanity disgusting and insulting to those who breath free air. Peace.

      1. Brightness Knob says:

        Then why did you click on the story again? Why did you spend the time to write a comment? You say enough, but you’re asking for more. You don’t even know it.

    2. Mirror says:

      Go away, we have had Enough of you…………..

  7. Concerned says:

    Really… you dont know where the money came from? You really should not be commenting if that is the case!

  8. Lorilei Gleeson says:

    This was as stupid as a Jew hiking the Austrian Alps to Hitler’s Eagles Nest, ca.1940. I am petitioning that these three disgraceful Americans apologize to American public for endangering the safety of our Nation’s fighting men and women. Oh and be given a Darwin Award…

  9. Larry says:

    ABSOLUTELY!!!!! enough already…long ago. why do the newstations keep covering these moron idiots?!! They’re being treated like royalty by the media…and they’re nothing but jerk stupid idiots who will do nothing but bash America. any luck maybe they’ll take a hike on Lybia border or Mexico border and get lost!!!

  10. James 4:14 says:

    I bet they don’t make a noise when they fart anymore.

  11. Brightness Knob says:

    Ah, eugenics. What an American idea. Good luck with that, Adolf.

    1. I hate donkeys says:

      @Brightness Knob

      Why dont you go for a stroll along the Iranian boarder

  12. What Next? says:

    “Your comment is awaiting moderation”…Thanks ‘CCO for your concern regarding my comment. I can sleep now knowing that you are paying so close attention to this comment only and censoring your website. Great Job! There is and has been FAR WORSE on your website than I have ever written.

  13. Kevin says:

    I thought they were held because they were morons who hiked in a VERY dangerous part of the world! Iran should have just cleansed the gene pool…

    1. Callous Crane says:

      Very uncalled for Kevin, but I am sure your upset tonight because mom wouldn’t let you have another piece of pie. Why don’t you hang yourself from the rafters? Maybe you will succeed at getting the attention you seek……..

  14. Richard in Minneapolis says:

    My question… who is paying the $1 Million?

    1. G says:

      Its not just the 1 million for these two, its also the half million paid awhile back to return the girl. But Yeah… Who paid this??

      1. TiffS says:

        You did. I did. We all did. I think I’ll take my next vacation on the mexican border.

  15. mbougie says:

    MarkH, just the fact that you asked why these idiots are condemned by the American people tells me that you are just as clueless as they are.

    They were not detained beacuse they are Americans, they were detained because they broke Iranian laws regarding illegal border crossing. They are still alive, and were released, because they have American citizenship. I do not consider them to be Americans!. There is no way they are a part of the American ntelligence community, they are far too clueless, and unpatriotic.

    What is hard to believe is how many people out there listen to this liberal berkley trash. They stand there in front of the camera spewing their prepared statements about something they know absolutly nothing about, such as the CIA and GITMO prison. Of course, sheeple will line up by the thousands to pay to hear the story of their self inflicted misery.

    Me personally, I would love nothing better than to spit in the face of any one of them, I bet Jane Fonda is distraught that she has now been out done!

    1. markH says:

      I see. And you have proof that they knowingly crossed a boarder into a hostile state that loathes Americans? You write with such an informed flair, you certainly must have some evidence of the charges you make! We can all tell that you despise educated, upper middle class people (“”..liberal berkley trash) and make judgements on them based on this criteria alone.

      Additionally, you call them “unpatriotic” yet provide no evidence that they despise this country nor show contempt for our system of government-unless you do have evidence (a statement from one of these three testifying to their disdain for the United States will suffice) which I am certain you will post to save your dignity. Peace.

  16. Uncle Rico says:

    This is forced propaganda. They may actually believe what they’re saying but I bet their families lives were threatened, in addition to their own, if they didn’t go out and help beat the weak murmur of the anti-american drum.

  17. Robert says:

    Please no more of these morons! Just like Palin their 15 minutes ended a long time ago, but they (she) keeps coming back for another 15 minutes.

  18. sally says:

    Welcome home. . . Now go away.

  19. Chris j says:

    “he only fools besides them to believe the California trash is worthy of news headlines are the New Outlets. We don’t care. Were sick of looking at them.”

    I’m tired of you, steve.

  20. Chris j says:

    “I would love nothing better than to spit in the face of any one of them,”

    I’d love to to the same to you!

  21. Off with their heads! says:

    I agree. STOP giving them any media attention. They’re morons. There were held by Iran because they’re stupid, not because of their nationality.

    It’s way too bad they weren’t allowed to rot in prison, including the the one claiming terminal PMS.

  22. Raoole says:

    These three morons should thank the Iranians for saving their lives. If any of the Kurdish separatists or drug dealers had caught them first these three would still be missing and never be found.

  23. markH says:

    Where are the Christians in all this? Didn’t Jesus (supposedly) die for those who are guilty? If he can do that, why can’t the fellow countrymen of these people side with them, instead of against them? Particularly since there is not one shred of evidence linking these folks to any crime whatsoever-nor any espionage. To maintain that these people are spies shows the same lack of intelligence and ignorance (not to mention credulity) as those of faith.

    1. digg says:

      wow… interesting..why not you go and hike the afghan and pakistan border.. we sure will send Hillary to talk to the taliban… they only reason they wil be out there is to spy… no way they can be that stupid to go hike.. heck.. go hike the north korean mountains..

  24. Anne says:

    I am sure their families are relieved but lets be clear, Americans who live in Syria are government employees.

  25. splash back says:

    Couldn’t you 3 wait until Nike unveils their Persian hiking shoe?

  26. digg says:

    for those who support these guys, I will try to grant you that on the bases of American spirit.. But you must understand the fustration by most of the the people commenting here.. These guys didn’t get arrested doing some humanitarian mission, no they got arrested “hiking” the border of Iran and Iraq.. now if you been followoing this story you will know that the time those three were arrested was during the heat of the war in Iraq. when American and Brits intelegence were calling that border region a hot spot for arms, militants, IEDs smuggling activities.. IEDs, Militants that were killing our brave men and women; and what those three decided to do, ‘hike the border of hostile nation”. so we can lunch another rescure operation??? and I think to me they must have a better reason for been at that border and if ‘hiking’ is it, it only makes sense why some people are questioning their patriotism… they better be spies…

  27. Jim Hill says:

    These morons have been way over-covered. How STUPID do you have to be to go hiking on the border of IRAN with the existing world conditions? Anyone with common sense would know to error on the side of safety and give a wide margin to Iran. These idiots should not be allowed to propagate.

    Drop the story. Bury it deep. These people are an embarrassment to the US.

    1. Mark says:

      I guess some people have the ambition to get out of their mothers basement and take a chance with all the things life offers versus living through a video game. Sound familiar, loser?

      1. crabby mark says:

        @Mark, I feel sorry for your co-workers. 6 am and you are already crabby.

  28. Don't buy a thing when they get the movie deals says:

    Ok why is no one seeing the part of the story that they say, “The irony of it all, Bauer said, “is that Sarah, Josh and I oppose U.S. policies towards Iran which perpetuate this hostility.” I am sorry but they are looking for sympothy from the American people. These 3 are so anti-American yet they sure do seem to be very happy to be free now that they have seen what it is like in a country that kills it’s own people and tells you when and where you can go to the bathroom pretty much. These 3 are ridiculous and now will want the same American people they didn’t seem to support to greet them with a hero’s welcome and want all of us to buy the book and movie they are sure to get millions for all because they were stupid. Don’t buy a thing of theirs.

  29. NA says:

    Tell them to go back and live there if they do not agree with the US. Dumb and Stupid should be the name of the movie that is no doubt going to come out of this whole circus, no wonder why we here in the US are such an easy target

  30. I'm sick of these guys says:

    Why are these two idiots allowed to take up so much airspace? If they’re too stupid not to recognize the dangers in the first place (or so they claim), then let them suffer the consequences. They poked at the bear, and got hurt/punished, and now they want to blame the bear for their own stupidity. That $1.5M could have been so better utilized.