from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Our Hostage Crises, Continued

March 13, 2011

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There is news today of both our hostage crises.

A Cuban “court” has sentenced USAID contractor Alan Gross to 15 years in prison for trying to help the tiny Cuban Jewish community connect via internet with Jewish communities around the world.  Gross has been in a Cuban prison for 15 months, and has lost 90 pounds during that period. The State Department “deplored” the sentence.

But on March 8, “in this latest loosening of restrictions against Cuba,” eight additional airports were opened to “charter” flights to Cuba. As the date of Gross’s sentencing was known, it is astonishing that the Obama administration would choose to help the Castro regime’s tourist industry just as it makes this AID contractor a human sacrifice. There have been reports that Gross would soon be released on medical grounds, and one can only hope this is true. Perhaps there is even a secret deal with Cuba to this effect. But the expansion of tourism to Cuba in the very week that Alan Gross is sentenced to 15 years leaves a bitter taste.

Meanwhile in Iran, the hikers Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal--who have been in prison since July 2009 for the crime of crossing an unmarked border into Iran--have been told their next court hearing will come May 11. It will of course be a closed hearing; no nonsense about fairness is permitted in Iran’s “judiciary.”

The United States has no easy way to free the two young men, but their detention is a window into the nature of that despicable and repressive regime. Unfortunately it is also a window into our failed Iran policy, for it is the regime’s response to the outreach offered by the Obama administration. But what price has the regime paid? How has American policy toughened in the face of this hostage-taking? What will we do if they are sentenced to 15 years in prison, or perhaps twice that? One can only hope the administration is thinking now about that likely event, and will do more than "deplore" it if it occurs.

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