Iranian hostage-taking exposes U.N. impotence

If we follow the lead of the so-called "mainstream media," we should thank Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for Wednesday's release of 15 British sailors who were seized by the Iranian Navy and held captive for almost two weeks. Instead of thanking Iran's president, however, I think we should hold him and his government accountable for violating international law and the Geneva Conventions.

Of course that will never happen in the United Nations, which believes in appeasing international outlaws like Ahmadinejad, who described the hostage release as his Easter "gift" to the British people. Nonsense! That staged scene in which the young prisoners bowed and scraped before their magnanimous captor turned my stomach because I vividly remember when an earlier Islamic fundamentalist government of Iran kidnapped my fellow diplomats and held them captive for 444 days.

Islamic "student" extremists invaded our embassy in Tehran in November 1979 and seized 52 American diplomats, holding them captive for more than a year before Ronald Reagan succeeded the unfortunate Jimmy Carter as president in January 1981. That sorry incident was an international outrage, as was the capture of the British sailors late last month. British Prime Minister Tony Blair's strangely muted response to the incident reminded me of Carter's non-response to the 1979 fiasco.

But many media outlets played Iran's game by accepting Ahmadinejad's version of the story - namely that the Brits had wandered off course and into Iranian waters in the strategically important (because of oil) Gulf of Hormuz between Iran and Iraq, even though Britain produced GPS satellite maps to show that its patrol boat was in Iraqi waters when it was seized.

Ahmadinejad, who may have been one of the "student" kidnappers in 1979 - several of the American captives said they recognized him - put on quite a show last Wednesday, grinning benevolently as he paraded his prisoners before the TV cameras in a clear violation of the Geneva Conventions. One by one the young Brits stepped forward to thank their captors for releasing them and one of them was heard to say, "We are grateful for your forgiveness." Earlier, the captives had "confessed" to TV cameras.

And in one particularly hypocritical moment, Ahmadinejad criticized Britain for permitting a young mother, Faye Turney, the lone female captive, to serve in the military. This from a Middle Eastern ruler who enforces Islamic laws requiring women to cover themselves from head to toe in ugly black "burkas" and denying them basic human rights like the right to think for themselves by obtaining an education.

President Bush called the British captives "hostages," setting off a round of apologies in the western world and in Congress. But if they weren't hostages, what were they? "Guests?" Give me a break! For his part, Prime Minister Blair chose his words carefully, calling the prisoner release "a profound relief" and expressing his nation's respect for Iran's ancient civilization. Personally, I prefer Bush's choice of words but Blair said what was necessary in order to gain the prisoners' freedom.

Conservative commentator Michael Ledeen compared Iran's latest hostage-taking incident to an ancient fable about a scorpion who wants to cross a river but can't swim, so he begs a crocodile for a ride. The scorpion promises not to sting the croc, so the croc gives him a ride, but the scorpion stings him anyway. The disgusted croc cries out, "Why did you do that? You promised . . ." And the scorpion replies, "Because I'm a scorpion." Like scorpions, Islamic fundamentalists almost always sting, even when they make promises to the contrary.

"They (the Iranian mullahs) took the hostages because that's what they do," Ledeen wrote in the National Review. "They've been doing it for a long time," noting that Iran has taken more than 100 hostages in some 75 separate incidents over the past 30 years. According to Iran's Islamic Jihad, "The issue of detainees and prisoners (hostages) in the world is one of the outcomes of our confrontation with the powers of hegemony, which America leads as the mother of all corruption along with its germ, Israel." Is that clear enough for you?

Although Islamic terrorists and their apologists justify kidnappings and the killing of innocent women and children as a legitimate response to our botched invasion of Iraq, just remember that we didn't act until Iraq ignored a series of United Nations resolutions and ultimatums. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Steyn reminded everyone that the British boat was carrying out a UN-sanctioned security patrol in international waters when it was boarded by the Iranians. "So what did the UN do about this affront to its authority and (in the public humiliation of the captives) the Geneva Conventions?" he asked. "Short answer: Nothing," which is the usual UN response to outlaw regimes, such as Iran's and the one that's committing genocide in Darfur.

It should be evident by now that the UN is virtually impotent in crisis situations, preferring to appease international outlaws while engaging in elaborate hand-wringing exercises in New York. The next time someone seizes American hostages, we should respond forcefully because that's the language hostage-takers and terrorists understand.

• Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.


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