You no doubt remember the story of Laura Ling and Euna Lee, the two reporters who were detained last year by the North Korean government. They had some advantages in getting their release secured -- their boss at Current TV was Al Gore, a somewhat influential guy, and Ling's sister is Lisa Ling, a well-known television journalist who can pick up the phone and get important officials on the line (the two sisters have just released a book about the affair). After some wrangling, Bill Clinton personally brokered their release -- a happy ending for all concerned.
There's a similar case that, if you heard about it at the time, you've almost completely forgotten by now. It's that of Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd, and Josh Fattal, three Americans who on a self-guided adventure trip to Kurdistan in July 2009, went hiking and wandered over the Iranian border, then were arrested and accused of being CIA spies. Bauer, Shourd, and Fattal have been locked up in the notorious Evin prison ever since; today, their mothers arrived in Iran to attempt to secure their release.
One of the problems Bauer, Shourd, and Fattal have faced is that a surprising number of people in this country have blamed the three for their own predicament -- as though some foolish mistakes ought to land you in an Iranian prison where people are routinely tortured and executed. As Joshua Hammer explains in an excellent article about the three in Outside magazine, "As I discovered in my own travels through the region, Bauer, Shourd, and Fattal are indeed partly to blame; they went into Kurdistan with a shocking lack of preparation. Even so, they were not well served by those they turned to for advice, and they fell victim to a sequence of small mistakes and misunderstandings that snowballed into a catastrophe."
It would be nice if the government was working as hard to secure their release as it did for Ling and Lee. But maybe their moms can do the job.
-- Paul Waldman