Friday, April 6, 2007

British sailors 'stripped' and 'blindfolded' in Iran!!

15 sailors returned.jpg

- The 15 British naval personnel held by Iran told Friday how they were stripped, blindfolded and handcuffed as part of "psychological" intimidation during their detention.

A day after their return to Britain, the group said they feared for their lives if they resisted and that they were threatened with seven years in jail if they did not confess to being in Iranian waters.

Royal Navy Lieutenant Felix Carman told a news conference of the mind games he said were used by their captors to get information and confessions.

"It was mainly psychological, emotional. The isolation was a major part of this; a complete suffocation in terms of information from the outside world," he added, describing questioning as "aggressive" and handling as "a bit rough."

"When we first went to prison we were put up against the wall, hands bound, blindfolded and people were cocking weapons in the background, which as you can imagine is an extremely nerve-wracking occasion."

Royal Marine Joe Tindell, 21, said he thought they were about to be executed and were having their throats cut one by one.

Iran has insisted that the 15 sailors and marines were in Iranian waters when detained. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced the release of the navy personnel on Wednesday, calling it a "gift" to the British people.

Carman said that on the second morning of their detention they were flown to Tehran and taken to a prison.

"Throughout our ordeal we faced constant psychological pressure," he said. "Later we were stripped and then dressed in pyjamas. The next few nights were spent in stone cells, approximately eight feet by six feet, sleeping on piles of blankets. All of us were kept in isolation."

The eight sailors and seven Royal Marines were captured in the northern Gulf on March 23 while carrying out what they said was a routine anti-smuggling operation.

Amid claims they surrendered too easily, Royal Marines Captain Chris Air said the Iranians "came with intent" and to resist would have caused loss of life and a major international incident.

"From the outset it was very apparent that fighting back was simply not an option. Had we chosen to do so then many of us would not be standing here today."

Air, 25, stressed that they were "well inside" Iraqi waters when captured.

Carman, 26, backed him up, describing their detention as "clearly illegal."

"Let me make it absolutely clear, irrespective of what has been said in the past, when we were detained by the IRG (Iranian Revolutionary Guard) we were inside internationally recognised Iraqi territorial waters and I can clearly state we were 1.7 nautical miles (3.15 kilometres) from Iranian waters."

He said their television appearances were a stunt for the cameras.

The only woman in the group, Leading Seaman Faye Turney, 26, was separated from the men straight away and later told that the others had gone home four days earlier, the 15 said in a joint statement.

"She coped admirably," Air said, condemning the Iranians for using her as a "propaganda tool."

Turney was not present at the news conference at Royal Marines Base Chivenor in Devon, where the 15 spent their first night of freedom after being reunited with their families.

The sailors' comments were blasted by Iran, which accused Prime Minister
Tony Blair of "putting pressure" on them.

"The propaganda and the staged show cannot cover up the British military's violation of the Islamic Republic of Iran sea border and their repeated illegal entry," foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said.

"The immediate transfer of the sailors to a military camp suggests that they were acting under orders."

The White House on Friday condemned any mistreatment of the British service personnel.

Their testimony was "unfortunate and extremely disappointing if they were treated inappropriately in any way," national security spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.

"If what they described is accurate then that would not seem to be appropriate behaviour and action."

Meanwhile, Royal Navy chief Admiral Sir Jonathon Band said Britain had suspended ship-boarding operations in the Gulf and opened an official inquiry to look at the rules of engagement, intelligence gathering, equipment and procedures to prevent any repeat of the incident.

The group's return Thursday made headline news in Britain, but coverage was tempered by the deaths of four soldiers, including two women, in a roadside bomb attack in southern

Blair on Thursday repeated his assertion that "elements" in Iran were backing insurgent attacks in Iraq, although he said it was too early to say whether there were definite links for the latest attack.

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