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Shane Bauer, Former US Prisoner in Iran, Spars with Hillary Clinton over Her Call for New Sanctions

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On Sunday, CNN’s Jake Tapper questioned Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton on her calls for fresh sanctions against Iran over its ballistic missile tests. Tapper read out tweets by American journalist and former Iran prisoner Shane Bauer criticizing Clinton’s comments. “When I was in prison in Iran, whenever I heard Hillary’s voice, my heart would sink,” Bauer wrote. “All she ever does with Iran is inflame tensions.” In response, Clinton said while she “appreciate[s] what he went through … we have a very clear path we are pursuing with Iran,” that includes new sanctions, if necessary. Bauer joins us to respond.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to Hillary Clinton, Hillary Clinton in the debate that was held on Sunday night. In a moment, we’re going to have a debate between two socialist feminists, one who supports Bernie Sanders and one who supports Hillary Clinton. But let me ask you about what she said during the debate, Shane—if you could talk about her view on Iranian sanctions?

SHANE BAUER: Yeah, well, actually, you know, when these—when it was announced that these Americans were getting out on Saturday, just hours after their release, Hillary Clinton called for new sanctions on Iran. And I, frankly, thought this is very irresponsible. I mean, these Americans were still on the ground in Iran. As you said, there was issues with Jason’s wife being detained. It wasn’t clear what was going to happen. And she chose to make this provocative statement at that time, you know, which directly put their freedom in jeopardy.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s go, on the Republican side, to the response there to what has taken place. I wanted to turn to Marco Rubio, one of the Republican presidential hopefuls, his reaction to the prisoner swap.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: We got the great news today that there are some Americans that are coming home. But you know why they were being captured and held hostage in the first place? Because they know that if you take an American hostage, Barack Obama will cut a deal with you. And it’s created an enormous incentive for people in countries and movements around the world to do this against us.

AMY GOODMAN: Shane, your response?

SHANE BAUER: This is just—is inaccurate. I mean, the idea that Iran knows that the U.S. will cut a deal with them if they take prisoners doesn’t have precedent. I mean, other—you know, there was the '79 hostages, but these years that Iran has been taking prisoners, they haven't been getting really anything out of it, you know, concrete. The U.S. has not been giving them anything in exchange for their prisoners. You know, you can’t conflate Iran with ISIS. You know, Iran is not detaining Americans because it thinks it’s going to get some kind of ransom or there’s a price on their head, the way that there is for Americans, you know, that have been detained by ISIS. Iran is using this as a political maneuver. And, you know, like I said, Iran releasing these Americans is a sign that, you know, hopefully, we’re leaving this kind of era of what is basically hostage taking by Iran. But this is dependent on—in part, on our relationship with Iran, you know, on our ability to release—to ease these tensions.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to Hillary Clinton. On Sunday, CNN’s Jake Tapper questioned Hillary Clinton on her calls for the fresh sanctions against Iran. And he read out your tweets, Shane Bauer, criticizing her comments.

JAKE TAPPER: On Saturday, you called for new sanctions against Iran for its ballistic missile program. That prompted a response from another American who was once held prisoner in Iran—Shane Bauer, one of the hikers released in 2011. He had some tough words for you on Twitter, writing, quote, “Seriously, why would Hillary call for more sanctions now? As far as we know, 4 of the Americans are still in Iran. Totally irresponsible,” unquote. He also said, whenever he was in Iran, whenever he heard your voice, his heart would sink, because, quote, “All she ever does with Iran is inflame tensions.” I want to give you a chance to respond.

HILLARY CLINTON: Well, look, I appreciate what he went through when he was held prisoner in the infamous Iranian prison. And we were very happy that we were able to get him and the two other hikers back home. But we have a very clear path we are pursuing with Iran. I am pleased that we do have an agreement that is being implemented. And I was part of putting that in place by getting the sanctions imposed on Iran that the entire world went along with. But we also have made it clear from the beginning that their missile activity is still subject to sanction. That is part of the overall approach that the administration has taken toward Iran, and that I support.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Hillary Clinton being interviewed by Jake Tapper on CNN. Shane Bauer, your response to what she said? Also, you had dealings with Hillary Clinton. She was secretary of state during your time in captivity and when you were released, right? You met her.

SHANE BAUER: Yeah, yeah, Clinton was secretary of state the entire time that I was in prison in Iran. And, you know, in those tweets, I was referring to times when I was, you know, in prison. I remember hearing—the first time I heard Hillary Clinton’s voice in a neighboring cell, somebody had a television, and, you know, I ran to the door and was kind of listening. And, you know, she basically demanded that Iran release us. And this became an ongoing issue that, you know, frankly, was difficult for us in prison. You know, it was—Clinton would kind of demand that Iran act, and of course Iran is not going to do something, you know, when the U.S. is just telling it to do so. So it would always kind of feel like, OK, now I have to settle into a couple more months in prison.

You know, our release was really initiated by Oman. Oman saw it in its interest—really, it saw our release as part of a larger game in starting nuclear talks between the U.S. and Iran, which it saw as benefiting Oman because, you know, they didn’t want escalations between the two countries. Oman is really close to Iran, and any kind of military conflict would have impacted its economy. So, Oman believed that if it could get us out of prison, then it could use that channel of negotiation to have nuclear talks in the future. There wasn’t really a channel of negotiation—I mean, there wasn’t negotiation between the U.S. and Iran over our case. It was more Oman kind of going back and forth between each country and trying to convince them to do something. And the man who was in charge of this, Salem Ismaily, was constantly frustrated by Hillary Clinton. You know, he would feel like he got close to a deal in getting us out, and then she would make some kind of public provocation with Iran. You know, obviously, we were released, and that channel was ultimately used to set the groundwork for the nuclear talks in the future.

As far as her response to those statements, I mean, she didn’t address the fact that she was putting Americans’ lives at risk. And I think the question is, you know: Why is it so important to make these hard—to show that you’re being tough with Iran, when, you know, these people are about to get out in a few hours? As far as the issue of the new sanctions, the new sanctions actually were implemented the day after she made that—you know, the Obama administration announced, after these Americans had left Iran, that there were going to be new sanctions on Iran. These new sanctions, you know, are much, much more limited than the old sanctions. I mean, they’re really targeted sanctions, targeting a few individuals and companies. They’re not going to be draining Iran’s economy like these old sanctions.

But at the same time, you know, I think we need to be thinking about the bigger picture: What is our goal with Iran? What are we trying to do? Are we trying to ease tensions with the country or, you know, continue this kind of hostility? You know, Iran—nobody wants Iran to have a ballistic missiles program, which is what these targets—these sanctions are targeting. But we also, you know, when we have such a huge breakthrough like this, I think it’s important for us to step back and think about, OK, how are we going to—how are we going to use this momentum and go forward?

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Levinson has still not been released. He is the retired FBI agent who vanished after traveling to the Iranian island of Kish in March of 2007. He was a retired FBI agent. His family confirmed he was doing independent work for the CIA, his family angry because they only learned of the prisoner swap, that of course did not include Levinson, on television. Shane?

SHANE BAUER: Right. I mean, Levinson has been missing for years. And, you know, I sympathize with his family. As far as we—really, we don’t know where he is exactly. His situation has always been different from the other Americans detained by Iran. It’s not clear whether the Iranian government knows where he is or not. It’s not even clear whether he’s in Iran. You know, there’s been indications that he might be in Pakistan. You know, we just don’t know right now.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Shane, we have 30 seconds, but what advice do you have for the prisoners who are returning in how to cope? You were held at Evin Prison for more than two years.

SHANE BAUER: Look, these guys are entering a new phase of their detention. You know, in many ways, it’s over, but it’s also—you know, it’s not. I mean, there’s going to be difficulties in readjusting, inevitably. I think they need to take it slow. I think they need to resist pressure to, you know, stand in front of the cameras. They need to spend time with their families and loved ones. And really, they just need to do what feels right for them. Nobody, nobody, including myself or anybody else who’s been in their situation, knows what is going to work for them in getting back into the lives.

AMY GOODMAN: Shane, thanks so much for being with us, award-winning senior reporter at Mother Jones magazine, co-author of the memoir, A Sliver of Light: Three Americans Imprisoned in Iran. He spent 26 months in Tehran’s Evin Prison, four of them in solitary confinement.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, a debate on Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Two socialist feminists talk about their positions. Stay with us.

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