AFP: The 15 British sailors freed by Iran told Friday how they were subjected to intense “psychological pressure” and threatened with prison during their two weeks in captivity. ROYAL MARINES BASE CHIVENOR, England, April 6, 2007 (AFP) – The 15 British sailors freed by Iran told Friday how they were subjected to intense “psychological pressure” and threatened with prison during their two weeks in captivity.
Addressing a press conference a day after the group’s return to Britain, Royal Marine Captain Chris Air and naval Lieutenant Felix Carman said they had been isolated from each other, handled roughly and told they faced seven years imprisonment if they failed to confess to being in Iranian waters.
They were at times blindfolded and handcuffed when lined up against a wall and their Iranian captors used mind games in a bid to get information and confessions.
There was “constant psychological pressure,” Carman said as he read out a joint statement on behalf of the eight sailors and seven marines captured in the northern Gulf on March 23 while carrying out anti-smuggling operations.
“Fighting back was simply not an option,” said Air of their capture. “If we had, some of us would not be here today, of that I am completely sure.”
Air, 25, was one of the captive servicemen shown on Iraqi television admitting that the group had trespassed into Iranian waters.
On Friday, he rescinded that statement, stressing that they were “well inside” Iraqi waters when captured.
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.
“She coped admirably” Air said. Turney was not present at the press briefing at the Royal Marine Base Chivenor in Devon, southwest England, where the 15 spent their first night of freedom after being reunited with their families and friends.
Carman, 26, said of the interrogation techniques used by their Iranian captors: “The questions were aggressive and the handling a bit rough,” he said.
Prior to the press briefing, Admiral Sir Jonathon Band had praised the sailors’ bravery and dignity during their detention and rejected suggestions that they should not have made “confessions” about breaching Iran’s territorial waters.
“They weren’t on combat operations. They weren’t like people shot down in Tornados in the (first) Gulf War,” said Band, who as First Sea Lord is head of the Royal Navy.
“I don’t think there is any doubt from the statements some of them made, and certainly the letters, that they were under a certain element of psychological pressure.
Band also said Britain had suspended 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 made headline news in Britain Friday, but coverage was tempered by the deaths of four soldiers, including two women, in a roadside bomb attack in southern Iraq on Thursday.
The deaths bring the British death toll in Iraq in the last week to six and 140 since the start of the US-led invasion in March 2003.
Prime Minister Tony Blair on Thursday repeated his assertion that “elements” in Iran were backing insurgent attacks in Iraq, although it was too early to say whether there were definite links for the latest attack.
British newspapers highlighted similarities between explosive charges used by insurgents in southern Iraq and Iranian weapons.
The Sun tabloid said Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has “our blood on his hands”, claiming the bomb attack that killed the four soldiers was “almost certainly engineered” by the Iranian president.