When Iranian Revolutionary Guards seized fifteen Royal Navy sailors and marines who were inspecting a merchant ship in the Gulf straits in March, the British reaction was one of shock and disbelief. Surely there was some misunderstanding? It soon became clear that the prisoners had in fact been taken hostage. Against all the rules of war, they were coerced into making humiliating appearances on Iranian television; a particularly ugly touch was that the only female sailor was denied her uniform and obliged to wear a Muslim hijab. They were forced to serve the purposes of Iranian propaganda by reading prepared confessions and statements calling for the British to pull out of Iraq. The hostages were threatened with a trial, while staged demonstrations outside the British embassy called for their execution. Americans who had been through the hostage crisis of 1979–1981 could and did tell the British what to expect. One former hostage told the

 

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