On January 12, 2016, the day of President Obama’s final State of the Union Address, Iran captured 10 American sailors when their boats wandered into Iranian waters in the Persian Gulf.  During the 15 hours the sailors were held, Iran humiliated them, forced an American female sailor to wear a hijab, and released photos of Americans with their hands up surrounded by armed Iranian soldiers. 

The sailors also were interrogated, filmed while crying and forced to apologize at gunpoint.  One of the sailors was forced to make a video apologizing for wandering into Iranian territory and thanking Iran for “your hospitality and your assistance.”

Despite the mistreatment and humiliation of the U.S. sailors, Secretary of State John Kerry thanked Iran for treating the sailors well and credited improved U.S.-Iran relations due to the nuclear deal with Iran for the quick resolution of this incident.

Congressman Randy Forbes (R-Virginia) recently said the full details on how badly the American sailors were mistreated by Iran will shock the nation but won’t be released for at least a year because the Obama administration has classified this information.

Why is this information classified?  Who is the U.S. government keeping it from? 

Not Iran, since the Iranian government knows what happened. 

But this raises an even more serious issue.  Congressman Forbes says Americans will be outraged when they learn the full details of how Iran mistreated our sailors.  But I am already outraged by what was publicly released about this incident.  What could have happened that the Obama administration does not want us to know?

The full details on Iran’s capture and humiliation of the U.S. sailors have been classified by the Obama administration for one reason – to hide this information from the American people so it does not lead Congress to pass new sanctions against Iran that could cause Tehran to back out of the president’s legacy nuclear deal with Iran.

This is part of a pattern of the Obama administration concealing and explaining away any behavior by Iran which could threat the nuclear deal. 

Obama officials have denied that ballistic missile tests by Iran this spring and last fall violated the Iran deal or UN Security Council resolutions.  Written on the side of some of these missiles were the words, “Israel should be wiped off the Earth.”

I wrote in National Review in March that as what was probably a secret side deal to the nuclear agreement with Iran, IAEA reports on Iran’s nuclear program have been dumbed-down and will not publicly disclose Iranian violations of the nuclear agreement. 

We know from a May 5, 2016 New York Times profile of National Security Council adviser Ben Rhodes that the Obama administration conducted a campaign of deception to sell the nuclear deal with Iran and manipulated journalists to publish stories supporting it.  We now know from Congressman Forbes that the Obama administration is using classification rules to conceal from the American people information that could undermine the Iran deal.

Mr Forbes plans to address this matter with legislation that would increase sanctions on Tehran for its treatment of the U.S. sailors in order to hold Iran accountable for its aggressive behavior.

While I applaud Congressman Forbes for this legislation, more must be done about this incident: Congress must release the classified report on how Iran mistreated our sailors.

The classification of this report is a serious abuse of presidential authority since it clearly was classified for domestic political reasons and not to prevent the disclosure of sensitive information to a U.S. adversary.  The American people and the U.S. Congress deserve to know exactly what happened to the America sailors and to use this information to assess for themselves President Obama’s nuclear diplomacy with Iran.

Congress can legitimately release this report from the floor of the House or Senate using the “speech and debate” clause of the Constitution which the Supreme Court ruled in the 1972 Gravel v. United States case exempts members of Congress from prosecution for reading classified material into the public record. 

Suggesting that Congress break classification laws and regulations is a very serious matter.  But if there ever was a moment to do this, because of the nuclear deal with Iran this moment has come.

  • The agreement is an affront to the Constitutional prerogatives of Congress since the president refused to submit it as a treaty for ratification by the Senate.  A majority of Congress voted against the Iran agreement last September but it survived since it was not defeated with filibuster-proof majorities. 
  • House Intelligence Committee member Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas) is pressing for a formal congressional investigation on whether the Obama administration deliberately misled Congress about the Iran deal last summer to prevent Congress from voting to disapprove the deal.
  • The nuclear deal is a dangerous fraud that will do little to address the growing threat from Iran’s nuclear program.  A senior Obama aide has admitted the administration sold this agreement to the American people through a campaign of lies and deception. 
  • Iran’s behavior has grown much worse since the Iran deal was announced in July 2015 by increasing its support to the Assad regime and a Shiite insurgency in Yemen, continuing its threats to Israel, recent threats to “down” U.S. Navy ships in the Persian Gulf, and other belligerent behavior.

We have a lawless president in the White House with an incompetent foreign policy who has run roughshod over Congress for seven years.  By releasing the classified report on how Iran mistreated the 10 U.S. sailors it captured last January, Congress can stand up to this administration’s abuse of authority and serial dishonesty.  Unless Congress can identify a valid national security reason for the classification of the report on, it should release this report from the floor of the House or Senate ASAP.  

Fred Fleitz is senior vice president for policy and programs with the Center for Security Policy, a Washington, DC national security think tank. He held U.S. government national security positions for 25 years with the CIA, DIA, and the House Intelligence Committee staff. Fleitz also served as Chief of Staff to John R. Bolton when he was Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security in the George W. Bush administration. Fleitz specializes in the Iranian nuclear program, terrorism, and intelligence issues. He is the author of "Peacekeeping Fiascos of the 1990s: Causes, Solutions and U.S. Interests" (Praeger, May 30, 2002).