September 24th, 2010
04:24 PM ET

American hiker Sarah Shourd meets Iranian president

[Updated 4:23 p.m.] Freed American hiker Sarah Shourd and her mother, Nora, met Friday with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in New York, a family spokeswoman said.


[Updated 9:16 a.m.] Sarah Shourd is happy to be back in the United States after being held for 14 months in an Iranian prison. The homecoming, as welcome as it was, is still bittersweet. Her companions, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal are still being held. The three were arrested last year when they were hiking near the Iran-Iraq border. Sarah Shourd talked on CNN's "American Morning" about her ordeal and efforts to get her two friends free.

Kiran Chetry: I can't imagine the emotion you're going through. How are you physically and mentally after the release?

Sarah Shourd: Well, it is hard to explain. I mean, of course, I feel grateful. I wouldn't be free if it wasn't for a huge groundswell of supports of governments and people across the world from Desmond Tutu in South Africa to a homeless woman in San Francisco donating money for us. It is incredible. I know that the same people are doubling their efforts and no one's going to give up until Shane and Josh are with us.

John Roberts: I can't imagine the experience. One moment hiking out there in the country and then the next you're in Iran's notorious Evin prison.

Shourd: Nothing in life can prepare you for something like this. The only thing that got me through is thinking about my mother suffering and loved ones and I had to come back to them. I had to walk out strong and now I have to be stronger than ever. I didn't expect it to end this way for me. I mean, it is not over but I didn't expect to have my freedom be so bittersweet.

Chetry: Because they're still there and you, as you said, you know nothing. There's no information coming out. Have you heard anything from the Iranian government or anyone?

Shourd: No. It's always uncertain. There's no guarantees, no assurances. We're hopeful. This is a good precedent. I was released on humanitarian [grounds] and I feel confident they'll extend the same to my fiance and dear friend and I hope it is soon. This is too long. Now, our pain was invisible. Everyone is seeing the pain of our families which is in many ways just as bad. And in many ways worse, you know? But no one can see your pain when you're in prison. You're invisible. The guards, streaming down tears, slamming the door in my face and walk away. Now only I know what Shane and Josh are enduring. I can see them in the cramped little cell with very little sunlight and [they] only get out an hour a day and, you know, they exercise side by side on a space like the size of a towel. And they're wonderful, wonderful people. And I want the world to meet them.

Roberts: We've certainly got an idea of what your families were going through because we had Josh's brother, Alex and mom on [the show] a lot. We had your mom on one morning and we certainly know the pain that they were enduring but people wondering about the pain that you were in and how you were treated. I know you have said that some of your captors were nice. Some of them not so nice. Did they ever physically abuse you?

Shourd: No. No. I mean, it is all psychological. And it's just the hardest thing, of course, is being so alienated from your family. I begged and cried for a phone call and i didn't get it until i think the seventh month. I'm still unclear on the chronology. But, you know, by the time I got a phone call I lost hope that it was going to happen and so many ups and downs. You think it will be over and then goes on and on and on.

Chetry: More than a year following the story every step of the way and some viewers also were wondering how it all started. Can you just walk us through or just explain that day? You guys were hiking in Kurdistan and then everything changed in an instant.

Shourd: Yeah. My fiancee Shane Bauer and I have been fascinated by the region. We wanted to immerse ourselves in that part of the world to learn more about it and to be hopefully more of a bridge between the people in that region and the people in our country. So I taught in Damascus for a year and there's not a lot of green mountains in Damascus. It's a beautiful country.

Roberts: A lot of brown.

Shourd: Yeah. A lot of beautiful desert and craggy rocks and I had two friends that traveled in northern Iraq. It's not a war zone. Americans have not been hurt there. You know? Even while all of the violence was raging in the south. It wasn't happening in the north so it was an easy place. I only had a week off of work of my teaching job in Damascus so it was an easy, quick trip to some green mountains and we'd been assured by our research that it was safe and really nothing like this happened there before. Our story was completely unexpected and tragic. We did nothing wrong.

Chetry: Why didn't the Iranians believe you? I mean, they're accusing you of espionage-like charges. What was the point of that?

Shourd: I don't know if  I'll ever completely understand that but all I can say is we did nothing wrong. We meant no harm to the Iranian people. We did not intend to cross the border. It was unmarked. We were on a trail behind the tourist site. There were hundreds of families there - very popular spot by a waterfall and families picnic and I - I just think it's a huge misunderstanding more to do with the problems between the countries than with us as individuals.

Roberts: You said you got the idea, 'Wait a second. This is all political.'

Shourd: Yeah. Unfortunately, it's true. You know, I wouldn't be sitting here if there weren't countless people that believed in our innocence. I don't think there's a doubt in the world we didn't intend to go to Iran. We would never risk our safety in that way and put our families through this. You know?

Roberts: President Ahmadinejad is here this week and I know that you have wanted to try to get in touch with him. He was on with Larry King on Wednesday talking about whether or not Shane and Josh would get out. He said that's 'in the hands of the judge. I've made my appeal.' Do you think you will have a chance to meet with him?

Shourd: Yeah, well, I don't see why he wouldn't want to meet with us. I have no animosity towards him or the government. I want it to be resolved and I want it to be finished. And I think that it would be a really good opportunity to, you know, push this forward for us to meet each other.

Chetry: What would you say to him?

Shourd: I don't know if it's going to happen. I would just ask him to release my fiance and my friend for the same reasons he released me, you know? As a humanitarian gesture. This is not politics and governments and we don't deserve to suffer any longer and neither do our families.

Roberts: What do you think about the idea he fought for a prisoner swap? Would you support that?

Shourd: Well, you know, I'm not a politician. Honestly, this is not my area of expertise. I don't know how it should be resolved but it should be resolved and I want to continue to emphasize it's a humanitarian issue and I hope that it ends in a way that, you know, can move us forward.

Roberts: Yeah.

Shourd: Our country and Iran and create a better relationship between us.

Chetry: You know, in reading your accounts it was amazing that there were these small and few and far between moments of you that happened while you were in the prison. One was that Shane asked you to marry him there, right?

Shourd: Yeah.

Chetry: I notice you have a thread on your hand.

Shourd: Yeah.

Chetry: He made an engagement ring for you. Tell us about that.

Roberts: Hold it up. We'll get a shot.

Shourd: Oh, sure. Yeah. Shane's a romantic guy. It was just - you know, we see each other an hour a day outside and Josh stayed in the room so we could have some time alone and Shane said I have something to tell you. I said, I hope it's not bad because I'm having a really bad day and it was a beautiful moment.

Roberts: You were planning on asking him if he didn't ask you?

Shourd: Uh-huh. I was going to wait until after prison. He beat me to it. I'm glad because he said we'll be able to really believe in our future together and sustain us.

Roberts: I know you'll work hard to win their release and we'll keep following the story to the end. Great to see you this morning.

Shourd: Likewise.

Chetry: Best of luck. Such a strong person to be going through this and we wish this ends as you said very quickly. Thanks so much.

Shourd: Thank you.

Watch American Morning weekdays 6am to 9am ET. For the latest from American Morning click here.

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soundoff (324 Responses)
  1. Mehdi General Dr Bad

    Reda thes emessages, YOU are disgusting pigs.
    and YOU will waste NO MOre of MY Time or words.
    YOU do not matter.
    YOU will die stupid. Alhumdililiah.

    September 24, 2010 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Mehdi General Dr Bad

    Now YOU EXPLAIN it.

    September 24, 2010 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Mehdi General Dr Bad

    now lets play some more fuking Games.

    September 24, 2010 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Barry Soetoro

    Im having a difficult time convincing myself that she and as she said, "hundreds of other hikers" were hiking in the same area inside Iraq. She's not telling the full truth is what my gut is saying. But who knows? Who really knows except her and our esteemed federal government.

    September 24, 2010 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      To be fair, there are plenty of beautiful tourist spots within both Iraq and Afghanistan. Contrary to popular belief, neither country is at a standstill right now as the conflicts in both countries continue. War or no war, life continues as "normal" as it can.

      Regardless of the conflicts, people will continue to take vacations, visit restaurants with friends, and pretty much anything else that we enjoy in America. It's not uncommon for people in that country to do on vacation to some of the gorgeous sightseeing areas like the one these three hikers were at.

      September 24, 2010 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mehdi General Dr Bad

      You are Correct Barry, and it would Be " My Self" Who " ReallY KNows".
      They are Reporters -kids- and they Were Snooping – stupid.
      And I Do Not LIke Being Lied To.
      Her Bail is Revoked.

      September 24, 2010 at 10:59 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Help Here

    Hey Guys, will you visit SaveStan.ORG a friend of mine with 4 babies is fighting for his life.......Thanks

    September 24, 2010 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Admin

    I would love to meet that guy, and bury my fist in his face

    September 24, 2010 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mehdi General Dr Bad

      1. Line up and Sign up.
      2. Post your Real Name and home Town. (I deliver)

      September 24, 2010 at 10:56 pm | Report abuse |
  7. cuteykev

    Hi everybody! :o) No offense but, um, shouldn't she be at a gynecologist or something? If she has all this "energy" for publicity, she must have had energy to remain in a jail.

    And why didn't the Iranians believe her? Half of Americans don't believe her. I mean, I don't know about the espionage angle. But the idea they were simply hiking treacherous mountains smack-dab in the middle of one of the most notorious war and terrorist-laden zones is a bit ridiculous.

    She simply is not "reading" credible (sadly for her buds still in Iran). She ought to stop talking if she really wants to help them.

    September 24, 2010 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
  8. alice

    How about that! She looks so calm and collected, no trace of hard suffering in an Iranian prison, thumbs up to her former employer CIAo!

    September 24, 2010 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Remove this

    Cnn really needs to remove this comments section, it frightens me to be an American surrounded by the adolescents that post on here, most all on here need to just go away, you make comments about countries, peoples, governments and policies you know nothing about, if it weren’t for the Web or TV you would not know of this story because your to lame to read a paper you morons, this great country is doomed we are breeding self indulging, selfish, uneducated F!!!ing asssssholes!!

    September 24, 2010 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      After reading a decent portion of the posts here, most of which have the same ignore tone YouTube posts have, I'm finding that I agree with you.

      September 24, 2010 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Ignorant* That's what I get for typing in a hurry.

      September 24, 2010 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Brian Nobili

    This chics an idiot for hiking near the border...and prob. most def. CIA

    September 24, 2010 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
  11. philosopherkingtomas

    she is a fool to be hiking near Iran and in war torn Iraq! idiots, give them all DARWIN awards

    September 24, 2010 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
  12. philosopherkingtomas

    looks like one of the mormon wifes that are always trying ot escape from their polygamist "prisons".

    September 24, 2010 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Donkey Punch

    She should have kicked him square in the NUTS

    September 24, 2010 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
  14. the_dude

    This is going to be a great springboard to launch her into her new career as a liberal but objective editorial writer for cnn. Next she will hit the campain trails for pelosi and reid and make paid appearnces on the maher show and comedy central news. A year in capitvity is a small price to pay if this turns into a career for her. I bet the other hiker bois have the same plans. Book deals, larry king interviews, oprah, the name it she will be on it. I can just see the mad for tv movie now. Mark my words she will in the employ of cnn or associated press by this time next year.

    September 24, 2010 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Jody

    Are you serious? Say Chris, have you been to Iraq? I have family that have been there fighting for our country and I assure you we are not welcome! The Iraqi army has finally taken over from the US and now were fighting a horrbile war in Afghanistan. I welcome you to explore there.

    No one wants those young adults to be hurt but to say where they hiked was just fine is a real silly.

    September 24, 2010 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Jody, I have not personally been to Iraq, but I have spent time in the region. I'm currently an International Affairs major and have taken opportunities to go when they came up. From a military perspective, it's easy to get a perspective that we are not welcome in the region primarily because the people we are fighting want us out. Extremist elements in the region are not the majority, but they are the most dangerous and will continue to be a danger to our troops for some time.

      For the people in the region that are caught in the crossfire, they do not hate us. Instead, it's more resentment than anything because we are bringing down the wrath of these extremist groups not just on ourselves but on their own people within the country. That's called suppression. They do not hate us, but simply dislike the increased violence after we arrived in the region. That's not our fault, nor the people of Iraq or Afghanistan. It's the extremists elements (fundamentalists) in both countries that have no regard for human life be it friend or foe.

      I don't disagree with you, Jody, that it is dangerous. Let's not get the people that are not even considered Muslims by their own people confused with the others that are simply trying to live their lives in this region. I have friends both in the region and back home that are devout Muslims, and they despise the acts committed by these fundamentalists.

      Just because an act is committed by individuals claiming to do it in the name of a religion does not make the act committed in the name of that religion. These extremists are monsters. That's all they are since they twist a religion to fit their own needs.

      It's unfortunate these three hikers were taken as prisoners, and it's fortunate one of them has been released. The risk of their trip in the region was high, but they also had spent considerable time in that area of the world long before this aggressive act by Iran happened. They're not unaccustomed to the level of risk involved. Regardless of the risk, it is our government's obligation to protect its citizens both at home and abroad.

      Would I go hiking that close to the Iranian border? You wouldn't catch me in Iraq right now, especially near the border. Iraq has been unable to form a solid government, and lawless regions are always higher risk. Not to mention, Iran is up to its usual nonsense. Five years to a decade from now, I'm willing to bet it will be a safer place to go hiking. So, I do agree that the timing was the best.

      That part of the world is extremely beautiful and rich in culture. The people are amazing, and the history is just phenomenal. That's what is attractive to so many.

      September 24, 2010 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      I also wanted to add that while they may not necessarily hate us, the military catches a lot of flack simply because of our government's modern day imperialistic ideals. That area of the world really isn't open to democracy, especially when it comes to a form of government with extremely obvious Western style, being imposed on them. Iraq has been unable to form a government so far for good reason. It's not a system they're accustomed to or even like.

      So, I do agree with what you're saying about it being poor judgment. It still doesn't change the fact that it's unfortunate, and it is our government's obligation to do everything they can to get them back safely.

      September 24, 2010 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
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