If Iran's supreme leader awarded medals to Iranians who detained U.S. sailors during an incident in January, it's "unconscionable," a State Department spokesman said Monday.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei awarded the Order of the Fat'h medal to Rear Adm. Ali Fadavi, the head of the Revolutionary Guards Corps Navy, as well as four commanders who seized two U.S. Navy botas and detained the sailors for 14 hours before releasing them, Reuters reported Monday after Iran's state media reported the news one day before.
State Department spokesman John Kirby said he could not confirm whether the ayatollah doled out the awards, but condemned the possibility.
"If it's true … it's not only unwarranted, it's unconscionable," he told reporters Monday during his daily press briefing.
The Navy is still investigating the circumstances surrounding Iran's actions in detaining the U.S. sailors and whether Tehran violated any international laws or norms.
Kirby declined to weigh in on the Navy probe and stressed that the U.S. sailors were not mistreated during their detention. He also said Secretary of State John Kerry was not shy in expressing his outrage over Iran's decision to release video of the U.S. sailors on their knees at gunpoint.
"He was very honest about how abhorrent he found that," Kirby said.
Kerry publicly expressed his anger and frustration over Tehran's release of the video, but days after the episode was over. Immediately after the U.S. sailors' release, Kerry thanked the Iranians for their safe return, stoking criticism that he had become too close to his Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif, during the nuclear deal negotiations.
Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, has railed against Kerry's handling of the incident and argues the Iranian detention of the sailors at gunpoint broke international law and centuries of maritime tradition.
The Arizona Republican wants the Obama administration to condemn the behavior instead of praising the Iranians for agreeing to give the U.S. sailors back unharmed.
"It's been three weeks since Iran's illegal detention of American sailors in the Persian Gulf," McCain said in a statement. "Ayatollah Khamenei has pinned the Order of Fat'h medal to the chests of those that mistreated and humiliated American personnel. Yet the Obama administration has still failed to condemn Iran's behavior for what it was: a violation of international law.
"The Ayatollah has made his views clear as to how American military personnel are to be treated," McCain continued. "It's time for the president and other administration officials who incredibly have praised Iranian behavior and downplayed this incident to clarify the position of the United States, confidently affirm basic principles of international law, and protect our men and women in uniform."