We watched a crazy scene where two of the police officers were shouting at one another and almost came to blows in front of us, shoving each other hard in the chest. We had no idea what they were arguing about.
Every once in awhile, we would get pulled in again and someone else wanted to see the tape and ask more questions. There were frowns when they saw the images of the police on the tape, although the "good cop" said "no problem."
By early evening, still not knowing what was going on and now starting to demand information, one of the cops told us that the senior officer who needed to see the tape was not coming in until the morning. At every turn, there seemed to be one more person who had to see it before they would decide what to do with us. They all seemed scared to make a decision on their own, fearing it would be the wrong decision.
The police said they would allow us to leave (they knew exactly what hotel we were in), but they would hold onto the passports and we could come and get them first thing in the morning. I said I wasn't leaving without my passport, but they just shook their heads. We were assured that if we arrived at eight the next morning and showed the taped to the senior officer, we would be free to leave the country.
That didn't happen. When we arrived the next morning, there was no senior officer, and those who were there seemed angrier about the tape than the night before. I started demanding our passports and threatened to call the State Department. Talk about an empty threat!
When I finally did call, I got an operations officer on the all-night desk. I told him that I was an ABC correspondent, and that I was being detained along with my crew and that our passports had been confiscated.
The State Department representative said there was really nothing he could do because we don't have diplomatic relations, and said, "You know it is five in the morning here?" Gee ... sorry to bother you. I did ask him to please make sure that he took down my name and make a note that I was being held along with my crew (in case we were never heard from again!). He said OK. I later asked a senior state department official who saw all the daily cables and traffic if he every saw that mentioned, and he said, "No, nothing."
By the end of day two, we were being told the situation was serious and we had been taping illegally and that the situation would have to be looked at by yet another official. We were told that we would again have to come back the next day for our passports.
At this point, I took a chance, a big chance since I am a woman and didn't really know how it would play. In my best voice of indignation, I called the officer a liar. I told him that they had not been honest, that we had been told for two days that we would be given our passports and allowed to leave, and they had continually lied to us. I told him that we had to leave the country.
That little tirade at least made them stay later to deal with the bureaucracy of finding the right man to see the tape. To be honest, I am not sure what happened behind the scenes after that, but I know that two hours later, passport in hands, tape forever in Iranian hands, we left Tehran on the next flight out, and were very happy we did.