The U.S. Navy's top military officer told lawmakers Tuesday that Iran's detention of 10 sailors in January went against international law.
"Those sailors by international law should not have been captured and detained," said Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations, at a House budget hearing.
"I think we've made that very clear that that behavior is not consistent with international law," he said.
Richardson called the incident "another indication of the type of threat we're dealing with here."
On Jan. 12, Iran intercepted the sailors as they were transiting two small craft, known as riverine boats, from Kuwait to Bahrain. Defense officials have said a navigational error caused the boats to drift into Iranian waters.
The Iranian military boarded the boats and filmed crew members kneeling with their hands on their head, and in following days released video of the sailors being detained, including one wiping away tears.
They were detained for 16 hours before Secretary of State John KerryJohn Kerry Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Interior returns BLM HQ to Washington Biden confirms 30 percent global methane reduction goal, urges 'highest possible ambitions' 9/11 and US-China policy: The geopolitics of distraction MORE secured their release. Administration officials credited the diplomatic channels with Iran created by the Iran nuclear deal for the sailors' release.
The incident infuriated members of Congress, particularly those staunchly opposed to the nuclear deal.
"We don't want our sailors ever treated in that manner again, and there should be some repercussions," Rep. Rodney FrelinghuysenRodney Procter FrelinghuysenBottom line Republican lobbying firms riding high despite uncertainty of 2020 race Ex-Rep. Frelinghuysen joins law and lobby firm MORE (R-N.J.), chairman of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee said at the hearing.
"Absolutely," agreed Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), who opposed the deal.
Richardson said a Navy investigation into the matter would be released in a month or two.
The Navy chief also said that despite the Iran nuclear deal, "not much has changed" in terms of Iran as a threat.
"Iran has been acting with malign intent across several different vectors, whether it's short-range or medium-range ballistic missiles; whether it's anti-ship coastal defense cruise missiles – you know, across the spectrum," he said.
"And so we, you know, we applaud the– the agreement that would eliminate a nuclear threat from Iran, but from our perspective, so much has not changed in terms of what we have to do to watch Iran, secure that region for safe passage of resources through the Strait of Hormuz, and operating in the Gulf."