(CNSNews.com) - As the Obama administration hails the release of 10 American sailors as a triumph of diplomacy with Iran, many Republicans say the nine men and one woman never should have been captured, photographed and used for propaganda purposes in the first place.
"Did you see what they did with these sailors?" Sen. Marco Rubio asked Fox News's Greta Van Susteren Wednesday night.
"They took pictures of them on the deck of a ship with their hands behind their back. Then they put them in a jail pen, and they made the female sailor cover her head in a scarf. They took pictures of them and video and put it up on Iranian television as if to say, look what we can do to America, we can capture their sailors, we can make them get on their knees, we can humiliate them.
"You know why they did this? Because they know they can get away with it, because they know Barrack Obama's weak, because they know he won't do anything about it. I'm glad they were returned, and I'm glad that they're safe.
"But the humiliation they're trying to inflict on us goes beyond just that one instance. He mentioned Iran's recent missile tests and the "constant" anti-American "rhetoric."
Rubio said Obama is to blame for the fact that Iran thinks it can get away with these things.
"If the right president was in charge, someone that they know is not trying to coddle them or reach out to them in a way that makes us weaker, they would have never captured them and they would have immediately sent them back. What was the point of putting them in a jail cell? What was the point of making them get on their knees and put their hands behind their back? Do you think a friendly country would have done that to America? They would have helped them fix the engine and go back on their way."
Rubio said the disgraceful treatment of the American sailors proves that the Iranian leadership is not friends with the U.S. "And they are doing this because they understand this is a weak president who will not do anything about these sorts of things."
State Department spokesman John Kirby told Fox New's Sean Hannity that the circumstances of the American sailors' capture is still being investigated, "but the reason we thanked them (Iran) is because they did work quickly on the diplomatic side to secure their release."
Kirby noted that it was through John Kerry's connection with Iran's foreign minister -- the two of them working on the Iran nuclear deal -- that Kerry "was able to secure their release."
"That's what we should really be focused on now -- that they're safe and they're sound and none of them were hurt," Kirby told Sean Hannity Wednesday night.
"Our focus here at the State Department truly was on trying to work the connection that we had. And before, you know, this Iran deal, we didn't even have that connection. So we wouldn't have been able to secure the release as quickly as possible. I mean, I can almost assure you that had it not been for Secretary Kerry's quick intervention here, those sailors would most likely be in Iranian hands."
Earlier on Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry said he was pleased that the ten Americans were safely returned to the United States.
"As a former sailor myself...I know as well as anybody how important our naval presence is around the world, and certainly in the Gulf region. And I could not be, and I know the president could not be prouder of our men and women in uniform.
"I also want to thank the Iranian authorities for their cooperation and quick response. These are always situations which, as everybody here knows, have the ability, if not properly guided, to get out of control. And I'm appreciative for the quick and appropriate response of the Iranian authorities. All indications suggest or tell us that our sailors were well taken care of, provided with blankets and food and assisted with their return to the fleet earlier today.
"And I think we can all imagine how a similar situation might have played out three or four years ago. And in fact, it is clear that today is a testament to the critical role that diplomacy plays in keeping our country safe, secure and strong."
President Obama, speaking Wednesday in Omaha, didn't mention Iran at all, but his spokesman did:
"Well, I can tell you the President has been updated on a regular basis by members of his national security team about that situation," Obama spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters. "And we're obviously pleased that the Iranians followed through on their commitment to promptly allow our sailors to continue their journey.
We're appreciative of the key role that Secretary Kerry played in securing this outcome. I do think it underscores the value of the diplomatic line of communication that's been opened between Secretary Kerry and his counterpart. It certainly has not resolved the long list of concerns that we have with Iran's behavior.
"That list includes threatening Israel, developing ballistic missiles in violation of a variety of United Nations Security Council resolutions, and supporting terrorism. But today's outcome is a good reminder that this kind of diplomatic engagement -- that has been the target of some criticism -- actually does advance the interests of the United States and enhances our national security."
Earnest said the U.S. Defense Department is still investigating the circumstances surrounding the sailors' capture.
According to the Associated Press, a defense official said the Navy has ruled out engine or propulsion failure as the reason the two American boats entered Iranian waters. Navigation problems, due either to human or mechanical failure, could not be ruled out, said the official, who was not authorized to discuss details of the incident and so spoke on condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile, Iran had considerable incentive to return the American sailors. The Islamic nation is expected to satisfy its obligations from July's nuclear deal in the coming days, diplomats reported Wednesday, obliging Washington to remove punitive sanctions.