'Longstanding' US Policy: Ransom Encourages Kidnappers

Monday, 25 Aug 2014 02:21 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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The U.S. policy of not paying ransom money to kidnappers should not change, former U.S. officials are saying after the murder of one kidnapped journalist and the weekend release of another.

"The U.S. policy of not paying ransom to kidnappers is longstanding, and it is sound. It would be a mistake of strategic proportions to change that policy," said former CIA deputy director Michael Morell, now a CBS News analyst. "If we were to do so, many more Americans would be kidnapped ... and we would be become an ATM for militant groups around the world."

He noted that Europeans are more likely than Americans to be kidnapped abroad, and that's likely because European governments will pay off ransom demands.

Last week, American journalist James Foley was beheaded by an Islamic State killer in a gruesome video that was broadcast on YouTube for a short time until it was taken down.

While the killer said he was executed as retribution for President Barack Obama's order for airstrikes against the jihadist group, a week before, Foley's kidnappers contacted his family and demanded $100 million.

Over the weekend, Peter Theo Curtis, a reporter who had been held by the al Qaida-backed jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra front in Syria, was released. The Qatari government negotiated for his release, but it's not known what his captors' demands were or how many of them had been met.

Curtis' mother said that ransom wasn't involved in her son's release, and the Qatari government told the family that the release was negotiated on a "humanitarian basis without the payment of money."

There had, however, been ransom demands ranging from $3 million to $25 million for Curtis' release.

On Sunday, White House deputy press secretary Eric Schultz said the government will "use all of the tools at our disposal to see that the remaining American hostages are freed," but did not say if those tools include ransom.

Ransom means big money for al-Qaida and its affiliates, reports The New York Times.

An investigation last month revealed that the terror network brought in $125 million in ransom since 2008, and $66 million in 2013 alone — mainly from European governments.

Ransom demands that are paid inspire groups like the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), to snatch more hostages, said former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey.

However, some are saying that a ransom could have saved Foley's life, including his brother Michael, who told Yahoo News that "more could have been done directly on Jim's behalf."

"I really, really hope that Jim's death pushes us to take another look at our approach to terrorist and hostage negotiation," he said.

The no-ransom policy exists to protect American citizens, Jeffrey said, as hostages are often killed during their capture.

But there are many who believe ransoms should be considered, including former CBS news anchor Dan Rather, who told CNN that he'd consider negotiating a payoff "if some member of our 'Dan Rather Reports' team was kidnapped."

Story continues below video.



Rather said people "can criticize that if you want, damn if you want, but the loyalty to our people who work with us and take these great chances engenders loyalty back."

But while the United States says it refuses to negotiate, there are times it does, reports The Washington Post. For example, the exchange of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban commanders was negotiated, but the government says there is a difference between having a soldier released and paying a ransom for a captured civilian like Foley.

"Ransom payments lead to future kidnappings, and future kidnappings lead to additional ransom payments. And it all builds the capacity of terrorist organizations to conduct attacks," said David Cohen, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the Treasury Department in 2012. "If kidnappers consistently fail to get what they want, they will have a strong incentive to stop taking hostages in the first place."


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