I Can't Believe It's Not Weed!
Eighteen months after journalist James Foley was kidnapped in Syria, his parents, Diane and John, began their own efforts to free him.
The U.S. has a no concessions policy — meaning the government does not “negotiate with terrorists.” So if Diane and John wanted to offer a ransom to get James back, they had to provide it themselves. They commissioned a filmmaker to produce a short video to show at fundraising events, hoping to raise enough money to exchange for their son. But the fundraising never really took off. In August of 2014, James was executed by the Islamic State.
Joel Simon, a longtime employee of the Committee to Protect Journalists, started a review of the no concessions policy following James’ death, evaluating whether it is the right approach. He writes in his book We Want To Negotiate: The Secret World of Kidnapping, Hostages and Ransom:
Different countries take different approaches to the kidnapping of their nationals. Some take a hard line, and others are willing to talk. I wanted to understand not only which approach was more effective, but also the moral and political consequences of providing funding to a terrorist organization.
[…] When its citizens are held hostage, a government must adopt a posture along a continuum — on one end, you walk away from a threat to kill a hostage, and on the other, you capitulate to it.
Eighty-one percent of EU hostages held by Jihadi terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS were freed, according to a New America study from 2017. In contrast, hostages from the U.S. were freed 25 percent of the time. Simon says the data is conclusive on this point: “Countries that pay ransom tend to get their hostages home alive.”
What have we learned about the way the U.S. handles hostage situations involving its citizens? And as threats to journalists abroad have increased, what needs to change?
Show produced by Paige Osburn. Text by Kathryn Fink.
Our Full Interview With Diane Foley
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