After a third American was beheaded by ISIS, the Obama administration confirms it’s reviewing its policy on bargaining for hostages.
But exactly what could change as far as ransoms or other concessions granted in exchange for Americans is extremely vague at this point.
Peter Kassig, a former U.S. Army Ranger turned humanitarian aid worker, was kidnapped in Raqqa in October 2013. The 26-year-old Indiana native did not deliver any scripted text before the camera, such as the statements journalists James Foley and Steve Sotloff were forced to read.
Some believe he was living by the Ranger creed up until the end: “Surrender is not a Ranger word… under no circumstances will I ever embarrass my country.” There’s also speculation that he may have been killed in an airstrike before the video was released, or fought back against his execution thus resulting in an edited video release. His severed head was displayed but not his body.
ISIS has executed U.S. and British hostages whose countries have a longstanding policy of not negotiating with terrorists. Other European countries have gotten hostages back in exchange for ransom payouts; the Treasury Department said last month that ISIS had raked in about $20 million this year in ransoms. Though the administration traded five senior Taliban prisoners for the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in May, Foley’s mother said she was threatened with prosecution if she tried to raise funds for her son’s ransom.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said today that President Obama ordered a review of the U.S. hostage policy “over the summer.”
“Given sort of the extraordinary nature of some of the hostage takings that we’ve seen this year, the president felt it was warranted to direct the relevant departments and agencies who have traditionally been involved in assisting families as they try to recover the safe return of their family members,” Earnest said.
The Pentagon, State Department, FBI and intelligence community have undertaken the review, he said.
“The one thing that I do want to make clear, though, is, this review does not include a reconsideration about longstanding policy of the United States government that ransoms should not be paid to terrorist organizations that are holding hostages. But this is obviously an issue that the president takes very seriously. We have long said, and we continue to take the view, that significant resources have in the past been dedicated to trying to ensure the safe return of American citizens who hare being held hostage overseas,” Earnest said.
“And there was an incident earlier this summer where the president did order a rather remarkable military effort — principally military effort — to recover some American citizens who were being held hostage in Syria. That was a mission — a mission that was successfully executed, but it did not successfully result in the safe return of the hostages.”
It was a reference to the White House’s claim after Foley’s shocking murder that U.S. forces attempted an early summer rescue of American hostages in Syria, something Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called “a flawless operation” except for the fact “the hostages were not there.”
Earnest said he didn’t know when the review will be concluded, “but when it has been, I’m sure we’ll let you know about it.”