U.S. won't prosecute hostages' families who pay ransom.
June 23, 2015 2:23 PM   Subscribe

The U.S. government will no longer threaten to prosecute families who try to pay ransom to win the release of American hostages held overseas, and the United States will directly negotiate with militants holding them but will not pay ransom, officials said on Tuesday. The change is one of many that are intended to fix what the administration has acknowledged is a broken policy on United States captives, a senior administration official said.
posted by Sir Rinse (33 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
It is always a temptation for a rich and lazy nation,
To puff and look important and to say: --
"Though we know we should defeat you, we have not the time to meet you.
We will therefore pay you cash to go away."

And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
But we've proved it again and again,
That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
You never get rid of the Dane.
[source]
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:49 PM on June 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


Well, that's...better?

I totally get the logic in not wanting to pay ransoms for fear of encouraging further kidnapping. One can argue that back and forth, but I get it. Prosecuting an individual for paying out separately from the government seems pretty heartless.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 2:56 PM on June 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


This situation is a black mark on an otherwise reasonably competent handling of foreign policy issues from Obama and Kerry. I'm glad they are trying to address it.
posted by Drinky Die at 3:01 PM on June 23, 2015


And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
But we've proved it again and again,
That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
You never get rid of the Dane.


A few pirates and kidnappers are infinitely preferable to the Military Industrial complex mostly because pirates and kidnappers can be killed, caught, prosecuted or negotiated with.
posted by srboisvert at 3:11 PM on June 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


And yet other developed nations pay ransoms if need be to save their own citizens without collapsing into the sea. Amazing.
posted by 1adam12 at 3:14 PM on June 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


mostly because pirates and kidnappers can be killed, caught, prosecuted or negotiated with.

Which will assuredly be used as support for further funding the Military Industrial Complex, which will be tasked with the killing and catching
posted by Hoopo at 3:17 PM on June 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Prosecuting an individual for paying out separately from the government seems pretty heartless.

Unless failing to do leads to more randoms paid, which frustrates the whole point.
posted by jpe at 3:19 PM on June 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well, quite a bit of ransom sometimes. Recent leaked cables show the Saudis were willing to pay up to $10 billion to the Muslim Brotherhood to free Hosni Mubarak.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 3:19 PM on June 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


From the second link, it doesn't sound so much like the policy is bad as that it's too haphazardly applied to achieve its purpose.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:29 PM on June 23, 2015


You know, for whatever reason I was thinking about hostages and ransoms just the other day. Specifically how I always got the you don't negotiate with terrorists/kidnappers lest it encourages more bad stuff but now that I'm a dad, holy shit this is not some abstract opinion on foreign policy (or whatever this would be considered). Negative reinforcement be damned, I'd be listing all my internal organs on Craigslist.
posted by dismitree at 3:39 PM on June 23, 2015 [7 favorites]


"Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute."
-Robert Goodloe Harper

More like "billions to support OUR terrorists", right?
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:03 PM on June 23, 2015


If someone kidnaps and demands a ransom...regardless of whether you pay or not, it's not in the best interest of the kidnapper to return the person.


Whatever their policy used to be, I don't understand how making this public would cut down in the number of ransom demands Americans receive. I see it doing the exact opposite. I don't really see this helping anyone at all. In fact, I can see some groups going "oh wow, we can totally collect from the family now! CHA-CHING!!!"
posted by hal_c_on at 4:24 PM on June 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


A crowdfunding website to raise funds for paying ransoms for captives held overseas - KidnapStarter
posted by joelf at 4:40 PM on June 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't really see this helping anyone at all.

There have been so many reports of US-supplied munitions &c ending up in the hands of ISIS and al-Nusra; on the other hand, the USA is now sharing a military base with Iraqi Hezbollah. The USA is effectively funding both sides in this internecine conflict; I have no idea idea whether Obama even has a strategy in the Middle East any more.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:49 PM on June 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


If someone kidnaps and demands a ransom...regardless of whether you pay or not, it's not in the best interest of the kidnapper to return the person.

This could be viewed through the lens of game theory.
posted by Sir Rinse at 4:53 PM on June 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


There have been so many reports of US-supplied munitions &c ending up in the hands of ISIS and al-Nusra; on the other hand, the USA is now sharing a military base with Iraqi Hezbollah.

This is interesting. Following that link:

The U.S. gives weapons directly only to the Iraqi government and the Iraqi Security Forces, but the lines between them and the militias are blurry. U.S. weapons often fall into the hands of militias like Iraqi Hezbollah.

Yet that photo is not Iraqi Hezbollah given the flag. That's a Lebanese Hezbollah (حزب ال ) flag, not affiliated with Iraqi Hezbollah (حركة حزب الله في العراق).
posted by standardasparagus at 5:09 PM on June 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


hal_c_on: If someone kidnaps and demands a ransom...regardless of whether you pay or not, it's not in the best interest of the kidnapper to return the person.

Has there ever been a situation where the kidnappers get to return the hostage and run off with their money? If the movies are to be believed, there's always a ruse or exploding briefcases or something that turns the tide for the good guys to win.
posted by dr_dank at 5:24 PM on June 23, 2015


Has there been a family prosecuted for paying a ransom? Ever? I heard a brief comment in the middle of an interview of a family member of one of the recent middle east captives that was killed before negotiations were successful. The family member reported a discussion with an FBI agent who said that "the agency was not in the business of prosecuting families of captives".

But unless the family has really deep pockets paying a ransom is not a quick solution.
posted by sammyo at 6:04 PM on June 23, 2015


"Has there ever been a situation where the kidnappers get to return the hostage and run off with their money?"

My understanding is that it's quite common. There are a number of countries where kidnapping is professionalized... Kidnappers treat their victims reasonably (ie: don't hurt them, feed them okay, etc), and professional negotiators safely get back the folks. Both the negotiators and the kidnappers have reputations to keep intact (ie: no one is giving money for ransom to a group that has fucked over folks in the past, and no kidnapper wants to negotiate with folks that try to give them up to law enforcement).*

* I'm not sure how I know this, I could be completely full of shit.
posted by el io at 6:06 PM on June 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


That's a Lebanese Hezbollah (حزب ال ) flag, not affiliated with Iraqi Hezbollah (حركة حزب الله في العراق).

Are you sure they didn't just adopt a different motto? The color scheme is wrong for Lebanese Hezbollah.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:07 PM on June 23, 2015


My understanding is that it's quite common

FARC, originally a communist insurgent party in Columbia, and active since 1964, is now basically a kidnapping and extortion ring. One of FARC's most typical targets is an international business executives with K&R insurance: kidnapping and ransom. They kidnap, insurance pays out, executive goes home with a story to tell. As long as this transaction goes smoothly, it's apparently quite civilized.
posted by fatbird at 7:22 PM on June 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Why do I keep hitting myself with a hammer? Because it feels so good when I stop.

Nah, creating a single point of contact for this will help. As will ending the attempts to shoehorn hostage taking into counterterrorism, military, intelligence, etc. sectors and keeping execution vague.
I mean, God forbid you have an on-scene commander coordinating intelligence, options, capabilities and tactical efforts with a single authority capable of the operational agility to respond regardless of the political wind. That would suck, right?

Policy is policy but responses have to be, by the basic nature of strategy, inconsistient. It's sort of the inversion of gambling. You want people to not want to keep trying to play to win.
Negotiation has to be part of that end of it. Don't negotiate, you get less information on their operations and goals.
And if you don't have the authority to back up what you say, there's no point in kidnappers talking to you.

Maybe saying "no concessions" makes lawmakers feel tough. *shrug*

It's not the same as saying we're not going to seek to destroy their operation and take them down. If someone can't be negotiated with, that's why you have the tactical elements.

But, importantly, vice versa. Look at the Russians with the Dubrovka theater in '02.

Political policy - that is getting cooperation of other countries to crack down, working with international law and business - is not the operational or crisis management end of the pool.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:54 PM on June 23, 2015


Are you sure they didn't just adopt a different motto? The color scheme is wrong for Lebanese Hezbollah.

Yes; the Facebook post closes with هذا وعد الله هذا وعد السيد حسن نصر الله (This is God's promise that promised Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah). But the Green triangle on the left of the flag is curious, yet the emblem itself is the one used by Lebanese Hezbollah, as well as Iran's Revolutionary Guard. Iraqi Hezbollah uses a different emblem.
posted by standardasparagus at 8:27 PM on June 23, 2015


Pournelle had this thing in The Prince where Falkenberg's legion wouldn't even think about ransom. Even when it was the Colonel.

When someone was kidnapped, they were considered KIA, and the only thing the soldiers cared about was recovering the body and killing as many of the kidnappers as they could while doing it.
posted by mikelieman at 12:27 AM on June 24, 2015


You know, for whatever reason I was thinking about hostages and ransoms just the other day. Specifically how I always got the you don't negotiate with terrorists/kidnappers lest it encourages more bad stuff but now that I'm a dad, holy shit this is not some abstract opinion on foreign policy (or whatever this would be considered).

As a former teacher (who really did love my students very much and would have run back into an old building to save any one of them them during an earthquake, an event that came perilously close to happening), I initially assumed that you meant that, now that you have a child, the idea of negotiating with terrorists is no longer abstract. I mean, I love kids, but there are times.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 5:37 AM on June 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Pedantic, but: Negative reinforcement be damned, I'd be listing all my internal organs on Craigslist. Penalty for paying a ransom is actually an example of positive punishment.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:35 AM on June 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


And yet other developed nations pay ransoms if need be to save their own citizens without collapsing into the sea. Amazing.
1adam12

What's also amazing is these other developed nations' funding of terrorism:
Kidnapping Europeans for ransom has become a global business for Al Qaeda, bankrolling its operations across the globe.

While European governments deny paying ransoms, an investigation by The New York Times found that Al Qaeda and its direct affiliates have taken in at least $125 million in revenue from kidnappings since 2008, of which $66 million was paid just last year.

In news releases and statements, the United States Treasury Department has cited ransom amounts that, taken together, total around $165 million over the same period.

These payments were made almost exclusively by European governments, which funneled the money through a network of proxies, sometimes masking it as development aid, according to interviews conducted for this article with former hostages, negotiators, diplomats and government officials in 10 countries in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. The inner workings of the kidnapping business were also revealed in thousands of pages of internal Qaeda documents found by this reporter while on assignment for The Associated Press in northern Mali last year.
This is exactly the Dane geld calculation mentioned above: by paying ransoms you are creating a business of kidnapping. That's not really something to be smugly self-satisfied about.
posted by Sangermaine at 7:57 AM on June 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Any parent, child, sibling or spouse who doesn't want to pay ransom out of some theoretical possibility of future harm would be one cold hearted bastard.

Of course, by paying ransom they are not only providing an incentive to kidnap other people's kids--they are funding the act. Like a company dumping toxic waste in the water, it makes sense in a market context and sucks for everyone else.

Exactly the time to have a rule as ironclad as you can bear to make it. Pretending that you're going to prosecute private citizens who pay and not following through seems OK. Not pretending you're going to prosecute also seems OK. Governments definitely shouldn't pay and I'm not sure what I think when it's corporations and of course I hope I'm never in a situation where it's actually my decision.
posted by mark k at 8:20 PM on June 24, 2015


The law, in its infinite majesty, permits the rich as well as the poor to pay million dollars in ransom to terrorists.
posted by JackFlash at 9:18 PM on June 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


The poor are unlikely to have the problem in the first place; they'll probably just be killed anyway.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:37 PM on June 24, 2015


Devil's advocate, but wouldn't this be a more direct manner to transfer wealth (cash) from the rich to the poor, than anything the most liberal of political parties have put forward?

Kidnap kids of the rich, ransom them.

Big industry in Mexico. The bigger the (apparent) wealth gap, the more likely this will keep happening.
posted by porpoise at 12:14 AM on June 25, 2015


I dunno, the drug war has been pretty good at redistributing wealth to developing country organized criminals too.
posted by Drinky Die at 3:47 AM on June 25, 2015


This all sounds suspiciously like the Second Law of Thermodynamics:

"It says energy [read money or wealth] has an absolute unfailing tendency to go from 'more concentrated' to 'less concentrated'. It sort of 'spreads out' and gets 'diluted'."
posted by Sir Rinse at 6:59 AM on June 25, 2015


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