Chapter 3: Terrorism and Hostages in the US

In this chapter, the conflict between the terrorist and the government come to a head. The manner in which the government chooses to negotiate with the terrorists (or not), interested me, and thus I decided to do my research on the way that the United States government chooses to negotiate with terrorists in a hostage or kidnapping situation.

In the U.S., according to the “Fact Sheet: U.S. Government Hostage Policy,” family engagement should be at the forefront of the hostage recovery effort.[1] The Fact Sheet goes on to address a number of key points, including the existence of a “Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell.” This cell is intended to coordinate all efforts to retrieve any hostages, and is composed of members from all relevant agencies within the government. There is also a group designated as a “Hostage Response Group” who “will meet on a weekly basis, and additionally as needed, to review and provide guidance on hostage recovery strategies and ensure high-level support. . .” These two groups are particularly interesting as they have immediate impact on a hostage situation. Also, there is a “Family Engagement Team” whose sole responsibility is to work with the families of hostages throughout the situation.

In a document titled “Presidential Policy Directive – Hostage Recovery Activities,” it is made clear that the U.S. Government will work to their utmost to facilitate the return of hostages, however, the directive does note that “the United States Government will make no concessions to individuals or groups holding U.S. nationals hostage.”[2] The directive continues on to note that “it is United States policy to deny hostage-takers the benefits of ransom, prisoner releases, policy changes, or other acts of concession.” The directive claims that this reduces the risk of kidnapping for U.S. citizens because there is less reasonable reward for taking a U.S. citizen hostage if the government has made it clear that they will not concede to demands. However, the directive also notes that the above statement does not mean that there will be no communication, and it once again emphasizes that the government will attempt to retrieve the hostage or hostages.

The document goes on to detail the ways in which the government will work to prevent such situations, through training, threat assessment, and international engagement. It also discusses the aforementioned groups and cells in significant detail. However, the next key portion of this is found in the section regarding familial involvement in such a situation. The U.S. has developed a guideline that requires the families of hostages be treated fairly and protected from harm, physical or emotional.

In a BBC article regarding U.S. hostage policies, it is stated that “President Barack Obama has directed the US government not to threaten the hostages’ families with prosecution if they attempt to pay captors’ ransom.”[3] The White House is quoted in the same article as saying that “’no concessions’ does not mean ‘no communication.’” Additionally, the article quotes the U.S. Department of Justice as writing, “the department does not intend to add to families’ pain in such cases by suggesting that they could face criminal prosecution.” In a U.S. Department of Justice statement, the department clarifies this, saying that “the department has never used the material support statute to prosecute a hostage’s family or friends for paying a ransom for the safe return of their loved one.”[4]

The U.S. Government’s strict policy on ransoms for hostages has been a source of political conflict as well as public debate. Many feel that the government should pay ransoms in order to ensure the safe return of captives, but it is not unreasonable to say that the policy of not paying discourages hostage taking. In conjunction with the conversation on game theory I wrote on last week, if it has been publicized, as the U.S. Government has, that there will be no ransoms paid to terrorists, then the maximum reward potential is drastically reduced. While families of hostages can produce ransoms, the size of those is presumably smaller than a governmental ransom might be. According to game theory, with the smaller possible payout, many groups should be discouraged from taking U.S hostages, as there is a larger chance of success when kidnapping a citizen from a country that has not sworn to make no concessions to terror cells.

I have to wonder if we will see U.S. involvement as the hostage situation in Bel Canto progresses. It could add another level of complexity that would serve to isolate or draw the characters closer together.

[1] https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/06/24/fact-sheet-us-government-hostage-policy

[2] https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/06/24/presidential-policy-directive-hostage-recovery-activities

[3] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-33260645

[4] http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/department-justice-statement-us-citizens-taken-hostage-abroad

–Sara Laudeman

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