Obama Okays Negotiations with Hostage-takers

 

Militant Islamist fighter waving a flag, cheers as he takes part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa provinceOn Wednesday, President Obama will release an executive order to allow the U.S. government to negotiate with terrorists for the release of American hostages, according to CNN.

The White House claims that the government will not pay ransom or make “substantive concessions” to terror groups, but it will no longer prosecute families who wish to pay them.

The payment of ransoms to terror groups like ISIS and al Qaeda has long been tolerated, though it is technically illegal. The administration has looked the other way when families of Americans held overseas have paid ransoms.

On Wednesday, the White House will explicitly indicate that families should not fear criminal prosecution if they choose to make ransom payments. The new directive will not include a formal change to existing laws. But administration officials will state publicly, for the first time, that ransom payments will be tolerated.

Officials said the administration will offer clear internal guidance to federal agencies on how to discuss the ransom issue with families to avoid confusion or mixed signals from the government.

However, the longstanding administration policy against government concessions to hostage takers, including paying ransoms, will be reiterated and not be altered.

The Obama Administration also will create an FBI office called the Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell, which will coordinate federal response in these situations.

Obama made these changes following heavy public criticism by the families of journalist James Foley (killed by ISIS) and aid worker Warren Weinstein (killed in a U.S. drone strike). Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), who pushed the administration to update their hostage efforts, thinks the White House’s actions are too little, too late.

“The changes offered up by the White House prove that neither the right questions were asked nor were any lessons learned,” Hunter said to CNN. “Wholesale changes are needed, but what’s being put forward is nothing more than window dressing, I fear.”

Any negotiation with terrorists seems like a bad precedent to me, but in this age of rampant Islamic terror, the federal government must do something to improve its response. Constitutionally, the move looks awful since Obama isn’t trying to change the law through a Congressional debate, but has just decided not to enforce the laws on the books.

What do you think: Is this a step in the right direction or should the U.S. refuse to talk to groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda?

Published in Foreign Policy, Military
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  1. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Ball Diamond Ball:

    I have been struggling to respond to this without being *merely* insulting on the on hand, and without being ridiculously PC on the other — speaking in code that thinly veils an insult just to gain technical compliance with the CoC while being fast-handed with its spirit.

    I wish you greater luck in future struggles, but it might help if you eased up on the struggle to avoid being politically correct when those two are the competing principles.

    This comment of Tommy’s is the sort of thumb-to-nose contempt and contravention of norms that is provocative to a high degree. Think of this as a mutual defense pact in which one party begins by announcing his intent to defect at the first sign of trouble. The phrase “separate peace” is one of the least offensive terms that can even be mustered to discuss this stance.

    I think that the phrase “separate peace” is an excellent one. It’s not politically correct, it condemns the principle rather than the man, and it reminds us of the timeless nature of the problem.

    • #31
  2. Tommy De Seno Contributor
    Tommy De Seno
    @TommyDeSeno

    Ball Diamond Ball:

    It it’s my kid being held, I’m paying. You think I shouldn’t because it puts your kid at risk?

    Then don’t pay when yours gets taken.

    Sorry folks but I don’t have a collectivist view and won’t trade that in now just to say I oppose the President.

    I don’t give a rat’s rear about him, his law, or the rest of you if my kid is being held.

    I’m on my own and so are you.

    I’m paying.

    I have been struggling to respond to this without being *merely* insulting on the on hand, and without being ridiculously PC on the other — speaking in code that thinly veils an insult just to gain technical compliance with the CoC while being fast-handed with its spirit.

    This comment of Tommy’s is the sort of thumb-to-nose contempt and contravention of norms that is provocative to a high degree. Think of this as a mutual defense pact in which one party begins by announcing his intent to defect at the first sign of trouble. The phrase “separate peace” is one of the least offensive terms that can even be mustered to discuss this stance.

    JP Getty’s grandson never got over that his grandfather didn’t pay his kidnappers.  He struggled through life and died fairly miserable.

    It didn’t stop kidnapping, so what was the point?

    Again I’m not a collectivist.   If my kid is taken, what help will others give us?  I anticipate none.     What help have you given to the families who have loved ones being held by ISIS?   My guess would be none.

    • #32
  3. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Tommy De Seno:JP Getty’s grandson never got over that his grandfather didn’t pay his kidnappers. He struggled through life and died fairly miserable.

    It didn’t stop kidnapping, so what was the point?

    You don’t need to be a collectivist to believe in the rule of law, unless you believe that minarchists are collectivists. Laws against murder don’t free us entirely from murder, but they reduce it. Similarly, laws and moral rules against the payment of ransom don’t eliminate kidnapping, but they reduce it. America has pretty fantastically low rates of kidnap for ransom in part because so few share your moral outlook.

    Tommy De Seno: What help have you given to the families who have loved ones being held by ISIS?   My guess would be none.

    My ability to directly help those suffering under ISIS has been limited. What I have done is help to slightly increase the use of banking by those who were attacked, before they were attacked, which meant that it was harder to steal their money, which may have slightly reduced the number of people with loved ones being held by ISIS (I think it’s better to never have one’s loved one murdered, tortured, imprisoned or raped, or be made to murder, torture, imprison, or rape than to be rescued from that).

    I’ve also spent time learning about the issue and on some occasions have been able to educate the elected officials and bureaucrats who have a near monopoly on the use of effective violence.

    I’ve also donated money to a charity that supports refugees, including many of the families that have loved ones being held by ISIS.

    Now, if you’re serious about the possibility that you might personally travel out there and kill them all in the manner of Caesar, my help is dwarfed by your possible help, but I don’t think it’s fair to characterize it as “nothing”.

    • #33
  4. Tommy De Seno Contributor
    Tommy De Seno
    @TommyDeSeno

    I suspect if I asked you’d say the US has not effectively combated ISIS (but I could be wrong).

    If my kid is taken by them, and my government doesn’t do squat, am I really helped by the things you’ve listed?

    The matter is acute at that point.  What help is your having donated to a charity doing for me?

    Kidnapping is a personal matter that does not have loss shared among society like an insurance scheme. The pain is in one spot and shared by none.  You may have empathy but not the pain of the wound.

    There is no way I’m sitting on my rear if my kid is taken and pretending solace that my government thinks doing nothing is a hard line policy.

    No way.

    I’m paying then seeking revenge.

    Sit back and feel good about policy if yours is taken.  Your choice.

    • #34
  5. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    Tommy De Seno:I suspect if I asked you’d say the US has not effectively combated ISIS (but I could be wrong).

    If my kid is taken by them, and my government doesn’t do squat, am I really helped by the things you’ve listed?

    The matter is acute at that point. What help is your having donated to a charity doing for me?

    Kidnapping is a personal matter that does not have loss shared among society like an insurance scheme. The pain is in one spot and shared by none. You may have empathy but not the pain of the wound.

    There is no way I’m sitting on my rear if my kid is taken and pretending solace that my government thinks doing nothing is a hard line policy.

    No way.

    I’m paying then seeking revenge.

    Sit back and feel good about policy if yours is taken. Your choice.

    Should James’ offspring be menaced, I will go.  Yours, not so much.  You have made other arrangements.  This is the glove you have slapped us with — wear it like a man.

    • #35
  6. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Tommy De Seno:I suspect if I asked you’d say the US has not effectively combated ISIS (but I could be wrong).

    I’d say that they haven’t been as effective as they should have been, but that ISIS is likely to be defeated with far less harm done than if the US hadn’t helped the Iraqi army to victory in Mosul and Tikrit, slowed the ISIS advance into Iraq, helped the Iraqi Kurds take Sinjar, helped the Syrian Kurds keep and retake the environs of Kobane, and helped the FSA keep Idlib.

    If my kid is taken by them, and my government doesn’t do squat, am I really helped by the things you’ve listed?

    I think it implausible that the government would do “squat”. Even under Obama, some efforts are made at recapture. They’re not always successful, but that’s not the same thing. Those efforts are, in general, though, conducted the moral way; by attempting to murder the kidnappers and rescue the hostages without payment. There’s not been all that many American victims so far, though (perhaps not completely by coincidence). If you were a refugee whose family member had been kidnapped then, yes I think that having a temporary home would be helpful, although it’s obviously not enough to avoid horror. Just as a practical matter, ending horror in ISIS held territory (or Assad held territory) seems over-ambitious as an aim for me personally.

    The matter is acute at that point. What help is your having donated to a charity doing for me?

    Well, obviously I haven’t been able to help you, personally, out with that sort of issue, because you, personally, haven’t faced that sort of an issue. And if you did, you wouldn’t be in as bad a situation as most of those who suffer from ISIS’ oppression (having a kid kidnapped and being thrown out of your home and having the rest of your life destroyed is worse than having a kid kidnapped, even though both are extraordinarily bad), so charitable help would probably be less important.

    Also, as you note, the fact that if your kid was in Syria or Iraq, my minor efforts in reducing ISIS funding would make it marginally less likely that your kid would be kidnapped, wouldn’t be meaningful after your kid was kidnapped.

    Kidnapping is a personal matter that does not have loss shared among society like an insurance scheme. The pain is in one spot and shared by none. You may have empathy but not the pain of the wound.

    The funding of ISIS is an affirmatively evil act. That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t feel for your loss, but I don’t have to support it, either. There are a lot of evil criminals who do awful things for their family in ways that one can sympathize with without endorsing.

    There is no way I’m sitting on my rear if my kid is taken and pretending solace that my government thinks doing nothing is a hard line policy.

    Of course not. Under the old law parents would generally be highly active, talking to and lobbying for action from those competent to take it.

    No way.

    I’m paying then seeking revenge.

    If you reply to this comment, please specifically reply to this bit. I’m super curious about how you would go about your one man wrecking machine plan. Does it involve a bandanna?

    Sit back and feel good about policy if yours is taken. Your choice.

    I’m not sitting back. I take every opportunity for activism on this issue that I can, and some of those opportunities have been non-trivial (although, sadly, I can’t talk about them).

    • #36
  7. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Ball Diamond Ball:

    Tommy De Seno:

    Should James’ offspring be menaced, I will go. Yours, not so much. You have made other arrangements. This is the glove you have slapped us with — wear it like a man.

    Do you and Tommy think that ad hoc private sector invasions would be sensible ways to respond to these horrors? I appreciate the offer, but if ISIS survives long enough for my child to be conceived and born, and then to kidnap them, and does so, I’d really appreciate efforts to encourage the US military (or the UK military; I’m not so patriotic that I’d object to my kids being rescued by soldiers with my wife’s preferred flag rather than mine) to save my kids. The equipment and intelligence to achieve that is so mindblowingly expensive, though, that I really would want this to be a government thing…..

    I guess if the government wouldn’t, and if a PMC would for an amount of money my family and I and well-wishers could lay my hands on, and seemed to have a plausible chance of success, I might be reminded of this conversation and give you a call, BDB, to see if you wanted to tag along. I appreciate the offer standing despite my being wrong about Cruz.

    • #37
  8. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    James Of England:

    Ball Diamond Ball:

    Tommy De Seno:

    Should James’ offspring be menaced, I will go. Yours, not so much. You have made other arrangements. This is the glove you have slapped us with — wear it like a man.

    Do you and Tommy think that ad hoc private sector invasions would be sensible ways to respond to these horrors? I appreciate the offer, but if ISIS survives long enough for my child to be conceived and born, and then to kidnap them, and does so, I’d really appreciate efforts to encourage the US military… to save my kids. The equipment and intelligence to achieve that is so mindblowingly expensive, though, that I really would want this to be a government thing…..

    James, the problem with Tommy’s stance is that it is difficult to actually implement selective collective defense.  This is why ridicule and abuse are the appropriate corrective measures.  We can debate details, but that’s not the point.  My distinction referenced above is true as pith, not in detail of execution.  The fact is, in a military capacity, I would go as ordered (assuming I served in a military capacity at the time), and even Tommy’s kid would get rescued *or not* depending upon who’s in office.  This makes it a “free-rider” problem.

    Likewise, I am not speaking specifically of ISIS.  Don’t get lost in the weeds.

    • #38
  9. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Ball Diamond Ball: This is why ridicule and abuse are the appropriate corrective measures.

    I’m not sure that abuse is ever an appropriate corrective on Ricochet.

    Ball Diamond Ball: This makes it a “free-rider” problem.

    Agreed.

    • #39
  10. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    There is a difference between correct and correct on Ricochet.

    • #40
  11. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Ball Diamond Ball:There is a difference between correct and correct on Ricochet.

    I, uh, don’t want to encourage off-Ricochet abuse of Ricochetti, but if you’re in a similar conversation with someone who you know outside of Ricochet, outside of Ricochet, then, yes, I can see very mild abuse being more understandable. At the very least, not covered by the CoC.

    • #41
  12. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    James Of England: Do you and Tommy think that ad hoc private sector invasions would be sensible ways to respond to these horrors?

    What’s a little filibuster between friends?

    • #42
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