- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 24, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

President Obama on Wednesday declared that Americans need not fear government prosecution if they negotiate — even pay ransom — for the release of a loved one who has been taken hostage, even though no one has ever been prosecuted under the law.

The move follows the death of several U.S. hostages and at least one failed attempt to free a captured American. After a six-month review of hostage policy, the president told families: “We will not abandon you. We will stand by you.”

Critics, though, said the president’s new policy does virtually nothing to help families get back their loved ones being held hostage by terrorist organizations, which are all Islamic.

That’s exactly the concern of a bipartisan group of lawmakers like who said the administration’s approach does more harm than good.
“The brutal murders of innocent Americans held hostage by the Islamic State are tragic and sober reminders that the terrorist threat against the United States and its allies is real and ongoing,”  House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, President Obama’s decision to change our nation’s longstanding policy against paying ransom demands to terrorists does more harm than good. In fact, it empowers, emboldens, and incentivizes these violent extremists to capture and hold more Americans hostage for ransom. I urge President Obama to reconsider the implications of this policy shift and ensure that our hostage policies will actually serve to protect American lives,” the Virginia Republican said.

Rep. Duncan D. Hunter, California Republican and a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said the law change does not go far enough.

“After a long, drawn-out review of U.S. hostage policy, the changes offered up by the White House prove that neither the right questions were asked nor were any lessons learned,” Hunter said in a press release. “Wholesale changes are needed, but what’s being put forward is nothing more than window dressing, I fear. It’s a pathetic response to a serious problem that has plagued the ability of the U.S. to successfully recover Americans held captive in the post-9/11 era.”
Even families of those held captive by terrorists said the new policy falls short.

Elaine Weinstein, whose husband Warren was killed by an American drone strike, said: “The families of captives have said they have felt confused by what they see as conflicting government guidance about negotiating with terrorists to retrieve their loved ones.”

But she said the efforts of the U.S. government “fell short.”

“The information we received over three and a half years was inconsistent at best and utterly disappointing,” she said.

Under the new guidelines, the federal government will help families of hostages communicate with the terrorists, either directly or through intermediaries.

“These efforts will be focused on ensuring the safety and security of a family to prevent them from being defrauded or further victimized by a hostage-taker,” the White House said in a fact sheet. “In short, we will not abandon families in their greatest time of need.”

But House Speaker John Boehner said allowing families to pay ransoms endangers Americans.

“We have had a policy in the United States for over 200 years of not paying ransom and not negotiating with terrorists,” he said. “The concern that I have is that by lifting that long-held principle you could be endangering more Americans here and overseas.”

But the Obama administration has already negotiated with terrorists for the release of captives. In order to win release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, Obama released five Guantanamo Bay detainees. 

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