While the official U.S. policy has long been that we don’t pay ransom to terrorists who kidnap American citizens, the Obama administration is working to find a way around this long-standing and eminently sensible stance.

The idea is to allow the family of hostages held by terrorists to pay ransoms to terrorists and avoid prosecution for aiding terrorist organizations. 

ABC News reports:

Families of American hostages who communicate with foreign kidnappers or raise money and pay ransoms will no longer have to fear prosecution for aiding terrorist groups, a White House-ordered advisory group on U.S. hostage policy is expected to recommend, senior officials told ABC News last week.

“There will be absolutely zero chance of any family member of an American held hostage overseas ever facing jail themselves, or even the threat of prosecution, for trying to free their loved ones,” said one of three senior officials familiar with the hostage policy team’s ongoing review.

It appears that in the matter of the families versus the government, both get their way.  The families, understandably, want to save their family members (though paying ransom is no guarantee), and this government prefers to negotiate with, rather than defeat terrorists.

While the White House appears to be couching the latest development as exercising their option not to prosecute families for providing material aid to terrorists, ABC reports that the White House is likely to set up a Hostage Family Engagement Team:

The likely White House move is in anticipation of findings and recommendations by a hostage policy review team from the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center expected to be delivered to President Obama in the next few weeks.

“In response to what we have heard from family members, we are considering the establishment of a working-level, operationally-focused coordinating Fusion Cell to ensure a whole-of-government response to overseas hostage events,” said the senior official familiar with the review. “We are also considering the establishment of a Family Engagement Team as a permanent part of the Fusion Cell, to ensure that families have full-time and direct access to professionals who can provide timely information and other necessary support during and after a hostage crisis.”

In support of all of this, Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) has put forward the Warren Weinstein Hostage Rescue Act that establishes a “hostage czar” who will work with families to pay ransoms to terrorist organizations and that establishes a “fusion cell that would provide quarterly reports to Congress and ensure that the families of U.S. hostages receive ‘regular updates that do not compromise U.S. intelligence’.”  According to the report:

A Maryland congressman introduced legislation Friday that would create a “hostage czar,” a high-level position at the National Security Council that would centralize efforts to find and free U.S. hostages.

The bill, called the Warren Weinstein Hostage Rescue Act, is named after an American contractor who was abducted in 2011 and inadvertently killed last month in a CIA drone strike on an al-Qaeda compound in Pakistan.

This muddies the waters considerably because it goes beyond simply not prosecuting families to actual government involvement in negotiating with terrorists.

But don’t worry, according to Josh Earnest, “helping with a ransom payment is not tantamount to paying a ransom.”

Sounds like typical Obama administration Orwellian doublespeak to me.  For example, the FBI, who helped negotiate ransom for Weinstein with al Qaeda didn’t violate U. S. policy because they didn’t “directly” authorize it.


So the White House’s “Hostage Family Engagement Team” headed by its “Hostage Czar” would be working with families to pay ransom to terrorists, but not authorizing families to pay ransom to terrorists.