by Michael Smerconish, ’18
Media sources learned this week of an ongoing review by the Obama administration of US hostage policy. The reassessment, which actually began this past summer, was necessitated by what Josh Earnest, White House Press Secretary, deemed “the extraordinary nature of some of the hostage takings that we’ve seen this year.”
Earnest’s discussion with the press this past week coincided with the execution of Peter Kassig, the third American hostage killed by the Islamic State.
Kassig’s death, like that of Americans James Foley and Steven Sotloff, has added much debate to whether current hostage protocol and recovery efforts are effective. Michael Foley, brother of James Foley, commented earlier this year, “There’s more that could have been done directly on Jim’s behalf.” Diane Foley, James’ mother, elsewhere added that she was “embarrassed and appalled” by the government’s handling of her son’s capture.
While the Obama administration is now focusing on how to better handle similar cases in the future, the White House did make clear that it will not alter its policy of refusing to pay ransom. Earnest commented that “The president continues to believe as previous presidents have concluded that it’s not in the best interest of American citizens to pay ransoms to any organization, let alone a terrorist organization.” Instead, in the words of Christine Wormuth, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, the review will have “specific emphasis on examining family engagement, intelligence collection, and diplomatic engagement policies.”