Speed Reads

James Foley

The real question James Foley's death poses about America's policy on hostage negotiation

Five years ago, journalist David Rohde was abducted by the Taliban. The U.S. government refused to negotiate or pay a ransom for Rohde's freedom. But the veteran journalist was lucky. After more than seven months of captivity in the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan, Rohde escaped with the help of an Afghan journalist who was abducted with him.

James Foley, as we now know, was not so lucky. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria reportedly demanded $132 million from Foley's family and employer — who were instructed by ISIS to keep quiet about the case. American officials did not negotiate with the captors and Foley was killed.

Rohde argues in a new column that the issue with America's negotiating policy goes deeper. While the U.S. refuses to pay ransoms, European countries are forking over the huge sums in exchange for their countrymen. Just this past spring, four French and two Spanish journalists held hostage by ISIS were freed after their countries paid ransoms through intermediaries. Rohde writes:

Last month, a New York Times investigation found that al Qaeda and its direct affiliates had received at least $125 million in revenue from kidnappings since 2008 — primarily from European governments. In the last year alone, they received $66 million. [Reuters]

The U.S. cannot allow terrorists groups to control its foreign policy, Rohde writes. But it cannot stand alone against captors while the rest of the world encourages this grim pattern to continue. There needs to be a debate to reach a united, global front.

The payment of ransoms and abduction of foreigners must emerge from the shadows. It must be publicly debated. American and European policymakers should be forced to answer for their actions… A consistent response to kidnapping by the U.S. and Europe is desperately needed. The current haphazard approach is failing. [Reuters]

Read Rohde's full column at Reuters.