The hostage policy of the American government has come into the spotlight once again following the failed attempt to rescue Luke Somers. But what can the government do to counter the hostage takers and should their policy change?
The increasingly difficult political terrain around the world has led to a resurgence in American and western hostages being taken by various militant groups around the world. This has meant that governments, and particularly the US government, have had to devise new strategies to combat hostage takers.
Whenever there is a very public hostage rescue failure then governments are questioned about their policy.
The latest failed rescue attempt saw the American photo journalist Luke Somers and the South African teacher Pierre Korkie being killed by their captures after a rescue attempt failed to yield results in a remote part of Yemen.
But President Barack Obama is adamant that he will not be changing his hostage policy based on recent events and the soon to be replaced Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, has also defended the operation and the intelligence that lay behind it. Leading him to ultimately suggest that there would be no major overhaul in the policy surrounding these situations.
According to Reuters: “I don’t think it’s a matter of going back and having a review of our process. Our process is about as thorough as there can be. Is it imperfect? Yes. Is there risk? Yes,” Hagel said on a visit to Tactical Base Gamberi in eastern Afghanistan.
“But we start with the fact that we have an American that’s being held hostage and that American’s life is in danger and that’s where we start. And then we proceed from there,” he said.
The risks continue to be very high for all those involved in a rescue mission but it does not look like the S has any plans to change their policy and continues to refuse to pay any hostage takers any ransom for their hostages.
A review of hostage policy was ordered by Obama in the summer but it is not expected to feature any change to the policy of never paying a ransom.
That review was begun “in light of the increasing number of U.S. citizens taken hostage by terrorist groups overseas and the extraordinary nature of recent hostage cases,” National Security Council spokesman Alistair Baskey said to Reuters.
“Barack Obama’s discovering what a nightmare dealing with hostage problems is – a discovery previously made by Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan,” said Bruce Riedel, a former senior CIA and White House counter-terrorism official.
“I don’t see a lot of room for change in American policy,” said Riedel, now at the Brookings Institution think tank.
“I think you have to try” to mount rescues, Riedel said. The message it sends, he said, is “one, we’re not going to pay and two, the hostage-takers are at great risk.”