Obama order clears way for private ransom payments
President Obama unveiled new rules Wednesday that would basically allow families to offer private ransom payments for relatives kidnapped overseas. While the federal will continue to refuse to make ransom payments, Obama and other officials said families will no longer be threatened with prosecution if they seek to do so privately.
Hostage families should feel “fully supported” in efforts to bring their loved ones back, Obama said in announcing changes at the White House, but have been too often been treated like afterthoughts or nuisances. “These families are to be treated like what they are — our trusted partners,” the president said. “Active partners in the recovery of their loved ones.”
Obama signed an executive order creating a new office to deal with hostage families, including the facilitation of communications with terrorist groups that could theoretically be used to organize ransom payments. A White House statement said officials would work with families “on exploring all appropriate options to ensure the safe recovery of their loved ones,” and that the Justice Department “does not intend to add to families’ pain in such cases by suggesting that they could face criminal prosecution.”
Obama — who met with families of hostages earlier in the day — said he has heard their protests, and too often the government has let them down. “I promised them that we can do better,” he said. The new rules on dealings with hostage families result from a review Obama ordered after the killings of hostages by the Islamic State. FBI Deputy Director Mark Giuliano said the new policy provides “accountability and consistency” that has too often been lacking in an already difficult task.
Still, Giuliano acknowledged that the policy leaves a “gray area” where U.S. officials may work to reduce the risk involved in those private negotiations by evaluating possible intermediaries and steering families away from possible “traps” that could endanger them or their loved ones. “We can provide information to the families and lay out possible consequences of their decisions,” Giuliano said. “Would we attempt to dissuade them from making ransom payments? Obviously we would. “But in the end, any decision to make a payment would be a family decision,” Giuliano said. “We cannot do it; it crosses line that we cannot cross.”