SHELIA NJAU ’17
On Nov. 16, the Islamic State, also known as ISIS released a video detailing the beheading of 26 year-old American captive, Peter Kassig. Peter is now the third American victim to be killed by ISIS after being taken captive. James Foley, who was 41 years old, and Steven Sotloff, who was 31, are the two other victims who were also beheaded by this terrorist organization. Sadly, the U.S. is not the only country to be under the attack of ISIS. In total, ISIS has taken 23 people, all from various countries, hostage. They have also released footage of the murders of two British hostages. I still remain unable to understand why this group would harm innocent people just to prove a point. I find it confounding that they made these gruesome acts public. But, does the fault of these deaths lie solely on ISIS or does the U.S. government share some of the blame in not reacting?
The U.S.’s current hostage policy refuses the option to pay ransom. The hope is that this policy will prevent hostage situations from becoming a regular occurrence, as it removes any sort of incentive for doing so. This makes sense because if the U.S. government were to pay a ransom each time a citizen was taken hostage, more kidnappings might happen because ransom would become an expected reward. Yet, this reasoning offers little comfort to the families who have lost a loved one due to being taken hostage. The fact that these deaths were publicized compounds to the pain these families feel. It makes it a lot more difficult to understand why the government would refuse to pay the ransom despite the fact that it would allow their loved one to still be alive. The argument that was offered in defense of this policy was that the any money given for ransom could be used to fund their terrorist activities. To be honest, I do not think there can be a solution to this problem without someone feeling it is unfair. It is important to remember that it is the victims who pay the ultimate price.
At this point it is important to consider the other options the U.S. can take in order to prevent these horrible instances from occurring again. There are multiple European countries that pay ransoms for their kidnapped citizens. This has resulted in the criticism of our government’s current policy. James Foley’s family has been particularly vocal about this point. After he was kidnapped, the family received an email asking for money. They then took this information to the FBI, only to be told that the government must refuse to give into to the ransom request. Sadly, even if the family had been able to come up with such an amount, they had also been told that it would be considered a crime to pay for it themselves. They waited eight months torturously long months which ended with James Foley’s murder.
In similar situations other governments would have paid the ransom. This then raises the question as to why the U.S. is not one of these countries that helps saves the lives of its citizens? I cannot say that I will ever understand what the Foley family, or the other families, is going through. What I can say is that I understand what the policy is trying to prevent. This policy helps to deter further kidnappings and simultaneously quells the fears of citizens traveling abroad who might be nervous about this. What if the ransom given to ISIS was used to fund an attack on the U.S. or another country? However, I do find it troubling that the U.S. government is being inconsistent with this policy. On May 31, Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl’s life was traded for five Taliban prisoners who were at Guantanamo Bay. This is a dark contrast to the response the Foley family received when they were told that the government never negotiates for hostages. No wonder the family has been very critical of this policy, as it seems that there has been a double standard in place.
I think that the government should take one stance, stick with it and be consistent in handling all situations. Someone may always get hurt in the process regardless and there is never a definitive right decision regarding these complex matters. I hope that the government can find a way to neutralize ISIS and thereby prevent further deaths. Once the threat posed by ISIS is gone it will also ease the fears of those who are nervous of being taken hostage. This will hopefully result in fewer families having to suffer the trauma of watching their loved ones die.