The families of Peter Kassig and the previous ISIS captives who were brutally slaughtered have no doubt been wrestling with many heartbreaking questions for quite some time. Why didn’t their government do more to effect a rescue before it was too late? Why was there not more security to begin with? And some may even be asking why we didn’t meet early ransom demands (as is done by the French and others) to secure their release before events came to such a tragic conclusion. The traditional answer to that last one, as cold as it may seem to the families, is that we don’t negotiate with terrorists.
One new piece of news does not directly address the question, but may make us wonder if the Obama administration isn’t rethinking this position.
The U.S. government is conducting a review of how it responds when American citizens are taken hostage by overseas terrorists, including how the families of captives are kept informed, CNN learned Monday.
A top Pentagon official wrote in a letter to Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-California, that President Barack Obama had ordered a “comprehensive review of the U.S. Government policy on overseas terrorist-related hostage cases, with specific emphasis on examining family engagement, intelligence collection and diplomatic engagement policies.”
Hunter has advocated for a tougher U.S. response when Americans are taken captive overseas. The Obama administration response was first reported Monday by The Daily Beast.
We should note up front that nothing in this report directly indicates that the White House is getting ready to begin paying ransoms to ISIS. Further, some of the questions being raised are completely valid. Given the feedback from some of the families, the government does a terrible job in many cases when it comes to keeping families appraised with all the information which can be safely revealed without compromising national security. Even when there may be no hard information to deliver, we could do a far better job in being supportive and making sure that some liaison is assigned to do the appropriate hand holding and make themselves available to field questions promptly.
Other questions involving why we don’t hear of more military intervention operations to effect rescues and the capture or elimination of those holding the hostages are more tricky. There may be more of these attempted or in the works than we know about, but the details are not released because we need to protect information sources. In some cases, the potential losses from an extraction effort may simply be too costly in human lives and uncertain in terms of probable success to make them worth the cost.
But should we ever, under any circumstances, consider sending millions of dollars in cash to ISIS or any other group to retrieve an American? There are costs associated with that also, and they are simply too high. It’s a heartbreaking answer to give to the families, but I sincerely hope that the Obama administration is not looking at backing down on this.