The U.S. doesn’t negotiate with terrorists… but the FBI does

Apparently, the fundamental transformation of the United States that Barack Obama promised as a candidate also includes America’s longstanding policy of refusing to negotiate with terrorists under any circumstances.

Tragically, Dr. Warren Weinstein was killed in a botched American drone strike earlier this year for which the president accepted full responsibility. It was the disastrous culmination of years of efforts to deliver him from his al-Qaeda captors and back into the United States. According to a shocking report from The Wall Street Journal, one of the failed efforts to extract Weinstein included his family members paying his captors a ransom in 2012. The shocking part is that this attempted transaction was facilitated by the FBI.

“In the Weinstein case, the FBI vetted a Pakistani middleman used by the family to transport the money and provided other intelligence to enable an exchange, actions that some senior U.S. officials said encouraged the family to go ahead with the transaction,” The Journal’s bombshell report read.

U.S. officials said the agents didn’t directly authorize or approve the ransom payment, and thus didn’t violate U.S. hostage policy. Instead, the agents decided to help the Weinsteins once they concluded family members had made up their minds to proceed, said officials involved in the case. U.S. officials said they provided the information in part to protect the family.

A family spokesman said the Weinsteins are “an ordinary American family and they are not familiar with how one manages a kidnapping. As such, they took the advice of those in government who deal with such issues on a regular basis and were disappointed that their efforts were not ultimately successful.”

According to the report, it was the FBI that indicated paying a ransom was the most likely way to ensure Weinstein’s release. The hostage’s family raised $25,000 and wired it to an intermediary in Pakistan where it promptly disappeared. Weinstein’s captors took no action as a result of the transfer of this sum.

As The Journal suggests, the administration contends that the nation’s policy of not negotiating ransoms for captured Americans remains in place.

White House Press Sec. Josh Earnest did not, however, deny the accuracy of the details of this report.

The logic of bans on negotiating bribes for terrorists who abduct American hostages and hold them for ransom is self-evident. To give in to a ransom demand instantly increases the value of every other potential American hostage, and it makes the abduction of U.S. citizens abroad more likely. The apparent failure of this bribe to result in any action on the part of Weinstein’s captors should demonstrate the futility of rewarding bad actors. “Should,” being the operative word.

It must be the role of dispassionate law enforcement officers to dissuade the understandably distraught and emotional family members of American hostages from pursuing a course of action that undermines U.S. policy. In this case, the FBI did precisely the opposite. It is another lamentable chapter in Weinstein’s tragic tale, but it is one with far-reaching implications.