Obama eases di­a­logue rules with hostage-tak­ers


U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama on Wed­nes­day ad­mit­ted his gov­ern­ment had not al­ways done enough to stop the “un­re­lent­ing night­mare” faced by rel­a­tives of hostages held abroad, as he eased re­stric­tions on talk­ing with cap­tors.

Stress­ing the plight of the roughly 80 U.S. hostages taken since 9/11 and their fam­i­lies, Obama an­nounced a se­ries of re­forms to hostage pol­icy.

Obama in­di­cated his gov­ern­ment would still refuse to pay ran­soms, fear­ing that would help fund ex­trem­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions like the Is­lamic State group and would make U.S. cit­i­zens more of a tar­get.

But his ad­min­is­tra­tion will no longer op­pose talks with cap­tors or threaten fam­i­lies with pros­e­cu­tion if they try to raise a ran­som on their own.

“There have been times where our gov­ern­ment, re­gard­less of good in­ten­tions, has let them down,” Obama said af­ter host­ing around 40 for­mer hostages and rel­a­tives at the White House.

“I promised them that we can do bet­ter.”

Around 30 Amer­i­can hostages re­main in cap­tiv­ity, held by drug car­tels, crim­i­nal gangs and by prom­i­nent Mid­dle East ji­hadist groups.

Some have com­plained that the gov­ern­ment’s pol­icy has cost Amer­i­can lives, and that hostages from some Euro­pean coun­tries are of­ten freed be­cause ran­som pay­ments are made.

“Fam­i­lies feel that they’ve been threat­ened for ex­plor­ing cer­tain op­tions to bring their loved ones home. That’s to­tally un­ac­cept­able,” said Obama.

Se­nior Obama ad­vi­sor Lisa Monaco said a pol­icy of not of­fer­ing con­ces­sions re­mained in place, but said “no con­ces­sions does not mean no com­mu­ni­ca­tions.”

‘Fu­sion Cell’

In his re­marks, Obama apolo­get­i­cally re­layed a litany of com- plaints from vic­tims who felt lost in gov­ern­ment bu­reau­cracy, fac­ing un­co­or­di­nated de­part­ments and con­flict­ing in­for­ma­tion.

“To­day my mes­sage to any­one who harms Amer­i­cans is that we do not for­get. Our reach is long, jus­tice will be done,” he said.

“My mes­sage to ev­ery Amer­i­can be­ing held un­justly around the world who is fight­ing from the in­side to sur­vive another day, my mes­sage to their fam­i­lies, who long to hold them once more, is that the United States of Amer­ica will never stop work­ing to re­unite you with your fam­ily.”

“We will not give up no mat­ter how long it takes.”

Many of the mea­sures an­nounced Wed­nes­day are ad­min­is­tra­tive, de­signed to ad­ju­di­cate and del­e­gate re­spon­si­bil­i­ties be­tween the FBI, CIA, Depart­ment of Jus­tice, Pen­tagon and State Depart­ment.

Among them, Obama will es­tab­lish an FBI-led “fu­sion cell” bring­ing to­gether dis­parate gov­ern­ment de­part­ments.

John Fo­ley and Diane Fo­ley, the par­ents of James Fo­ley, a jour­nal­ist who was taken in Syria and be­headed by his Is­lamic State cap­tors, said they “ap­plaud their will­ing­ness to ex­am­ine the pre­vi­ously in­ad­e­quate re­sponse to the kid­nap­ping of Amer­i­cans abroad.”

“It is time for our great na­tion to make Amer­i­can hostages and their fam­i­lies a top pri­or­ity,” they added in a state­ment.

De­bra and Marc Tice, whose free­lance jour­nal­ist son Austin dis­ap­peared in Syria in 2012, sounded hope­ful.

“We are cau­tiously op­ti­mistic that the Ex­ec­u­tive Or­der signed by the Pres­i­dent is a sig­nif­i­cant be­gin­ning to­wards ef­fec­tively bring­ing our son Austin and other Amer­i­can hostages safely home. We hope this pol­icy will in­still in our gov­ern­ment a clear fo­cus on the soon­est, safe re­turn of all cur­rent and fu­ture hostages,” they said in a state­ment.

Amid public out­cry, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion launched a pol­icy re­view in De­cem­ber.

Ad­vo­cacy group Re­porters With­out Borders said it wel­comed the re­sults of that re­view, but said that words must turn into ac­tion.

“The White House now says there is room for ne­go­ti­a­tions in the han­dling of hostage cases. This is a healthy de­vel­op­ment,” said Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Christophe Deloire.

Fam­i­lies, he said, had “too long been side­lined when strate­gic de­ci­sions were taken about their loved ones. The U.S. author­i­ties must show they are equal to the hopes they have raised.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Taiwan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.