Friday, September 12, 2014

Illegal to Offer Ransom for Hostage-Taking: U.S. Law Says So

A Scene All Too Familiar
(52 Americans held hostage for 444 days: November 4, 1979 until January 20, 1981 in Iran)

Source for the Current Law 
(see link below)

This story probably has legs as the media likes to say ... I have to say, I'm upset that it leaked this way, and I feel the families pain. 

I also agree 100% that ransoms should not be paid for hostages. At the same time, if a family does it or tries to pay a ransom for the release of a loved one on their own (like in the cases of James Foley and Steven Sotloff), I see absolutely no reason whatsoever that they should face prosecution. However, U.S. law dictates and my opinion and that of others carries not weight. What follows is the legal foundation for such prosecution should it occur:

“Under current U.S. law, 18 USC 1203 (Hostage Taking) enacted in October 1984 is as part of the implementation of the UN convention on hostage-taking, and in part reads: “… seizure of a U.S. national as a hostage anywhere in the world is a crime, as is any hostage-taking action in which the U.S. Government is a target or the hostage-taker is a U.S. national. Such acts are, therefore, subject to investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and to prosecution by U.S. authorities.”

“Likewise, actions by private persons or entities that have the effect of aiding and abetting the hostage-taking, concealing knowledge of it from the authorities, or obstructing its investigation, may themselves be in violation of U.S. law.” 

Painful truth, but it is the law … and has been since 1984 – that was under President Reagan and I am guessing it came about in light of the Embassy hostage taking in Iran just before Mr. Reagan came into office when it occurred under President Carter.

A complex and very emotional issue for obvious reasons. A bit of background is here from my own note taking related to this topic. In Congress:

The GOP strikes again ... The House, returning from their 5-week vacation, voted 249-163 in favor of this resolution, with 22 Democrats (half coming from contested districts) joining Republicans and voted yes.  

The text of the resolution reads that the House “Condemns and disapproves of the Obama administration’s failure to comply with the lawful 30-day statutory reporting requirement in executing the transfer of five senior Taliban members from detention at U.S. Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.”  So, telling the enemy our plan in advance would please congress and their PR games?

Conversely, some in the GOP and across a lot of FOX types advocate that the U.S. pay millions for any American held hostage thus meeting the demands of the hostage takers - that would lead to more and more Americans being taken worldwide - a fact. 

CNN reported that ISIS had demanded €100 million (about $133 million dollars) for ransom and the release of James Foley. It was never a serious demand on their part since if far exceeded previous amounts paid hostages held by various groups in the past – which typically ranged up to several million dollars.

Employers and some Western governments such as France are willing to pay the ransoms, and other governments, like the U.S. and UK will not. The first fact is that if you pay a ransom, does that assure the hostage will be released.  The other fact is that every time a ransom is paid it increases the chance that other hostages will be taken to help fill the coffers of a terrorist group.

NY TIMES investigation shows that al-Qaeda and its affiliates have netted at least $125 million in ransoms since 2008.  Much of that money came from France. Not surprisingly, the same NY Times report found that of the 1/3 of 53 hostages known to have been taken by al-Qaeda and its affiliates during that time frame were from France

Comments are always welcome and thanks for stopping by. Come again.

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