ALEPPO, Syria — Despite all the political rhetoric and surrounding chaos, ISIS would have released James Foley and Steven Sotloff in a cash exchange with the U.S. government. Of course, to pay the ransom would be funding the very organization that has terrorized a region and made global threats. But the horrific deaths of these American reporters have posed a difficult question: should the U.S. begin negotiating with ISIS?
The security benefits of a no-negotiation policy are generally twofold. First, it deters terrorists from seeking out a country’s citizens.
If a terrorist group like ISIS knows it won’t get money for a British citizen, it will often opt for a French or Italian one, argues Duncan Bullivant, CEO of Henderson Risk, which conducts private ransom negotiations.
Secondly, these terrorist organizations are by and large operating on these ransom payments. Paying these large sums is further incentivizing the organizations’ larger initiatives.
In 2013 all major western countries agreed to deny ransom deals in a G8 commitment that would be reinforced by the U.N. security council. Despite this, it seems only a select few countries have been adhering to these standards, namely the U.S. and UK.
In April, four French and two Spanish journalists were released by ISIS in exchange for money, according to the LA Times. This summer, a German captive was released. Although the German foreign ministry denies a ransom agreement, German newspaper Die Welt am Sonntag reports a substantial one was paid.
The U.S.’ policy against negotiating with terrorists is by no means giving a cold shoulder to its workers overseas. A government’s willingness to give in to terrorist’s demands puts a larger target on its citizens’ backs while abroad, Obama administration officials have argued.
Italian reporter Domenico Quirico, who was taken hostage in Syria and released five months later, commented on this trend.
“My captors said, ‘You’re lucky to be Italian because if you were American or English we would have killed you right away. We know Europeans will negotiate,” Mr. Quirico said. “The desire for money was behind my kidnapping and the desire for money was behind my release,” he said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.
Concern over inflation of ransom rates is a rising issue, as well. Major European nations indulging in terrorist ransom agreements have seen an escalated price of demands. In the past five years, al-Qaeda raised $125 million in ransom payments, according to a New York Times investigation. That was about the cost ISIS asked for Foley alone. Ransoms that were once able to be met by private fundraising are becoming increasingly difficult to meet. The Foley family had hoped to raise $5 million to privately pay for their son’s freedom, however the inflated demands from ISIS could not be met through this method.
The gruesome images of American reporters losing their lives in such a barbaric manner undoubtedly rile debate on how the U.S. deals with terrorists. Its broadcast serves as both terrorism and propaganda, meant to incite fear and demoralize a nation that will not comply with terrorist demands. However, paying ransom harms the greater good as much as it helps the individual it has been paid for. The issue of hostages in these turbulent times is a complicated one. But paying ransom proves to be a short term solution to an ever-developing issue.
– Ellie Sennett