Obama orders review of hostage policy, but won’t reconsider U.S. refusal to pay ransoms
WASHINGTON — With terrorists beheading Americans, President Obama has ordered a review of how the United States responds when citizens are taken hostage overseas.
The review arises as some family members of those killed have complained that the United States did not take enough action in an attempt to save their loved ones. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Obama ordered the review of recovery efforts over the summer given “the extraordinary nature of some of the hostage takings that we’ve seen this year.”
Earnest said the review will not include the United States’ longstanding policy of refusing to pay ransom, which stands in contrast to many other governments.
On Sunday, Islamic State militants released a video showing they had decapitated American aid worker Peter Kassig after the beheading deaths of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff this year. State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said Tuesday that a “small number” of Americans are still being held by the Islamic State but refused to provide a specific number.
In a letter to Obama, California Rep. Duncan Hunter urged the president to task one person within the administration to lead efforts to recover Americans. “It is my firm belief that we are not exhausting the full range of options,” wrote Hunter, a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
Hunter has said the United States tried to pay an Afghan intermediary early this year to free Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from Taliban captivity, but the intermediary disappeared with the money. The Pentagon has denied paying cash, and Bergdahl was returned in exchange for the release of five Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay.
Christine Wormuth, who oversees Defense Department policy, said in a letter to Hunter last week that the review is focused on examining engagement with hostages’ families, intelligence collection and diplomatic efforts to find and rescue hostages.
Earnest would not give a timeline for when the president expects the review to be completed.