A new video:
The trio of videos released by the Islamic State in recent weeks have followed the same grim pattern — a helpless and unarmed Westerner is forced to kneel in front of a masked militant who threatens the U.S. and Britain before calmly beheading the captive — but the group’s newest video contains a small glimmer of hope that the hostage, British journalist John Cantlie, might potentially make it out alive.
To be clear, the roughly three-minute video makes for extremely difficult viewing. Cantlie, who was captured in Syria in 2012, appears wearing the orange jumpsuit that has become synonymous with the outfits worn by American journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley and British aid worker David Haines before their brutal murders. Speaking directly to the camera, Cantlie promises to reveal the truth about how the media is dragging their respective countries back into another unwinnable war. In the “next few programs,”
It’s not the media that’s “dragging their respective countries back” into war; it’s ISIS. And these beheading videos only invites public outrage and support for more war.
Cantlie says that he will expose how European governments negotiate for their hostages while the United States and Britain refuse to do so.
While European governments have negotiated for hostages captured by Islamist militants and regularly paid multimillion dollar ransoms, the United States and Britain have maintained a hardline policy of refusing to strike such deals. In the video, Cantlie criticizes this policy. “I’ll show you the truth behind what happened when many European citizens were imprisoned and later released by the Islamic State, and how the British and American governments thought they could do it differently to every other European country,” Cantlie says. “They negotiated with the Islamic State and got their people home, while the British and Americans were left behind.”
It is thanks to these other European governments, in their short-sighted compassion for the captured victim, that an environment of cruelty in the long-term is created; by capitulating to terror demands, these governments endanger all of us to more such kidnappings and extortion:
“Kidnapping hostages is an easy spoil,” one al-Qaeda leader wrote to another in 2012, marveling over the amount of money terrorist groups can extort from the West with little effort.
Indeed, al-Qaeda and its franchises have taken in more than $125 million in ransom since 2008, according to an estimate by The New York Times, including $66 million in the last year alone. The money makes terror groups bigger and more difficult to defeat — and more likely to take additional hostages.
Now if this was your family member, would you do whatever it took- including paying ransom- to save your family member’s life? It’s difficult to fault a family for that. But when you think of the larger picture and the harm it brings, that “forgivable”, selfish act is bad for society because it puts other families in danger of having a loved one kidnapped by these Islamic terrorists.
The story of the Somali pirates is instructive. When pirates were first seizing ships off the East African coast, ship owners treated ransom payments as a cost of doing business. But that just encouraged more piracy. Eventually, owners began hardening their vessels and putting armed teams onboard to fight back. The number of hijacked ships fell dramatically.
When paying ransom is the only policy, you’ll just pay more of it, enriching and strengthening the kidnappers. What works is refusing to pay. This can seem outrageously callous, but there’s evidence that it can reduce the number of kidnappings as long as the target nations stick together.
And where does the money go? It goes into fueling jihad. And jihad murders your family. Your friends. Your neighbors. Your fellow countrymen.
The “higher” self-interest is to resist temptation of giving in to terror ransom demands.
If families and governments had thought to do that previously, then perhaps Foley, Sotloff, and Haines (and Cantlie) would never have been put into the situation they found themselves in, in the first place.
The USA Today Editorial Board concludes:
The U.S. and British governments refuse to pay, but France, Switzerland, Spain and other European nations make payments or arrange for them to be made, while claiming not to do so. This makes kidnapping a profit center.
The cost of U.S. policy is easy to see: the horrific beheadings of Foley and Sotloff by a masked ISIS thug. The benefits are less visible: fewer hostages taken and less funding for terrorist groups.
Just three of 53 hostages taken by al-Qaeda and its affiliates over the past five years have been Americans, according to The Economist. This suggests that the extremists realize U.S. citizens aren’t lucrative targets. Further, statistics seem to confirm the high cost of paying kidnappers: Two University of Texas researchers found that every hostage ransom produces nearly three new kidnappings.
It’s not as if U.S. authorities never negotiate. There’s an obvious exception for bringing home captive American servicemembers because the military’s no-one-left-behind commitment helps troops face combat.
National policy should make no such exception for civilians, even if families and employers choose another course. What makes sense for a government can be unendurable at a personal level, and blocking family members or colleagues from doing whatever they can to rescue a kidnap victim would betray American values.
In practical terms, though, the price demanded by groups such as ISIS has gotten so high that only government can afford it. That’s further proof, if any were needed, that the way to try to save hostages is to send in special forces. And the way to deal with terrorist kidnappers is to kill them, not buy them off.
Should ransoms ever be paid to Islamic terrorists?
With compassionate apologies to the families of Foley, Sotloff, Haines, and Cantlie, in the hopes of sparing other such future family-victims being placed in similar circumstance, the answer I give is a resounding “NO.”