Pearl’s death & new abduction policy: timing puzzles US officials
WASHINGTON- Confirmation of the death of kidnapped Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl came a day after the United States announced a more aggressive policy to deal with abductions of Americans abroad, an eerie coincidence in timing that US officials noted with angst.
While steadfastly maintaining the new policy was already in place in Pearl’s case, State Department officials allowed that announcing the journalist’s death on Thursday, just 24 hours after they published the revised guidelines, had been distressing.
“It was pretty awful,” one senior official said. “Nothing like what Danny’s family and friends were and are going through, but really bad.” “It was eerie,” a second official said. “The whole Pearl thing was pretty strange, but this was a bizarre and grisly coincidence.”
Both officials insisted that Washington had been applying the new abduction policy in its efforts with Pakistani authorities to either rescue Pearl or obtain his release.
“The old policy had been under review for months and the new policy was being followed in practice even before (Pearl) was taken,” the second official said. “We were doing everything that it calls for.”
On Wednesday State Department spokesman Boucher had presented to reporters the new US policy on the abductions of Americans overseas in a move aimed at deterring would-be kidnappers, such as those who took Pearl captive in Pakistan last month and who seized Christian missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham in the Philippines.
The Burnhams, abducted last June, are still missing, though presumed alive. “Obviously, the emphasis that (was) put on the abduction policy on Wednesday followed by this happening on Thursday was eerie to say the least,” a third State Department official said.
The new policy requires a federal review of every overseas kidnapping to determine whether US intervention – from diplomatic to military – is warranted.
Before, such reviews were mandated only in cases where a US government employee, such as a soldier or diplomat, was being held hostage. In addition, the new policy drops a ban on making concessions to abductors, allowing for the payment of ransoms or meeting other demands as long such actions will assist in tracking down and punishing the kidnappers.
That change appears in the form of a slight reformulation of language from the old policy on US hostages which dates from 1995.
The old policy said the United States “rejects all demands for ransom, prisoner exchanges, and deals with terrorists in exchange for the release of hostages.” The new policy says that the US position is “to deny hostage-takers the benefits of ransom, prisoner releases, policy changes or other acts of concession.”
However, officials said denying the abductors “the benefits” of ransoms or other concessions instead of outright rejection of any demands did not change overall US opposition to giving in to kidnappers.
Even under the new policy, however, meeting or even discussing those demands had been ruled out. “The demands that the kidnappers have placed are not demands that we can meet or deal with or get into a negotiation about,” Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Jan 31, eight days after Pearl went missing in Karachi.
Horror and anger: The murder of Daniel Pearl triggered a wave of horror and anger around the world on Friday, uniting international leaders and rights groups in calls for justice.
“Those who would threaten Americans, those who would engage in criminal, barbaric acts, need to know that these crimes only hurt their cause and only deepen the resolve of the United States of America to rid the world of these agents of terror,” US President George Bush said.