Washington to deal kidnappings directly
WASHINGTON- The Daniel Pearle episode has prompted the Bush administration to adopt a new policy that requires the federal government to review every kidnapping of an American overseas for possible action, including direct intervention and US commando operations.
A committee of officials from several agencies led by the National Security Council, the Hostage Subgroup, will examine every case in which an American is taken hostage in another country to assess whether intervention is warranted.
Officials said the new policy marked a significant turn in America’s handling of the hostage –taking problem that has confronted a succession of presidents. In the past the government sometimes declined to review cases that did not involve American officials or members of the armed forces.
The new approach has been devised in the backdrop of kidnapping of American journalist, Daniel Pearl in Pakistan. As is now a familiar pattern, the policy was approved by President Bush after a protracted debated that pitted the State Department against the Pentagon, with President Bush this time supporting the former.
Opponents of the policy, particularly at the Pentagon, said the approach would build pressure on the government to win the release of hostages and would give foes of the United States more incentive to kidnap Americans. The policy dropped a longstanding blanket prohibition of private companies paying ransom.
It also puts a high priority on ensuring that hostage takers are apprehended, tried and punished. “Justice is part of deterrence,” a senior official said. Officials said the government would identify countries where the risk of being taken hostage is greatest and give them priority in law enforcement training and other technical assistance programs if they want America to give such help. The changes are a response to the growing number of kidnappings by criminal and militant groups, particularly in the Philippines and South America.
Officials said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other senior Pentagon officials had opposed the shift at first, warning that the policy could have the opposite of its intended effect. Requiring high-level attention for all such kidnappings, they said, puts a higher “market value” on each hostage and could prompt more hostage taking by groups eager to attract American attention. The State Department, on the other hand, argued that an immediate review of hostage cases and greater emphasis on tougher, more flexible efforts to bring hostage takers to justice would ultimately save lives and deter kidnappings. State Department officials also wanted greater flexibility in dealing with individual cases.
The policy, one senior official emphasized, still calls for “no deals, no concessions” to kidnappers of private citizens or government officials. But another official added: “The bottom line is: if you take an American hostage, even if ransom is paid, you will never benefit. You will be found and prosecuted.”
Source: The Nation