WASHINGTON (WJZ) — The president announces important changes in U.S. hostage policies. It comes after several American hostages have been killed in the Middle East, including a Maryland man whose family had been praying for his safe return.
Derek Valcourt has details on the changes and why the family of that Maryland man, Warren Weinstein, says it gives them hope.
The U.S. still will not pay ransoms, but the government will no longer threaten to prosecute family members of hostages who want to pay those ransoms on their own.
“I’m updating our hostage policy,” the president said.
President Obama announced big changes after hearing from families of current and former hostages frustrated with how they were treated by the government.
“That ends today. I’m making it clear that these families are to be treated like what they are–our trusted partners and active partners in the recovery of their loved ones,” he said.
Six American hostages have been killed in the last ten months. Among them–Maryland native Warren Weinstein.
“If you accept the demands, I live. If you do not accept the demands, then I die,” he pleaded in a ransom tape.
His family complained the government gave them inconsistent information up until his death.
The parents of slain journalist James Foley say the government threatened to prosecute them if they paid his ransom on their own.
After a lengthy White House review of hostage policy, the president now promises improved communication between families and the government.
They will assign a single coordinator–a task force–to oversee all rescue efforts and they will stop threatening families who wish to make ransom payments.
But the president also made clear that unlike many European governments, the U.S. will not pay ransoms.
“If the U.S. government were to pay ransoms, then the terrorists would know that every American held captive is a winning lottery ticket,” said Maryland Congressman John Delaney, 6th District.
Rep. Delaney consulted with the White House on the changes and he helped Warren Weinstein’s family, who reacted to the policy review, telling WJZ:
“We hope to be the last family that fails to receive the level of coordinated government support that those who serve abroad deserve when trouble finds them… Our benchmark for this review’s success will be the actions arising from it more than its specific findings.”
The president also clarified while the U.S. won’t pay ransoms or make any significant concessions, government officials will be allowed to speak with hostage takers as they try to help family members secure their loved ones’ release.
Congressman John Delaney and Maryland Senator Ben Cardin are each pushing legislation in their respective chambers to create a special “hostage czar” position in the government.