President Obama orders review into hostage negotiation after deaths of Stephen Sotloff, James Foley and Peter Kassig at the hands of Isis

The US considers ransom payment akin to funding terrorism

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The Independent US

President Obama has ordered a review into how the US responds to hostage situations, it has emerged, as the White House faces criticism over failed actions taken to prevent the death of three hostages this year.

A White House spokesman confirmed that Mr Obama ordered the review of recovery efforts during the summer given “the extraordinary nature of some of the hostage takings that we've seen this year.” The review is expected to focus on how the US government engages with families, how it collects intelligence and diplomatic efforts to find and rescue hostages.

Timings of the project have not yet been released. The disclosure comes days after Islamic State militants released a video suggesting they had decapitated American aid worker Peter Kassig.

Criticism over Western hostage policy has intensified since the murder of British hostages Alan Henning and David Haines and Americans Stephen Sotloff, James Foley and Mr Kassig. The family of Mr Foley were particularly critical of the handling of their son’s capture, and Mr Obama later apologised for appearing insensitive by playing golf shortly after making public comments mourning his death.

While Britain refuses to pay ransoms, the US maintains the starkest position on hostage negotiation and considers ransom payment akin to funding terrorism - for which it is prepared to prosecute. A White House spokesman has made clear that this latest review will not challenge that position.

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US aid worker Peter Kassig's death was confirmed by the White House on Sunday

However, sources in Washington suggest that ransom payment has come under intense scrutiny inside the administration.

A letter delivered to the President on Tuesday from Republican congressman David Hunter suggested the administration review has to evaluate payments, even if a policy change was out of the question. “There are a lot of ways the issue on monetary incentives could be handled, including options that don't require paying captors,” Mr Hunter’s spokesman Joe Kasper told the Associated Press. “But we need to make sure there is a better understanding on this front, specifically for the people who are tasked with recovering Americans in hostile areas.”

Mr Hunter’s letter cited the case of Bowe Bergdahl, the US infantryman held by the Taliban for almost five years and freed in May in return for the release of five Afghans from Guantanamo Bay. “It is my firm belief that we are not exhausting the full range of options,” he wrote. The former veteran urged the President to assign one person within the administration to lead efforts to recover Americans.

Nonetheless the moves comes amid fears that any effort to overhaul the US hostage policy may come too late for the latest threats issued by Islamist extremists. Just one more American hostage is thought to be in captivity, though no reference was made in its latest video released on Sunday.

 

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