Fri, Jun 26, 2015 - Page 7 News List

US government let down hostage families: Obama

HELD TO RANSOM:held to ransom: Obama said some families feel threatened for ‘exploring certain options to bring their loved ones home.’ Some European nations have paid ransoms

AFP, WASHINGTON

US President Barack Obama on Wednesday admitted his government had not always done enough to stop the “unrelenting nightmare” faced by relatives of hostages held abroad, as he eased restrictions on talking with captors.

Stressing the plight of the roughly 80 US hostages taken since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and their families, Obama announced a series of reforms to hostage policy.

Obama said the government would still refuse to pay ransoms, fearing that would help fund extremist organizations like the Islamic State group and would make US citizens more of a target.

However, his administration will no longer oppose talks with captors or threaten families with prosecution if they try to raise a ransom on their own.

“There have been times where our government, regardless of good intentions, has let them down,” Obama said after hosting about 40 former hostages and relatives at the White House.

“I promised them that we can do better,” he said.

About 30 US hostages remain in captivity, held by drug cartels, criminal gangs and by prominent Middle East militant groups.

Some have complained that the government’s policy has cost US lives, and that hostages from some European countries are often freed because ransom payments are made.

“Families feel that they’ve been threatened for exploring certain options to bring their loved ones home. That’s totally unacceptable,” Obama said.

Senior Obama adviser Lisa Monaco said a policy of not offering concessions remained in place, but added: “No concessions does not mean no communications.”

In his remarks, Obama apologetically relayed a litany of complaints from victims who felt lost in government bureaucracy, facing uncoordinated departments and conflicting information.

“Today my message to anyone who harms Americans is that we do not forget.” he said.

“My message to every American being held unjustly around the world who is fighting from the inside to survive another day, my message to their families, who long to hold them once more, is that the United States of America will never stop working to reunite you with your family,” he said.

“We will not give up no matter how long it takes,” he said.

Many of the measures announced on Wednesday are designed to adjudicate and delegate responsibilities between the FBI, the CIA, the Department of Justice, Pentagon and the Department of State.

Among them, Obama will establish an FBI-led “fusion cell” bringing together disparate government departments.

John and Diane Foley, the parents of James Foley, a journalist who was taken in Syria and beheaded by his Islamic State captors, said they “applaud their willingness to examine the previously inadequate response to the kidnapping of Americans abroad.”

“It is time for our great nation to make American hostages and their families a top priority,” they said in a statement.

Debra and Marc Tice, whose freelance journalist son, Austin, disappeared in Syria in 2012, sounded hopeful.

“We are cautiously optimistic that the executive order signed by the President is a significant beginning towards effectively bringing our son Austin and other American hostages safely home. We hope this policy will instill in our government a clear focus on the soonest, safe return of all current and future hostages,” they said in a statement.

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