American aid worker Warren Weinstein was killed by a drone strike while being held captive by al-Qaida in January.

Credit: AP via NPR

Does The United States Need A 'Hostage Czar'?

May 5, 2015

Last week, it was revealed that the F.B.I. helped facilitate ransom money for Warren Weinstein, the American hostage being held by al-Qaida who was killed in a drone strike—a move that is directly contrary to U.S. policy against paying or helping to pay ransom for hostages.

Now, a bill in the House proposes creating a hostage 'czar' to oversee—and, presumably, standardize—all the government's efforts to free American captives abroad. The idea isn't as crazy as it may sound, says homeland security expert Juliette Kayyem

"The word 'czar,' while it's annoying...means 'let's set up a directorate that is going to manage all the different pieces or equities that are involved with any hostage situation,' because you have the FBI, you have the State Department, you have the Defense Department, you have the CIA, you have state and local," Kayyem said.

"I don't think we should begin a process by which families who have means can pay for their families to get out. It will threaten people who are abroad anywhere where there might be some unrest."

In other words, a 'czar' would oversee the many bureaus and departments involved in any given hostage situation, and ensure that all agencies adhere to one single unified hostage policy—which is, currently, that the U.S. does not pay ransom for hostages.

Standardization is essential, Kayyem says, because an inconsistent ransom policy can put all Americans abroad at risk.

"I don't think we should begin a process by which families who have means can pay for their families to get out," Kayyem said. "It will threaten people who are abroad anywhere where there might be some unrest."  

To hear more from Juliette Kayyem, tune in to Boston Public Radio above, or download her podcast "Security Mom" here.


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