U.S. officials are expected to stop prosecuting families of American hostages who communicate with kidnappers abroad or raise funds and pay ransoms, ABC News reported Sunday.
A National Counterterrorism Center advisory group, ordered by the White House, is expected to recommend what would mark a radical shift in U.S. hostage policy, according to the report. The NCTC interviewed families of hostages, including the parents of journalist James Foley, who was killed by Islamic State fighters.
Foley’s mother Diane has said that officials from President Barack Obama’s administration repeatedly told her family it was illegal to try to raise a ransom to free her son, and warned that her family could face prosecution for doing so. The Obama administration has denied making any such threats.
“There will be absolutely zero chance of any family member of an American held hostage overseas ever facing jail themselves, or even the threat of prosecution, for trying to free their loved ones,” a senior official told ABC News.
Meanwhile, the family of U.S. contractor Warren Weinstein, who was snatched by Al Qaeda in Pakistan in 2011, confirmed it had paid a ransom to try to secure his release. CBS News reported the ransom was for $250,000.
A spokesman for the family said it had “made every effort to engage with those holding him or those with the power to find and rescue him. This is an ordinary American family and they are not familiar with how one manages a kidnapping.
“As such, they took the advice of those in government who deal with such issues on a regular basis and were disappointed that their efforts were not ultimately successful.”
It was unclear what sort of advice the family received from U.S. government officials.
Diane Foley welcomed the potential policy shift, which officials discussed with her last week. “There’s a lot that needs to be fixed,” she told ABC News. She said the past threats were “the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was incredible.”
A number of hostage families expressed outrage after U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was freed by the Haqqani Network in Pakistan a year ago in exchange for the release of five Taliban leaders held at the Guantanamo Bay military prison. Army Lieutenant General Bennet Sacolick, who previously headed the elite Delta Force counterterrorism unit, is heading the hostage policy review team, along with his NCTC staff.