“We want to negotiate.” Four words that send a chill down the spine of every diplomat and political leader of a country to whom they are addressed by foreign kidnappers holding one of their citizens captive.
Of course, for the families of the kidnap victims those four words offer both affirmation – the victim is still alive, and hope – that a deal can be worked out to bring him or her home alive.
Experts have told our guest today, Joel Simon, the Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, three factors are likely to determine whether the kidnapped victim is released:
1) Does he or she have kidnapping and ransom insurance?
2) Are the kidnappers criminals rather than terrorists?
3) Will the kidnap victim’s government allow the payment of ransom?
If the answers to all three questions is “yes,” the chances of a happy ending are best.
One reason so many experts have talked to Joel is that journalists are among kidnappers, especially terrorist kidnappers, a favorite target and protecting us reporters from the time we get an assignment through the time we carry it out has been his profession for close to 20 years now.
He’s worked with the families and news organizations of kidnapped journalists, often dialoguing with lawyers, investigators, negotiators and government officials trying the bring captives safely home. By the way, Joel and CPJ’s advocacy is not limited to American journalists.
The same logic that applies to terrorist murders applies to terrorist kidnappings, even terrorist kidnappings of journalists. Pick low-hanging fruit. Kill or snatch the people who are nearest by. This is why the overwhelming majority of victims are not Westerners but locals. It’s also why so many of the Westerners kidnapped are journalists. They go to dangerous places to show or tell you what’s going on.
When American journalists were captured during the Obama administration, the policy was clear and absolute: no concessions, no negotiations. Its product: no survivors. But when it came to securing the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from the Taliban in Afghanistan, there were negotiations, a five for one prisoner exchange and Bergdahl came home alive.
Apparently, President Obama believed his government was obliged to negotiate for the lives of people who worked for it, but to bar negotiations for journalists risking their lives working to inform the American people.
Joel Simon is the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. His new book, We Want to Negotiate: The Secret World of Kidnapping, Hostages and Ransom was recently published by Columbia Global Reports. Joel has written widely on media issues, contributing to Slate, Columbia Journalism Review, The New York Review of Books, World Policy Journal, Asahi Shimbun, and The Times of India. He has led numerous international missions to advance press freedom. His book, The New Censorship: Inside the Global Battle for Media Freedom, was published in November 2014. Follow him on Twitter @Joelcpj.