Jason Rezaian, Prisoner: mine 544 days in one Iranian jail — Solitary Confinement, a Sham Trial, High-Stakes Diplomacy, and also the Extraordinary initiatives It take it to obtain Me Out (Anthony Bourdain/ Ecco, 2019).  

Joel Simon, We desire to Negotiate: The an enig World that Kidnapping, Hostages, and Ransom (Columbia global Reports, 2019).

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From the start, America has had actually a hostage problem. In the beforehand 1790s, the country faced one of its an initial foreign policy crises when Barbary pirates from Algiers captured an ext than a dozen American marine vessels, demanding substantial ransoms. When Congress sent $1 million to complimentary the ships and their crews, a corridor of Tripolitan pirates interceded and demanded payment of their own. As G. Thomas Woodward wrote, “One characteristic common to all diplomatic dealings with the Barbary strength was the no payment was ever final.” having actually learned their extortion to be successful, the pirates kidnapped one more 700 Americans over the subsequent 20 years.

Fast forward to the 20th century, which has been riddled through concessions come hostage takers. “America will never ever make concessions come terrorists,” president Ronald Reagan famously proclaimed in 1985. “To do so would only invite an ext terrorism … as soon as we head under that route there would certainly be no end to it, no finish to the enduring of innocent people, no finish to the bloody ransom all civilized nations have to pay.” His remarks to be a solution to Shiite Hizballah militants’ hijacking TWA trip 847 with dozens of american on board. Over the course of 17 days, the hijackers eliminated an American marine diver and also held 39 males hostage, when demanding the release of 766 Lebanese prisoners held in Israel. 3 days ~ the Americans to be freed, Israel exit a tiny under fifty percent of the prisoners. U.S. And Israeli officials denied any connection come the hijacking. Indigenous the 1970 Dawson’s ar prisoner exchange to the Iran Contra Affair, American presidents have actually long operated with allies come assuage terrorists and bring hostages house — regardless of maintaining, ~ above paper, the they will never pay ransoms or do concessions come hostage takers.

This position has strategic and moral heft, and it pipeline the door open to a surprising range of options. Yet the inconsistent, confusing nature of ransom policy and also hostage restore has sustained a circuitous debate: Should the United says pay ransoms? disagreements for and against making concessions autumn into a space with minimal data and also towering emotional stakes.

Weighing in room two brand-new books ~ above captivity, which loan a new perspective on exactly how to lug Americans residence in the murky middle ground between stated U.S. Policy and reality. Jason Rezaian’s Prisoner and Joel Simon’s We desire to Negotiate delve right into the intricate people of hostage negotiation. They display what can happen when federal governments work to recoup their citizen at any cost, mirroring on the prices borne by the United states for its faint stance.

We nothing Negotiate v Terrorists… until We Do

Today, America may stand by its “no concessions” policy, yet there are four ways in which the violates the spirit, if not the letter, that this prohibition. First, America tends to negotiate if the hostage taker is a state. Though there is a technical, legal difference between hostages (those abducted by non-state actors) and detainees (those held by states), the heat is blurred when Americans space taken for the express function of coming to be a bargaining chip. The Barack Obama management exchanged prisoners and political concessions because that the release of Alan Gross indigenous Cuba and also Jason Rezaian and also others native Iran. President Donald Trump appears to prefer trading photo opportunities for hostage freedom, providing summits and Oval Office acknowledgment in exchange because that detainees from north Korea and Egypt. In all of these cases, American detainees were individual pieces of bigger diplomatic deals.

Second, America negotiates if the hostage is a soldier. Captured military Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was exchanged for five members of the Taliban, released from Guantanamo in 2014. Bergdahl’s situation was controversial for number of reasons, but few questioned the fundamentals: The Geneva Conventions carry out for the release and also exchange of prisoners of war.

Third, America negotiates if someone rather is paying. U.S. Law prohibits providing material support to a international terrorist organization. A White residence official even threatened the parental of slain journalist James Foley, that were desperate to recoup their child from the Islamic State. Nevertheless, no American has ever been prosecuted for paying a ransom. Into this permissive atmosphere step every kinds that third-party intermediaries, including other states and foreign nationals. For example, the FBI reportedly helped the family members of American hostage Warren Weinstein pay a ransom to al-Qaeda through facilitating the payment v a Pakistani middleman. Qatar, well-known for that staggering ransom payments and also terrorist financing, played a key, murky role in bringing kidnapped American reporter Peter Theo Curtis home.

Finally, the United claims permits payment ransom as long as the hostage taker has actually not been designated together a foreign terrorist organization. Americans regularly pay legal ransoms to criminal organizations and other equipped political groups. These cases are handled both by the U.S. Government’s interagency Hostage Recovery combination Cell and also a vast network the kidnap and ransom insurance money policies and crisis monitoring personnel.

Thus, the U.S. Government’s “no concessions” policy means only this: We will certainly not provide our money come a international terrorist company to lug a civilian home.

Escape from Tehran: A family members Matter

Washington Post reporter and former Tehran bureau chief Jason Rezaian’s riveting memoir Prisoner tells the story the his unlawful detention in Iran. Yet this important, an individual book is about so much more. Prisoner is all at once an homage to Persian culture, a heartwarming love story, a prison buddy comedy, and also an insightful glimpse into high-level diplomacy. Rezaian seamlessly depicts his decades-long fascination through opening Iran to the world, fierce loyalty and also love the his family, and also harrowing first-person details the a reporter thrown right into jail ~ above false charges, held indefinitely and without cause.

The ordeal starts with a wild accusation: “‘You’re the head the the American CIA station in Tehran, the odds room you will invest the remainder of your life as our guest.’” Abducted by elements of the Islamic Revolutionary safety Corps, Jason and his wife Yeganeh (Yegi) are placed in solitary confinement for months there is no trial. He gauges that readers will “want to read about what it’s prefer to be isolated in among the world most notorious prisons, how someone survives that, yet you don’t really desire to know. That a difficult experience, designed come dehumanize and also disjoint the topic from reality, and guess what? the works.” when Rezaian is spared physical torture, the rigid lays ceiling the emotional horrors wrought native the confusion, isolation, and monotony of his imprisonment.

And yet, Rezaian’s publication never when belies his steadfast humanity or departs native his journalistic mission to help “the publicly make sense of nonsense.” that verges indigenous the laugh-out-loud funny to the patently absurd, together he recounts gift accused of plotting a an excellent avocado conspiracy and also tricking his guards into standing while the sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Prisoner is terrific read for the satisfied of security time through Rezaian, a generous, funny, and exceedingly compassionate soul whose resilience, curiosity, and honesty shine v every passage.

For those interested in U.S. Hostage and detainee policy, the book provides an essential lessons together well. Rezaian’s was a textbook instance of a hostage acquisition disguised as a detention — his imprisonment came to be a bargaining chip in high-stakes international diplomacy, and his release shows what America will execute to carry these hostages home. Moreover, Prisoner shows exactly how much family advocacy matters. From the moment of his arrest, Rezaian had unwavering support from his brother, Ali, and also his employer, the Washington Post, who worked relentlessly behind the scenes — closing Jason’s email, rental lawyers, conference with experts — until the harrowing final moments the Jason’s 544-day ordeal. Ali traveled to Washington 20 time in 2015, and also he met v “heads of state, arms dealers, journalists, and diplomats” in his dogged effort to bring Jason home.

Veteran human rights attorney Jared Genser and former hostages I have interviewed all agree: A identified family member clamoring for fist is the best predictor the the government will help the case. “Family engagement in Washington problem enormously,” Genser told me. “The sophistication of the household matters — and also the households that do the most noise will gain help.” A main component that the occupational by support establishments like Hostage US and the James W. Foley legacy Foundation, as well as the family members Engagement Team in ~ the Hostage Recovery blend Cell, is to do this process less arbitrarily — producing a mechanism of support that is accessible to all families in this terrible situation.

Questions of origin in U.S. Hostage Policy

As the executive director the the Committee to defend Journalists, Joel Simon is frequently on the other side of these hostage-taking attacks — sustaining families, promoting journalists’ safety, and also advocating for hostages’ release. In his generally researched brand-new book, Simon travel the civilization to inspection the patchwork technique to hostage restore — speaking to officials in Washington, Madrid, Paris, and also London; learning the keys of the trade from hostage negotiators and insurance personnel; and portraying the tragedies of grieving household members and former hostages.

Simon’s score in We desire to Negotiate is to check out the justification because that America’s “no concessions” stance to recognize the policy’s efficacy, and the “moral and also political consequences of providing resources to a terror organization.” He easily uncovers enormous variation, even amongst close-knit allies: Some nations “take a difficult line, and also others space willing come talk” — a combined strategy the generates damaging outcomes for all target nations. Because that example, Simon reports the the Spanish government directly negotiates through — and pays ransoms come — terrorists, which has saved hostages’ lives. “Every among the estimated 70 Spaniards bring away hostage through Islamist groups and also Somali pirates have actually come house alive,” a document “… unrivaled by any type of other country.” on the other hand, France is topic to enormous public pressure to intervene in hostage crises, wherein a culture of public protests trains and maintains focus on bringing captives home. Simon reports the the French pay, but often through intermediaries. And he suggests that this has had actually a Barbary-like result on future risk: “According come data noted by the French international Ministry, the number of French nationals abducted overseas quintupled native 11 come 59 a year in between 2004 and also 2008.”

Beyond his interviews, Simon relies greatly on analysis of researches on hostage outcomes by the Combatting Terrorism center at West Point, the brand-new America Foundation, and the edge Corporation, as well as a peer-reviewed write-up in the European newspaper of political Economy. When the first three researches conclude that the U.S. “no concessions” plan does not make Americans any type of safer, the journal article comes come the the opposite conclusion, demonstrating that making concessions in reality increases future kidnapping threat by 64 come 87 percent. Simon dismisses this latter finding, citing the study’s “sophisticated quantitative” approaches used to analyze a dataset the kidnappings drawn from media sources, which the deems “… unreliable on together matters.” (He appears unconcerned that the other three research studies also depend on media resources — using the same dataset with significant reporting flaws.)

Simon seeks to develop that the concessions policy doesn’t work since kidnappers don’t take it the policy into account when deciding to take a hostage. The trouble is that it’s exceedingly complicated to measure origin in a phenomenon favor kidnapping. Us cannot assume the kidnappers choose their victims — and also decide whether to kill them or demand ransom — in ~ random, without first considering the victim’s nationality and their government’s ransom policy. The pertinent country’s policy might be a vital determinant the the decision come capture. Though Simon and the researches he cites case that kidnapping is opportunistic, what if the Islamic State had a highly selective targeting process, taking various captives for various needs? patterns in ransom demands indicate this could be the case: european hostages to be ransomed for several million euros each, while needs for americans Jim Foley and also Steven Sotloff exceeded $100 million. What if the latter demands were purposely impossibly high? This would serve as a means to raise the stakes and also attention, reaping the rewards of recruitment instead of cash. Simon seems to agree. Of the videos depicting hostages’ brutal beheading, he writes, “ISIS recruiters would certainly track engagement through the content, and also reach the end via direct message top top Twitter come anyone that reacted positively. In this feeling the execution videos to be worth far much more to ISIS than any kind of ransom payment they might have received.”

It’s impossible to ever before really know, however asking perpetrators can shed light ~ above motives. Mine research involves speaking straight to former kidnappers to uncover out why they did what lock did. In dozens of interviews through ex-combatants indigenous the Revolutionary equipped Forces the Colombia (FARC), because that example, perpetrators affirmed the kidnapping targeting is very selective, organized, and planned. In other words, your violence was not random or opportunistic. The FARC likewise claims to catch different targets for various reasons: those they call “economic retentions” because that ransom, and also “prisoners of war” for attention and political concessions. If the former almost always returned house after a ransom was paid, the latter challenged much higher levels that violence and rates the death. In other words, a ransom payment could not be able to save a hostage plan for another purpose. The concern of concessions’ efficacy have to be an additional to knowledge when and also why groups make specific demands.

Changing the Debate

These books carry out two key takeaways for enhancing hostage recovery and also negotiation policy. Until now, a standard approach to hostage cases has been to limit choices for recovering the hostage while increasing publicity as lot as possible. The former can be “no concessions” policy or a set of hand-tying mechanisms, such together locking a family’s legacy if they reported a kidnapping come the police. The last assumes that sustained public initiative can adjust kidnappers’ minds by educating them around the worth of a person life.

Instead, Rezaian’s and Simon’s books suggest to a different approach to saving American stays at the lowest feasible “price”: put much more options ~ above the table. Much more indirectly, they indicate the potential benefit of limiting publicity surrounding hostage taking.

As Rezaian depicts in Prisoner, his relax was part of a substantial diplomatic bargain, at a time of best U.S. Leverage. Eventually (and you have to read the book and see for yourself), Jason and also Yegi were released together with two other dual nationals (Amir Hekmati and also Saeed Abedini) as component of the Obama administration’s more comprehensive Iran deal, the JCPOA. In exchange, the United says released several Iranian penalty violators from U.S. Prisons and agreed to pay a $1.7 billion negotiation due indigenous the job of the Shah. An elderly U.S. Officials, led through Brett McGurk, had actually negotiated because that months, expanding the bargaining set until mutually acceptable terms to be agreed. Together Genser called me, the U.S. Federal government was able to complimentary Alan pistol the same means — placing more options on the table, framing it in ~ a broader deal.

As any type of negotiator will certainly tell you, it is easier to find mutually agreeable terms if she working with a bigger zone of feasible agreement. The 2015 update to hostage policies, codified through the Presidential plan Directive (PPD-30) ~ above hostage recovery, broadens this negotiating range. PPD-30 states:

The United says may aid private initiatives to connect with hostage-takers, whether straight or v … intermediaries, and the joined States government may itself connect with hostage-takers, their intermediaries, interested governments, and also local neighborhoods to effort to secure the for sure recovery the the hostage.

The Hostage Recovery combination Cell, which has actually recovered much more than 200 hostages because its inception in 2015, practice a variety of options, native facilitating criminal ransoms, to influencing the habits of captor networks, and also to engaging third-party mediators. As the cell’s former director special Agent rob Saale told me, “You can not be a typical thinker in this business. You require creativity and also a willingness to think external the box.” among the greatest features of the fusion cell is the it bring together experts from the FBI, State Department, CIA, and also defense and intelligence areas to resolve each kidnapping case. That collaboration is no just around getting all equities in the room, however also around combining a diverse set of perspectives come augment available options and find a brand-new solution every time.

This lesson applies to both hostages and detainees. As President Trump told TIME, “We space aggressively pursuing the release of ours people. We will certainly leave no lawful tool, cooperation or recovery choice off the table.” The management might be affected by each other in mind that leaving the JCPOA has only made the harder to recover Baquer and Siamak Namazi, and also Xiyue Wang, American citizens tho detained in Iran. As Genser notes, “Iran has actually never once granted a relax spontaneously … or because they were bludgeoned.”

The 2nd lesson needs to do through the publicity of hostage cases. V the exception of noteworthy media blackouts, the assumption has been that continual attention will help bring a hostage home, due to the fact that it will display the hostage taker the their captive is valuable. In fact, kidnappers abduct precisely because they recognize a hostage is an invaluable bargaining chip — and that part democracies would certainly violate their main point values simply to lug a citizens home.

With this in mind, the U.S. Federal government should occupational with allies, exclusive negotiators, and also the media come decisively reduced the price of any kind of negotiation. Hostage takers recognize that the life that the hostage is valuable, but massive worldwide publicity only raises their asking price. Because that example, Simon estimates a former French hostage on this matter:

additionally recalls the impact that had on his captors. Several had actually initially proposed releasing the hostages after ~ they established that the 2 were bona fide journalists and also not spies. But an additional group, see the mass protests in France, now believed that the hostages to be too an useful to relax without a huge ransom … the ransom got greater and higher.

The reduced the perceived value that the individual hostage, the more restricted concessions the kidnapper will certainly seek.

A enormous advocacy campaign similarly called because that Rezain’s release: fifty percent a million human being signed a petition ~ above Change.org demanding his freedom, and a group of public intellectuals led through Noam Chomsky published an open up letter come the Iranian regime. In the wake up of this attention, Jason obtained far better treatment in prison — time in the gym, brand-new clothes, conjugal visits through his wife. Undoubtedly, listening about worldwide support can an increase a prisoner’s spirits. But it is the quiet, painstaking work-related behind the scenes that brings a prisoner home.

Such a quiet campaign can only occupational if citizens have belief that their government is gift responsive come the family, exhausting all legal options to lug the hostage home. Together Simon writes, “When citizens room taken hostage in Spain there room no committees, no banners hung from buildings, and no street protests. Together the wife of one former hostage spicy out, there is no should protest if you are confident the government is currently doing all it can.” supporters have argued that your media strategies room not about getting the attention of the hostage takers, however of their own governments. If family members receive constant, open up attention from the government; if officials courageously check out every possible option, then probably hostages have the right to come house at a cheap price.

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Hostage taking is a global problem, and as I’ve argued elsewhere, a difficulty only exacerbated by an altering technology. When hostage takers adapt to new conditions, policy disputes remain grounding on the same inquiry of ransom payment, missing how complex the U.S. Place really is. No federal government has uncovered a method to keep all that citizens for sure at all times, and unless all parties agree, control ransom payments will not finish the scourge of kidnapping. To perform that, kidnapping teams will have to be disarmed or destroyed. In the meantime, at-risk people like journalists, help workers, and maritime employees must receive comprehensive training to alleviate risk in the hope of to reduce the “supply” the hostages. A brothers hostage negotiator as soon as reminded me of comedian Spike Milligan’s words: “The just sure cure for seasickness is come sit under a tree.”

Danielle Gilbert is a 2018-2019 Minerva/Jennings Randolph peace Scholar at the United says Institute that Peace and a phd candidate in political science at George Washington Universitywhere she is creating her dissertation top top the reasonable of coercive kidnapping. This short article was supported by a Minerva/Jennings Randolph peace Scholar award from the United says Institute that Peace. The see expressed in this item are those that the author and also do no necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Institute of Peace.