The long anticipated review of U.S. hostage policy has led to an announcement yesterday of changes to the existing guidelines for securing release of kidnap victims.
What follows are partial and unverified transcripts from the President's announcement on June 24th.
While the changes are welcome and much needed, questions linger as noted in this excerpt from RSF's response to the announcement.
The new policy constitutes significant progress but could go much further. It will be evaluated in six months' time and a report will be drafted after it has been in effect for a year.
“The families are still worried about transparency and the support they will be able to receive”, RSF programme director Lucie Morillon said. “Instead of naming a high-level coordinator, a desire expressed by some families, the US authorities have opted to create a fusion cell with a rotating director. This mechanism will have to prove that it is capable of overcoming the differences between the various agencies and instituting rapid and effective procedures.”
“We regret that the issue of protecting the personal assets and online data of hostages has not been clearly addressed. The government has a role to play in directing families towards the private-sector companies involved.”
“Finally, some families have suggested that NGOs involved in these issues should be members of the 'hostage recovery fusion cell' or linked to it. We ask the authorities to heed this request, which is motivated by a desire to ensure transparency in the procedures used. RSF stands ready to participate in the evaluation of the new policy in the coming months in order to be sure that corrective action is taken in the event of anything not working properly.”
The apparent omission of wording that would clearly and directly confront the issues of personal and digital data assets of hostages, and the urging of including experts from NGO's directly involved in the issues and investigations are points that will hopefully change when the policy is reviewed again in six months. Nonetheless, the announcement marks a major step toward more effective means of handling these delicate and difficult cases. It is possible we have already seen signs of the new policies at work in the recent and apparently negotiated release of Casey Coombs in Yemen, though no details connecting the two have been made public.
With an unconfirmed number of Western citizens currently held hostage by criminal and terrorist groups throughout the hotspots of the globe, one must hope that these changes will bring more positive outcomes to their plights than has been seen in the recent past.