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Revamped Hostage Policy: Will It Be Effective?

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.

Part 1.

Part 2.

Part 3.

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.


Resolution 2222

UN Security Council adopts Resolution 2222.

Through the resolution, the Council expressed deep concern at the growing threat to journalists and associated media personnel, including killings, kidnapping and hostage-taking by terrorist groups…

Through the text, the Council affirmed that journalists and associated professionals were civilians — providing they took no actions adversely affecting that status — and emphasized that all international human rights law protecting civilians during conflict applied to them, as well as did the more focused Additional Protocol of the Geneva Conventions.  It also affirmed the importance of a free and impartial media for the protection of civilians.

RSF weighs in.


Although the UN Security Council, General Assembly, Human Rights Council and UNESCO are all clearly working on the protection of journalists, more than 700 journalists have been killed in connection with their work in the past ten years,” Deloire told the meeting.

How many more journalists will have to be killed before the UN resolutions are implemented? It is time to take concrete action, in particular, by appointing a special representative of the United Nations secretary-general for the safety of journalists.”


Journalist Security Conference Raises Awareness, and Questions

CPJ reports on the necessary, but apparently slightly uncomfortable conference convened in Washington DC yesterday to discuss the increasing dangers faced by journalists. From the CPJ piece, these links to John Kerry's remarks as well as the blog post of the man who called the meeting, Douglas Frantz.  Excerpts:

Doug Frantz spent more than three decades in the journalistic trenches covering wars, overseeing investigative reporting, and directing national security coverage. He did stints at The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post. Today Frantz works for the State Department, serving as Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs. Alarmed by the rising tide of violence against journalists around the world, Frantz convened a conference of journalists and press freedom advocates in Washington yesterday to discuss the challenges faced, particularly by freelance and local reporters. – CPJ

We all know that journalism can be dangerous. There’s no way to eliminate the risk completely, except by keeping silent, and that’s what we call surrender. So that’s not in the cards. The world obviously needs to be informed about what is happening. Silence gives power to dictators, to the abusers, to tyrants. It allows tyranny to flourish, not freedom. And so what is happening in high-threat locations such as Syria, Iraq, Somalia, or Central African Republic, Libya, Pakistan – all of these are places where they don’t want people to tell the story or they distort it. We need people who are going to shed light also on subtler forms of coercion that rot a society from within – corruption, crime. Exposing them can be dangerous, difficult, but equally critical to the capacity to have accountability and to respect the rights of people. – J.Kerry

The State Department’s role (in the conference) was to convene the experts and encourage them to develop their own priorities for improving hostile-environment training and related security programs for freelancers and local reporters. Other broad topics rose to the surface too – the need for better digital security in the field, better pay for freelancers so they can afford to protect themselves and a coordinating group to standardize training programs. – D.Frantz

The conference by all accounts is a well intentioned and necessary step forward, but in our opinion one that needs to be followed with amplified awareness, public empathy and above all, action.  Further, we'd encourage government leaders to look within our own borders and reflect on the wise words echoed in the links above as they might apply to the cases of James Risen, Barrett Brown and any other journalist who's effort to speak truth to power is called into question by our courts.  Silence is surrender, indeed.


Mindfully Not Charlie; A Well Considered Essay

We lose our ability to imagine political solutions when we stop thinking critically, when we let emotional identifications sweep us into factitious substitutes for solidarity and action. We lose our ability to respond to atrocity when we start seeing people not as individuals, but as symbols. Changing avatars on social media is a pathetic distraction from changing realities in society. To combat violence you must look unflinchingly at the concrete inequities and practices that breed it. You won’t stop it with acts of self-styled courage on your computer screen that neither risk nor alter anything. To protect expression that’s endangered you have to engage with the substance of what was said, not deny it. That means attempting dialogue with those who peacefully condemn or disagree, not trying to shame them into silence.

I urge you to read the entire post from which this was exerpted.

We Are Charlie: Defending A Free Press is Defending Ourselves

Josh Stearns has an elequent and timely post on Medium today – Je Suis Charlie: Defending Freedom of Expression Depends on All of Us.

"Today we need to understand that the rights of the press are our rights. Attacks on the press are attacks on us. They are attacks on our right to create, to critique, to cover our communities. Attacks on the press are also attacks on our right to know, to understand, to debate."

At his urging, we've excerpted the pull-quote from the film that he cites in the piece.



Journalism & Community: Josh Stearns In Medium

Josh Stearns has written a kick-ass piece for Medium, "What If Journalism Was Built For Inclusive Community Participation".  Indeed, what if?  Of course, Stearns provides insight, answers, links to other's thoughts and wisdom, and two well considered challenges at the end.  Read. This. Piece.


"There can be no trickle down journalism. We’re only going to win if we can get concrete, if we can see each other as human, and if we can keep our eyes on the long term."