News / USA

Should Terror Groups Be Paid Ransoms?

An image grab taken from a video released by the Islamic State (IS) and identified by private terrorism monitor SITE Intelligence Group purportedly shows U.S. freelance writer Steven Sotloff dressed in orange and on his knees in a desert landscape speaking to the camera before being beheaded by a masked militant (R).
An image grab taken from a video released by the Islamic State (IS) and identified by private terrorism monitor SITE Intelligence Group purportedly shows U.S. freelance writer Steven Sotloff dressed in orange and on his knees in a desert landscape speaking to the camera before being beheaded by a masked militant (R).

Following the deaths of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, a debate has arisen about whether the U.S. should have paid ransom to the Islamic State group in exchange for their release.

Reports have said that Islamic State demanded millions of dollars prior to its on-camera execution of Foley. It is not known if similar demands were made for the release of Sotloff before his murder.

Philip Balboni, president of GlobalPost, the online news agency that hired James Foley, said Foley’s parents knew that the U.S. government prohibitted paying ransom to kidnappers, and they were trying to rescue their son by raising funds. He said U.S. authorities were fully aware of the efforts by Foley’s parents, but did not stop them.

U.S. journalist James Foley (R) arrives with fellow reporter Clare Gillis (not pictured), after being released by the Libyan government, at Rixos hotel in Tripoli, May 18, 2011.U.S. journalist James Foley (R) arrives with fellow reporter Clare Gillis (not pictured), after being released by the Libyan government, at Rixos hotel in Tripoli, May 18, 2011.
x
U.S. journalist James Foley (R) arrives with fellow reporter Clare Gillis (not pictured), after being released by the Libyan government, at Rixos hotel in Tripoli, May 18, 2011.
U.S. journalist James Foley (R) arrives with fellow reporter Clare Gillis (not pictured), after being released by the Libyan government, at Rixos hotel in Tripoli, May 18, 2011.

“The family was committed to raising the funds to pay a ransom. The captors never definitely stated an amount. It was never in final negotiation. It was clear from the very first instance that the family would pay that ransom if they were given that opportunity,” he said.

Deborah Pearlstein, professor at Yeshiva University Cardozo School of Law, said there currently was no law that prohibits the U.S. government from paying ransom to or negotiating with the terrorist groups.

“In principle, Congress could pass a law that prohibited the executive [branch] from doing that, but it never has. So when the United States government says: we don’t negotiate with terrorists or we don’t pay ransoms or things of that nature, they are making statements about U.S. policy, not something they are compelled to do by law,” she said.

But John O. McGinnis, professor at Northwestern University School of Law, noted it would be against the law to give money to certain groups even if ransom payments were not illegal.

“I think as a general matter, U.S. law does not prevent private people from paying money to kidnappers, at least [according to] federal law. But it would prevent them from paying ransom to al-Qaida or other terrorist entities that are prohibited from receiving U.S. funds by Treasury regulations,” he said.

Daniel Benjamin, a former counterterrorism coordinator at the U.S. Department of State and the current director of the John Sloan Dickey International Exchange Center at Dartmouth College, said the laws have never been enforced by the U.S. government in cases of ransom.

“As a technical matter, I guess, the U.S. could prosecute people for supporting terrorism if they pay ransoms, but the government has chosen not to do that because it would be very unpopular to penalize people who had a tragedy such as a kidnapping in their family,” he said.

At present, there are many international treaties and U.N. Security Council resolutions that prohibit funds from being sent to terrorist organizations.

However, to date, no individual or company has been subjected to legal sanctions because of paying ransom to terrorist organizations in exchange for a family member or employee.

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Mandarin service.

You May Like

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs