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

    Top US General: Turkish Media Report ‘Absurd'

    General Dunford rejects ‘irresponsible' claims of coup involvement by former four-star Army General Campbell, who led NATO forces in Afghanistan before retiring earlier this year

    Video Saving Ethiopian Children Thought to Be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at efforts of one African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children

    Protests Over Western Troops Threaten Libyan 'Unity' Government

    Fears mount that Islamist foes of ‘unity' government plan to declare a revolutionaries' council in Tripoli

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunitiesi
    X
    VOA News
    July 25, 2016 5:09 PM
    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Four Brother Goats Arrive in Brooklyn on a Mission

    While it's unusual to see farm animals in cities, it's become familiar for residents of Brooklyn, New York, to see a little herd of goats. Unlike gas-powered mowing equipment, goats remove invasive weeds quietly and without adding more pollution to the air. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this is a pilot program and if it proves to be successful, the goat gardener program will be extended to other areas of New York. Faith Lapidus narrates.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora