James Foley’s death reignites debate: Should the US ever pay ransom to terrorists?

Aug 22, 2014

Syria Journalist

In this May 27, 2011 file photo, American journalist James Foley, of Rochester, N.H., who was last seen on Nov. 22, 2012 in northwest Syria, poses for a photo in Boston.; Credit: Steven Senne/AP

Since news of journalist James Foley’s death began circulating Tuesday, some, like journalist David Rohde, have argued that the U.S. needs to change its policy of not paying ransoms to terrorists.

Foley’s family and colleagues were working to raise $123 million that his captors had demanded as a ransom for his release — something that the FBI had discouraged them from doing,  arguing that paying ransom only fuels the kidnapping industry. We’ve since learned that special forces did make an attempt at rescuing Foley.

It’s reignited the debate over the U.S. position on negotiating with terrorists — one that’s significantly different from many European countries, which have had success with paying for the release of kidnapped journalists.

Are there some instances in which the U.S. should consider negotiating with terrorists or paying ransom for hostages? Or is that a slippery slope and something that, if handled at all, should be done so by private intermediaries?


Josh Keating, staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog.

Brian Michael Jenkins, Senior Advisor to the president, RAND


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