Friends and family of the latest Islamic State murder victim no doubt would have paid any price to save him from his dreadful fate. Nonetheless, we think the United States is correct in sticking to its “no ransom” policies regarding this terrorist organization.
The beheadings and other executions of prisoners, mostly westerners, by IS terrorists have been terrifying to contemplate, much less view on videos provided by the captors. But the latest execution of a Jordanian pilot whose F-16 was shot down during a bombing raid on IS troops in Syria went a step further in this barbarous practice.
A 20-minute video released by IS allegedly shows the pilot, Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh, inside a cage wearing an orange jumpsuit like the other captives. He then is burned alive by IS militants.
The Jordanian government confirmed that Islamic State militants had killed the pilot, and said his death took place on Jan. 3, according to Jordan's state television. The government had been in negotiations with IS regarding a possible prisoner swap for the pilot.
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IS militants have released a series of gruesome videos showing the killing of captives, including two American journalists, an American aid worker, two British aid workers and two Japanese journalists. Other videos and images show the killing of scores of captured Syrian and Iraqi soldiers. Tuesday's was the first to show a captive being burned alive.
In the beheading late last month of Kenji Goto, a Japanese freelance reporter, the extremists had asked for $200 million in ransom for Goto and another Japanese journalist they are holding. The ransom figure likely stems from a pledge by Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of $200 million U.S. dollars for nations beset by IS to help them rebuild.
The United States will agree to prisoner exchanges of troops during wartime. But refusal to negotiate with terrorists, including paying ransom or releasing prisoners in exchange for hostages, has been a hard-and-fast policy since 1973, when then-President Richard Nixon refused to bargain with the terrorist group Black September in Khartoum, Sudan, for the lives of two U.S. diplomats.
The two Americans and a Belgium official were later murdered.
The policy of refusing to bow to blackmail by terrorists is a harsh one. It raises the difficult question of how much a single life is worth. Is even $200 million too much to spend to save a life?
U.S. policy does not prevent families or private parties from paying ransom for hostages. In some cases, they even are aided by the FBI.
But the rationale for the governmental policy is that giving in to terrorist demands just encourages more kidnappings and threats. While some European nations are willing to negotiate for hostages, the U.S. policy generally has remained steadfast.
One exception occurred in 1986, when the administration of President Ronald Reagan secretly sold arms to Iran to help secure the release of a hostage held by the Iranians. The subsequent scandal sparked congressional hearings and a number of resignations, but U.S. policy regarding hostages did not change.
In the case of James Foley, a U.S. journalist captured by IS, the kidnappers asked for $132 million. U.S. officials refused, and Foley was beheaded.
Again, this decision admittedly is hard-hearted. But how could the United States justify handing over a sum like that to a group it regards as one of the most dangerous terrorists organizations in the world?
IS has funded its land grab in Syria and Iraq in large part by stealing and selling oil from Iraqi oil fields. But it also has received significant amounts of money from European nations that quietly pay its ransom demands. A sum of more than $100 million could have bought a significant cache of small arms and other equipment.
We think the U.S. policy is the right one: Don’t bargain with terrorists.
The killing of the Jordanian pilot has sparked a heated backlash in Jordan. Two prisoners on death row were executed Wednesday, and Jordan could execute as many as six IS-related prisoners.
The brutal tactics of IS terrorists might be catching up with them. The backlash could spread.
Meanwhile, the U.S. must stand pat, refusing to make deals with IS while doing what it can to discredit, weaken and destroy this terrorist organization.