Obama Administration To Shift Ransom-For-Hostages Rules : It's All Politics While the Obama administration maintains it will not negotiate with terrorists, it will allow families to negotiate on their own for release of loved ones.

Obama Administration To Shift Ransom-For-Hostages Rules

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The White House has been walking a delicate line when it comes to how it handles the families of people who've been taken hostage abroad. Now the administration is about to announce changes to its policy. That could include subtle permission for those families to negotiate directly with hostage-takers. More than two dozen Americans have been kidnapped by terrorists over the last five years. NPR's Scott Horsley has more.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: The White House has been going over its hostage policy since late last year when families of some victims complained neglect and even threats from their own government made a terrible ordeal even worse. Journalist James Foley was held captive by ISIS for nearly two years before he was brutally murdered last summer. His mother, Diane Foley, told ABC the U.S. government offered little in the way of information or support.


DIANE FOLEY: We had to beg. We were an annoyance, it felt at some level. You know, they really didn't have time for us.

HORSLEY: After a months-long review, President Obama is expected to order the creation of a new office to oversee hostage recovery efforts. White House spokesman, Josh Earnest, says this so-called fusion cell will help coordinate moves by the FBI, the State Department, the intelligence community and the military. It'll also help the government speak to families with a single voice.


JOSH EARNEST: We can improve our ability to communicate with the families of those who are placed in this terrible situation.

HORSLEY: In the past, families say they sometimes got mixed messages from the government. The FBI, for example, helped the family of one hostage as it tried to make a ransom payment which was ultimately unsuccessful. Diane Foley told ABC other parts of the government warned such payments could lead to prison.


FOLEY: We were told very clearly three times that it was illegal for us to try to ransom our son out and that we had the possibility of being prosecuted.

HORSLEY: The administration is expected to send a tacit signal to hostage families that they won't be punished for negotiating with terrorists. Democratic congressman John Delaney of Maryland calls that a welcome change.

JOHN DELANEY: What they have said is that they're looking at the policy with respect to families because right now under U.S. law, families are also prohibited from having any discussions with captors as it relates to their loved ones. And what the White House has said is they're going to look at that to see whether some flexibility might make sense.

HORSLEY: But White House Spokesman Earnest says the policy against the government itself paying ransom will not change for fear that would only encourage more kidnapping.


EARNEST: To offer concessions to terrorists only does allow them to more effectively fund their operations, but also makes American citizens around the globe an even more significant target than they already are.

HORSLEY: The administration's overhaul is not likely to end the debate over U.S. hostage policy. Republican congressman Duncan Hunter of California, for example, says the FBI is the wrong agency to lead the fusion cell since it has comparatively little presence overseas. Elaine Weinstein, whose husband Warren was accidently killed in captivity by a U.S. drone strike earlier this year, complained of inconsistent and disappointing treatment by the government. She said today she hopes hers is the last family to find itself in that position. Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.

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