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Family of Texas Kidnapping Victim Influences Shift in U.S. Hostage Policy

The Obama Administration announced Wednesday that families of hostages will no longer be prosecuted for raising ransom money.

From Texas Standard:

Austin Bennett Tice has been missing since August 12, 2012.

The 33-year-old Texas veteran was working as a freelance journalist in Syria when he was kidnapped while reporting on the war. His whereabouts are still unknown.

To bring their son home, Tice’s father secured a meeting with President Obama. He had heard that the administration was going to review the U.S. hostage policy and wanted a chance to influence the President’s decision with his family’s story.

What resulted was a change in America’s rules of engagement with hostage takers. Now families like the Tices will not be threatened with prosecution for raising ransom money or negotiating with hostage takers. And although the policy change won’t allow the U.S. to offer deals to captors — also known as concessions — a new office will be set up to serve as a single contact point for families and the government.

Geoffrey Corn, a professor at South Texas College of Law, says the change isn’t too significant.

“The government has reassured its position that it will not provide ransom to terrorists holding hostages,” he says.

According to Corn, policy shifts like this one aren’t uncommon in certain circumstances. “From a government perspective [and] from a national security perspective, making exceptions to established policies in certain compelling situations is not that unusual,” he says. 

The federal government has made exceptions to the rule in the past, but Wednesday’s executive order is meant to bring transparency and consistency to the process. The hope is that this will give families of hostage victims some peace of mind during a traumatic time.

And while some critics say this change in policy will only endanger more Americans, Corn says he doesn’t expect the new change to increase the number of kidnappings.

“I think the people that want to take hostages are going to take them whether or not they think they are going to get ransom,” he says.

Rhonda joined KUT in late 2013 as producer for the station's new daily news program, Texas Standard. Rhonda will forever be known as the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the first full-time hire for The Texas Standard?” She’s an Iowa native who got her start in public radio at WFSU in Tallahassee, while getting her Master's Degree in Library Science at Florida State University. Prior to joining KUT and The Texas Standard, Rhonda was a producer for Wisconsin Public Radio.
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