On today's epsiode of Democracy Now!
In a year that saw the brutal televised beheading of Western journalists and aid workers by the Islamic State, the United States is facing calls to change a hostage policy that may have undermined chances to save their lives. Journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, as well as aid worker Peter Kassig, were all beheaded after being kidnapped by ISIS in Syria. Luke Somers, a photojournalist, was killed in Yemen this month during a failed U.S. rescue mission. Family members of the hostages have criticized U.S. government policy of refusing to engage with their captors, including the payment of ransom. Meanwhile, at least 15 hostages also kidnapped by ISIS in Syria have walked free. That’s because their governments — all but one European — have negotiated and paid millions of dollars to win their release. But not only does the United States refuse to negotiate or pay ransoms to captors, it has threatened the hostages’ families with prosecution if they try to do so on their own. We host a roundtable discussion with three guests: Philip Balboni, president and CEO of GlobalPost, where Foley was a freelance reporter when he was taken hostage in 2012; Gary Noesner, former chief of the FBI’s Crisis Negotiation Unit; and Sarah Shourd, who was was held prisoner by Iran for 410 days before ultimately being released in a deal brokered by Oman.
As we explore how the United States fails to win the release of its hostages overseas, we are joined by Stanley Cohen, a lawyer directly involved in secret talks to win the freedom of U.S. aid worker Peter Kassig. Cohen argues that the U.S. government missed a chance to prevent Kassig’s beheading last month by the Islamic State in Syria. A controversial attorney whose past clients include Hamas, Hezbollah and the son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, Cohen tapped his extensive contacts in a failed effort to win Kassig’s freedom. With the FBI’s blessing, Cohen flew to the Middle East where he spearheaded talks between figures aligned with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. But the plan fell apart when Jordan arrested a leading cleric who played a key role in the talks and the United States refused to intervene. Kassig was killed shortly after. "The United States made a decision — I don’t know if it was the White House, I don’t know if it was the State Department — they made a decision to throw Mr. Kassig under the bus, because, for whatever reason, the Jordanian government did not want this to happen," Cohen says.
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