Should hostages' families negotiate with terrorists? White House changes tune.

In the past, family members who have negotiated with or paid ransom to terrorists to facilitate the release of hostages have been risking criminal prosecution. The White House is expected to change that police Wednesday.

Transforming its longstanding policy on hostage negotiations, on Wednesday the Obama administration will tell the families of American hostages that they can communicate with captors, and even pay ransom, without fear of prosecution.

A broad review of US hostage guidelines, which have been criticized by the families of Americans held captive for being too rigid, will be released on Wednesday. 

President Obama ordered that the policy be reviewed in November 2014 following the deaths of American hostages at the hands of Islamic State militants. The families of some of the American hostages killed complained about the way they were treated by members of the administration, saying they were threatened with criminal prosecution if they pursued paying ransom in exchange for the release of their loved ones.

Elaine Weinstein, the wife of the American hostage Warren Weinstein, who was accidentally killed by a US drone strike in Pakistan, said she hoped the hostage review "was conducted fully and frankly so the US government can have an honest conversation about the areas where it falls short."

Meanwhile, some experts noted that paying ransom is generally more effective than an armed rescue.

“We, the government, rely too heavily on the military to provide a rescue. The most dangerous time for a hostage is during a rescue mission. They are rarely executed for lack of payment,” Gary Noesner, a retired FBI negotiator told the Monitor.

Several people familiar with the review said there would be no formal change to the law, which makes it illegal to provide money or other material support to terror organizations. However, the administration will make clear that no one has been or will be prosecuted for paying ransom.

The policy change was first reported by Foreign Policy magazine. Those familiar with the review confirmed the details on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly ahead of Wednesday's release. 

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

 
 
 

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