Accessibility links

Breaking News

IN THE NEWS - February 23, 2002: New US Hostage Policy - 2002-02-22

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program, IN THE NEWS.

The United States has made changes in its policy about American hostages. State Department official Richard Boucher announced the changes Wednesday.

Mister Boucher said the government will use every resource to gain the safe return of American citizens who are held hostage. However, he said the United States will continue its policy of not paying kidnappers or meeting any of their demands. For example, the United States will not release prisoners in exchange for the freedom of American hostages.

The new policy was announced the day before the State Department confirmed that an American reporter had been killed by his kidnappers in Pakistan. Daniel Pearl was a Wall Street Journal reporter. He was kidnapped last month in Karachi. Two American religious workers continue to be held hostage in the Philippines by the Abu Sayef group.

The new policy about American hostages is not very different from the one that has been in place the last seven years. But, it does make clear that the United States will take the kidnapping of private citizens just as seriously as that of government officials.

The United States government now will examine every overseas kidnapping of an American for possible action. This expands the earlier policy of considering only the cases in which American officials are held.

Mister Boucher warned terrorist groups, criminal organizations and foreign governments against kidnapping Americans. He said the kidnappers will not gain anything by taking hostages.

Mister Boucher said there were several ways the United States may answer kidnappings in foreign countries. The new policy permits the use of force to try to gain the release of hostages. Yet, Mister Boucher said he did not want to suggest that military action is in any way a first choice or a better choice. He said the main promise the government is making is to look at every kidnapping case to see what can be done.

The other major change in hostage policy concerns the actions of private individuals or businesses. The United States continues to strongly advise that people not pay kidnappers or meet their other demands. Yet, the new policy eases restrictions on American Foreign Service agencies in working on such kidnapping cases. In the past, the Foreign Service could offer assistance only to help private individuals and organizations communicate with foreign governments.

The National Security Council began re-examining the hostage policy toward the end of former President Clinton’s administration. The White House, the Justice Department and the Central Intelligence Agency also were involved in developing the new policy.

This VOA Special English program, IN THE NEWS, was written by Caty Weaver. This is Steve Ember.