What To Do About Hostages

I have recently read that an American hostage held by al-Qaeda somewhere in Yemen was killed during the attempted military strike that, it was hoped, would free him.  A subsequent story in the news suggested that al-Qaeda intended to kill that hostage on the same day as the raid anyway.  Whether or not that story is true or simply an attempt to cover for a rescue mission that failed I don’t know.  I contend that it really doesn’t matter; that when an American citizen becomes a hostage of al-Qaeda or any organization like it, that person should from that moment on be considered to be dead.

This is a harsh proposal, I know.  We always prefer to hope for the best all the way to the end of the line, whether it is a hostage held by ISIS or a patient fighting cancer or any other lost cause that can only find a happy ending if a miracle occurs.  One has to face reality however.  Once an American becomes a hostage of al-Qaeda or ISIS or any other such organization there is almost no chance that they will be returned alive to their families and their former lives.  At lease it hasn’t happened yet.  On many occasions I have seen the parents of hostages make televised appeals for mercy, only to have their son or husband murdered horribly within a few weeks or days of that plea.

The problem is that these groups who kidnap and murder American and other hostages do not exhibit the quality of mercy.  I don’t know if this is a result of al-Qaeda and ISIS, et. al., being or claiming to be Islamic or not.  I do not know what the Koran or any other authoritative writings or traditions of Islam say about the treatment of enemies.  I have read that some important Islamic clerics have very publicly taught that the actions of ISIS in particular are un-Islamic from the standpoint of prisoners and civilians in captured territories.  Whatever the reality is in that matter, these militant organizations have nothing resembling “love your enemy” in their theological or ideological worldview, and so televised appeals for mercy by tearful wives and mothers are not only wasted on these groups but probably give them some kind of sadistic pleasure.

With all of that in mind I propose that the following policy be adopted by the government of the United States.  From the moment that an American is taken hostage anywhere in the world, all of the intelligence and unconventional assets of the U.S. military which are available will be bent towards the rescue of that person at the earliest possible moment.  Technical and human intelligence assets will fly over, intercept communications of, buy or otherwise sniff out all available information on where the hostages might be, and then any rescue which offers a reasonable chance of success will be attempted at the earliest practical moment.

“But wait,” you might say.  “Won’t that result in the bad guys killing the hostage sooner or at the first hint of a rescue attempt, even if it turns out not to be the real thing?”  Maybe so, but as I already have written, the hostages are as good as dead at the moment that they are taken, and I would personally prefer to be cut down by a hail of bullets rather than have my head sawn off on video so that the civilized world can watch the act.  “And what about the advantage to the bad guys of knowing that the rescue attempt is coming?” you might add.  It is true that American military forces would have to know with crystal clarity that they could be lured with false intelligence into an ambush.  This sort of vigilance would be a factor in all such operations and every imaginable precaution would have to be observed to minimize the risk of ambush and failure.  Still, the possibility of things going wrong can never be erased and military personnel are aware of this like nobody else.

I think that it would do the bad guys some good to lose a little sleep, wondering if the ‘snap’ that they hear outside at night is Seal Team Six.  Also, even if the hostages are not in a particular location which has been identified as a likely place of imprisonment, other bad guys probably are. With as much care as can possibly be taken to not inflict casualties upon the innocent civilians that this set of militants loves to hide behind, pinprick damage should be inflicted in order to make the kidnapping and murder of Americans a dangerous and costly proposition.

And then there is the possibility of success.  Imagine the joy of a family to whom a former hostage is returned, alive and well, and imagine the chagrin and blow to the morale of the bad guys as the nation rejoices while they bury a few more of their dead.  Of course, they will still thirst for American blood, but they’re doing that anyway and are not likely to change in any way, any time soon.

Finally I would encourage any U.S. citizen to not make themselves easy targets.  We are all hungry for news and most of us wish to see people who are suffering comforted, but Americans should step back and let other news and aid agencies do the front line work where the risk is highest.  And tourists should simply find other corners of the world in which to vacation.  I would like to see the Sphinx and the Ziggurat of Ur as much as the next person, but common sense says that the risk is simply not worth the reward.

The problem of hostages is a small one for America as a whole, but a huge one for American hostages.  When all reasonable expedients have been followed by Americans and yet some continue to find themselves enjoying the hospitality of al-Qaeda, et. al., the iron hammer should fall hard and with a certainty that hostages and captors alike can count on.

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