Helpful U.S. Government Warned James Foley's Parents: Prosecution For Ransom Fundraising

“The parents of a New Hampshire journalist slain by Islamic extremists in Syria said Friday that they never knew what the U.S. government was doing to help their son and were told they could be prosecuted if they tried to raise money for a ransom.”

Naturally I’m sure the more law-abiding members of this forum will think it is good the government provided this advice–but it rubbed me the wrong way.

Yes, there is something that feels quite unsavory about it, even if it’s a better policy than letting them pay the ransom.

It’s less about being attached to the law than that particular law being an effective policy tool that structures incentives in a way that reduces the harm done to Americans in the aggregate.

Steven Sotloff’s parents were given the same warning:

Most hostages that are killed come from the country that pays the most ransoms. Paying ransoms rewards ISIL for taking hostages, and encourages them to continue to do so.

Paying ransoms also means you are actively supporting their campaign of genocide and slavery, because that’s where your money would be going: to murder Shia children.

A kind of reverse children’s fund.

And yes, the English had a saying about Vikings who asked for tribute: Pay the Danegeld and never get rid of the Dane.

I am glad to see that the US and UK government have read the Tau Codex.
It does depend on relative force. If some terrorists had a good shot at killing millions of people, it might be worth it to pay them off if the odds of it occurring again were low. That is not the case here.

ISIS has essentially 0 capability to target large numbers of Americans. Paying ransom for American hostages will not reduce how many people they kill in Syria or Iraq. In fact, all it would do is improve their ability to do so.

Giving them any hope of ransom simply gives them incentive to kidnap more Americans. France, which does pay ransom, not coincidentally also has the most kidnap victims to Middle East terrorists. Countries that don’t pay ransoms don’t have many such hostages.

I feel for the family, but this is precisely why we shouldn’t base policy on emotion. Maybe the US government could have worded things differently to the family, but they were doing what was best overall for Americans by discouraging them from giving ISIS a single red cent. If the family had somehow collected a couple million for a personal ransom, that money would simply have gone to facilitating the kidnapping and ransom of even more Americans and giving those bastards the means to do so.

The fault of the government, if any, is not doing a good job sparing the feelings of the family, not in implementing this particular policy.

While I disagree with the OP, this thread did lead me to discover how shitty the U.K. government’s response was.


That’s some Orwellian bullshit right there, if they’ve criminalised being communicated to.

No, they’ve criminalised actively choosing to view banned material. Every government censors to some degree, and whilst I strongly disagree with this particular law, it’s not criminalising being passively communicated to.

On topic for this thread, paying a ransom is funding terrorism, directly. Not something that should be encouraged, to put it mildly, and something that should be illegal - not that a prosecution for attempting to raise ransom money should happen either.

So why shouldn’t be against the law to pay a ransom for any kidnapping?

As long as we are not going to prosecute people who are so crazy with fear and grief that they will do anything they can to help their loved ones even if ill-advised…

You can’t send money to terrorists, not even if they’re holding your son hostage. I understand that it’s different when it’s your kid. That doesn’t mean we should allow people to do it.

I get it. The US doesn’t pay ransoms nor does it allow ransoms to be paid. That’s a good policy and one everyone who volunteers for work in that area of the world should be made aware of before they head overseas.

I totally sympathize with the parents and their desire to help.

This. I have to say I agree with the law but acknowledge it feels squicky enforcing it in practice.

Well, sometimes. But Obama decided it was a great idea to swap 5 terrorists for Bergdahl back in May. That sounds like paying a ransom to me.

Hasn’t the government denied giving the families this warning?

That’s just a straight-up prisoner exchange. It’s been done in probably every war, ever.

The President’s Chief of Staff said this weekend that there was no intent to threaten or intimidate, but the government simply had the responsibility to let the family know what the law is. On that count, I totally agree with Siam Sam.

Plus there was at least a token effort to make sure those guys don’t go right back to being terrorists.

Can’t do that with cash. Too fungible.

I see, thank you. I agree as well.

It’s harder to say don’t give a mouse a cookie when the mouse has a gun to your loved one’s head.

The mouse also has a gun to the head of a hundred other people and will pull the trigger if you give him the cookie, but fuck those guys, I guess.

I agree that this should be the law. And, in the shoes of the parents, I would go to every length within my power to break it.