ICYMI, on July 7, 2021, The Jerusalem Post published an Op-Ed by GLA President Jason Poblete on the need for a 21st-century hostage policy in America.
The following article, originally published on The Jerusalem Post, can be found HERE.
America needs a 21st-century hostage policy - opinion
The welfare and freedom of our fellow Americans in these predicaments is rarely a number one foreign policy priority for US policymakers – or any government – without extensive prodding.
By JASON POBLETE
JULY 7, 2021 21:16
The welfare and freedom of our fellow Americans in these predicaments is rarely a number one foreign policy priority for US policymakers – or any government – without extensive prodding. Thanks to advocates such as the James Foley Legacy Foundation effectively changing the narrative, progress has been made. Yet, as the Foley Foundation outlines in its 2021 Hostages Report, the United States can and must do better to prioritize Americans’ release in foreign lands.
Before he left office, former president Donald Trump signed the Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act into law, which has codified president Barack Obama’s hostage-policy updates via executive order in 2015. The Levinson Law also has created new reporting requirements to Congress and authorizes the use of economic sanctions and establishes some criteria for unlawful or wrongful detention and for hostage matters. Just last month at a press conference on the steps of the US Capitol and joined by former hostages and family members of hostages, Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Florida) and Rep. French Hill (R-Arkansas) announced the creation of the Congressional Task Force on American Hostages and Americans Wrongfully Detained Abroad. This is an important development in ensuring our fellow Americans in captivity are not forgotten, and it maintains the pressure on the executive branch. Congress must be proactive.
The Biden administration, in turn, must also demonstrate it prioritizes the release and rescue of Americans the world over by implementing the Levinson Act and building on it, looking at other laws, some that date to 1868 (the “Hostage Act”), and all other relevant authorities for guidance on further action. The president has a great deal of discretion in carrying out his duties in this space. His national security team should ensure that the president is kept fully and regularly apprised.
The president’s daily briefing, for example, should include a section on the status of these cases. The White House should ensure that a special presidential envoy for hostage affairs is nominated, confirmed by the Senate, and fully integrated into the interagency discussions involving countries where Americans are held hostage by the governments or non-state actors in their territories. Concurrently, the White House and State Department should develop a whole-government public-facing campaign applying lessons learned from spontaneous efforts during the 1979 hostage crisis in Iran, which brought the plight of our fellow Americans to every household every day for 444 days.The welfare and freedom of our fellow Americans in these predicaments is rarely a number one foreign policy priority for US policymakers – or any government – without extensive prodding.
WITH SOME of the worst offenders, especially state actors, the administration should also move swiftly not only to prioritize these cases, but also to make more robust use of US visas, sanctions and other regulatory actions. This would impress upon hostage-takers America’s zero tolerance policy for this barbaric behavior, which many responsible nations consider a crime against humanity. The following three actions can be undertaken or improved upon immediately to block our homeland to individuals or entities connected to hostage-taking nations.
First, the United States should expel from the country and bar from entry family members of any senior officials from regimes that are state sponsors of terrorism or governments that are hostage-takers. The current State Sponsors of Terrorism list includes Syria, Iran and Cuba. All three nations are currently holding Americans and US legal permanent residents hostage. US actions should clearly indicate that they are responding to hostage-taking. America’s hospitals, universities, corporations and tourist destinations should be off-limits to these regime officials and their families until all American hostages are free at home in the United States.
Second, prohibitions, vetting and end-use monitoring should be applied to all US government contractors, partner, or recipients of US government funding or assistance of any type, to ensure they are not contracting or subcontracting with governments, entities or individuals who have unlawfully imprisoned or taken Americans hostage or who enable such practices.
Third and finally, the United States must impose economic sanctions and visa restrictions on a broader set of regime officials engaged in hostage-taking, as well as on their family members. The administration and Congress must urge our allies to do the same. Corporations must also be placed on notice. Selling products or services that facilitate hostage-taking or torture tools could expose the private sector to legal liability. Compliance and legal departments should already conduct due diligence to comply with sanctions laws; they should also add hostage-taking to that list for certain nations.
Rather than act in the wake of tragedy to prioritize the safe return of Americans held hostage or unlawfully imprisoned in foreign lands, as has usually been the case since our founding, the US should lean into this issue and make it a national and international priority so other responsible nations can join in this effort to eradicate hostage-taking and other forms of unlawful detentions the world over. President Biden and Congress can make this happen today by using the many tools at their disposal. What is needed above all is political will, moral courage to do right, and putting Americans first when dealing with adversaries.
The writer is an international and national security law attorney practicing in Alexandria, Virginia, and president of the Global Liberty Alliance, an NGO that works globally to strengthen fundamental rights, free enterprise and the rule of law. He is the recipient of the 2020 James Foley Foundation Hostage Advocate Award.
See The Jerusalem Post, "America needs a 21st-century hostage policy - opinion" (July 7, 2021).