If We do not Hang Together, We will surely Hang Separately

The New York Times reported this week that many European nations are paying ransom to Al-Quaeda for return of their  kidnapped nationals. While the humanitarian impulse behind such payments is wholly understandable, they pose a clear danger to the security and ultimately to the liberty of the West, including the United States. Ransom payments encourage more kidnapping.  And they fund Al-Qaeda. The substantial sums of money raised could be used to launch even more serious plots, including plots to obtain and use weapons of mass destruction. ISIS is also likely to copycat this successful strategy.  And remember that Al-Qaeda disaffiliated with ISIS because the latter was too violent and extreme. (Parenthetically, I might mention that 20 years ago, I was able to walk with complete safety in Raqqa, now the de-facto capital of ISIS. That recollection, along with the memory of the old-world charm of the now decimated Aleppo, is a personal measure of the calamity that has befallen the region).

The West had better come to international legal agreements to stop such ransoms–and soon. International coordination is required because ransoming hostages of one nation endangers the security of everyone by making terrorists more powerful. The United States, which has properly refused to pay ransom, must lead the effort for international agreements here. In return for an agreement not to pay ransom, we can agree to use our superior intelligence capabilities to find hostage victims and, where possible, attempt rescues with our unparalleled special forces. Sadly, rescues will not always be successful, but the prospect of Delta force action will itself deter hostage taking.

The International Convention Against the Taking of Hostages provides universal jurisdiction against terrorist kidnappers.  Universal jurisdiction  permits any nation, regardless of its connection to the crime, to prosecute the kidnapper. In that sense, kidnappers would be treated like pirates– the classic enemies of mankind under international law.

But even here the will to prosecute will be crucial. As my colleague Eugene Kontorovich has observed, many modern nations catch and then release modern pirates because it is not worth the trouble of prosecution. And the inclination to release may be greater with terrorists, because holding them may inspire attacks or hostage taking by their confederates to get them back. Here again only United States leadership with the carrots (money and military force) and sticks (sanctions) will likely do the trick.

Our liberty as well as security is stake. In so far as terrorist groups obtain more money and create more threats to the homeland, we will need more surveillance to counter these dangers.

The Obama administration is always talking about the of benefits internationalism. Where is its initiative on a matter where international cooperation and agreement is indeed vital?

Reader Discussion

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on August 01, 2014 at 09:58:10 am

This is all nonsense -- just another trumped-up excuse for big government to interfere with an individual's right to spend his money as he pleases. You read about all this hostage-taking in the New York Times? That pretty much proves it's a leftist conspiracy. And did you notice that the reporter who filed the story gets paid to dredge up this incendiary drivel?

Leave it to the free market; it's never wrong. Just keep asking yourself: What would the Koch Bros. do?

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on August 01, 2014 at 10:29:58 am


Or more likely, what would Steyer do?

And yes, the free market has been doing wonders with the European-Arab Dialogue (as documented by Bat Ye'or in her writings). The Islamists offer a service (freedom from attack) in exchange for "development assistance. Of course, there is no compulsion involved.

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Image of gabe
on August 20, 2014 at 17:48:51 pm

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(it was extremely long) so I guess I'll just sum it up what I had written and
say, I'm thoroughly enjoying your blog. I as well am an aspiring blog blogger but I'm still new to the whole thing.
Do you have any tips for novice blog writers? I'd really appreciate it.

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Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.