Family of Texas Kidnapping Victim Influences Shift in U.S. Hostage Policy

The Obama Administration says families will no longer be prosecuted for raising ransom money.

By Rhonda FanningJune 24, 2015 1:14 pm

Austin Bennett Tice has been missing since August 12th, 2012.

The 33-year-old Texas veteran was working as a freelance journalist in Syria when he was kidnapped while reporting on the war. His whereabouts are still unknown.

To bring their son home, Tice’s father secured a meeting with President Obama. He had heard that the administration was going to review the U.S. hostage policy and wanted a chance to influence the President’s decision with his family’s story.

What resulted was a change in America’s rules of engagement with hostage takers. Now families like the Tices will not be threatened with prosecution for raising ransom money or negotiating with hostage takers. And although the policy change won’t allow the U.S. to offer deals to captors — also known as concessions — a new office will be set up to serve as a single contact point for families and the government.

Geoffrey Corn, a professor of law at South Texas College of Law, says the change isn’t too significant.

“The government has reassured its position that it will not provide ransom to terrorists holding hostages,” he says.

According to Corn, policy shifts like this one aren’t uncommon in certain circumstances.

“From a government perspective [and] from a national security perspective, making exceptions to established policies in certain compelling situations is not that unusual,” he says. The federal government has made exceptions to the rule in the past, but Wednesday’s executive order is meant to bring transparency and consistency to the process. The hope is that this will give families of hostage victims some peace of mind during a traumatic time.

And while some critics say this change in policy will only endanger more Americans, Corn says he doesn’t expect the new change to increase the number of kidnappings.

“I think the people that want to take hostages are going to take them whether or not they think they are going to get ransom.”