US officials threatened James Foley's family with criminal charges if they raised ransom money to free him


What are the odds ISIS would have let him go if they had given them the money? From what I understand, it’s actually pretty rare for paying the ransom to get your loved one back.


Mmmm, sensationalism is so delicious!


What, exactly, do you know about paying ransom to get your loved one back?

Paying ransoms is kind of like buying slaves to free them. That doesn’t make the government’s policy kind or easy, but it’s not necessarily wrong.

The economist had an piece on this recently. YMMV, but here’s what they had to say:

Al-Qaeda has turned kidnapping into an industry of sorts—one operative has even written a how-to guide. Ransom payments, which have substantially increased over the past decade, now provide most of the group’s finances, say counterterrorism officials. As the New York Times puts it, “Europe has become an inadvertent underwriter of Al Qaeda.”


According to the New York Times, hostage negotiators believe that terrorists have figured out which governments pay. Of the 53 hostages taken by al-Qaeda and its affiliates in the past five years most were European, while only three were American. This might be seen as proof that the logic behind America’s policy is sound. But it does not help Steven Sotloff, another American journalist held with Foley. IS has threatened to kill him next.

It makes a certain amount of sense to me. And yet what a brutal thing for the families. But I suspect it’s probably the lesser of two evils.


According to the article “warnings over the summer came primarily from a highly decorated military officer serving on the White House’s National Security Council staff”.

The military has a long tradition of expecting its people to remain emotionally detached. Emotion and sentiment are seen as things for civilians, and in the face of something like this situation, dealing with civilians who are “emotionally compromised”, the expected response is to maintain a stony face.

Is it in some ways pretty terrible? Yeah, it is. But the military believes that, given the amount of life and death situations they deal with on a regular basis, it is the lesser of two evils. Maybe they’re wrong - but by the same token, they could very well be right. Rationally speaking, ISIS wasn’t going to release Foley, no matter what ransom was paid - and any funds they received would go straight into killing other people.

Surely the military and the government have a responsibility to prevent emotional civilians playing right into their hands of ISIS - being driven by their pain and desperation to take actions that are fundamentally irrational, and which will only make things worse?

Of course, that isn’t to say the military couldn’t be more empathetic - as the article states, the message wasn’t unexpected, but rather the tone it was delivered in. Yet is that honestly a reasonable expectation to hold?

The military deals with so many cases of life and death like this, how can they possibly respond to them all empathetically? Even doctors, people dedicated to saving life and ameliorating pain, have to maintain a certain level of distance from their patients. Bedside manner is all well and good, but it has certain limits. Becoming too emotionally invested in one’s patients can destroy a doctor’s ability to help people - or , at the very least, to limit the damage as much as possible.

The same most certainly is true of military officers. If you let yourself become top emotional, you compromise your ability to make horrible, necessary choices - like letting James Foley die, and stopping his family from funding terrorists, because you honestly believe there is nothing to be done to save him.


It has little to nothing to do with any of this “emotional” stuff you’re talking about, it’s a matter of US law. It is illegal to pay ransom for hostages.

“Without getting into the details of our private discussions with families, the law is clear that ransom payments to designated individuals or entities, such as [ISIS], are prohibited. It is also a matter of longstanding policy that the U.S. does not grant concessions to hostage takers. Doing so would only put more Americans at risk of being taken captive. That is what we convey publicly and what we convey privately.”

– NSC spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden


The Foley’s say they were told not to raise funds for the release of their son James?

I don’t know about you, but I’d tear the sky down and shove it up anyones ass that got in my way to get my son returned.

It’s seems a little late and a bit small at this point to have the Foleys rage at the US GOV. I will add that I extend my deepest regards for the insurmountable loss they have to endure. I wish them well.


The choice is a no-brainer. Even a jail sentence is (usually) a finite-time affair; you can “just” wait it out. But nothing will get you back your family member.

There is nothing the govt can do to you that is worse than that. Their bargaining power is somewhat limited.


Doesn’t the US have a history of trading spies for spies? That’s still giving aid to the enemy.

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That’s right. You are not allowed to raise money on the behalf of a terrorist organization.

Is the life of your child so important that it’s worth killing many others? Because that’s what giving ISIL money empowers them to do.

How many more Yazidi civillians would ISIL be able to kill with these extra assets?

What if ISIL has straight up demanded the guns, ammo, and explosives they would spend the money on? I wonder if the family would still be so eager to pony up the ransom.


Trading spies is a little different. I can think of at least 2 reasons why:

  1. It’s a 1:1 trade. The benefit to each party is supposed to be equal. Can it really be aid if there is no change to the scales?
    (Although last time we traded with Russia we gave them 10 prisoners for only 4 in return. Hopefully those 4 were exceptionally valuable assets.)

  2. Trading assets with a legitimate government is different from trading with a terrorist organization. Governments are can be held accountable (at least to some extent, in certain arenas) whereas ISIL and other terrorist groups do not respond to economic sanctions, trade embargoes, etc.

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I think that’s true of one-off kidnappers, who have nothing to gain and everything to lose if the hostage is freed. But the folks who turn it into an industry have to deliver in the end. If they accepted ransom and then killed the hostage, that would be the last ransom dollar, ever.


“It was an utterly idiotic thing to do that came across as if [the U.S. official] had the compassion of an anvil,”

True. The US, as an abstracted monolithic entity, is clearly less compassionate than the average anvil.


You don’t have children, do you?


Actually, the entire ARTICLE is about this “emotional” stuff I’m talking about. Maybe if you bothered to READ it?

No one is questioning the matter of US Law. Even the Foley family themselves state they understand, rationally, why they were told not to pay up. Their complaint is that the message was delivered in such an “unsympathetic” way.


Yes, yes, and yes.

In wars, “our” lives have more worth than “their” ones. The same works, even more, when scaled down to families.


They should have followed the traditional method… Raised funds to purchase arms that could then be traded for hostages.


No, I do not. It sounds like you do.

So can you tell me just how many innocent people would you kill to save your child?


That’s disgusting.

What makes you and your family so special that you are entitled to kill many others just to protect your own?

Fundamentally this is the basis of Jingoism, Racism, Sexism, and a whole lot of other icky isms. Someone thinking that protecting their personal interests are so important that they feel justified in violating social norms just to indulge their own myopic selfish interests.

Losing a loved one is painful, but it doesn’t justify providing material support to a group intent on ethnic cleansing.