The United States must do a better job communicating with families of American hostages held overseas, including telling “hard truths” to loved ones about the chances for rescue and clarifying the government’s position on ransom payments to captors, according to a new report.
The report also says hostages who do make it home need more support, including for financial and mental health problems, and that Americans unlawfully detained by foreign governments should get the same level of attention from the U.S. as hostages held by terror groups.
The study from the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation is the first non-government effort to measure the successes and shortcomings of changes to the hostage recovery process enacted by the Obama administration and left in place by President Donald Trump.
The foundation is named for James Foley, a journalist from New Hampshire who was kidnapped in Syria in 2012 and killed by Islamic State militants two years later.
The 2015 actions included the creation of an FBI-led intra-government fusion cell that works full time on hostage cases and the appointment of a State Department presidential envoy to handle diplomatic negotiations.
The changes were meant to streamline the hostage recovery process after complaints from American families that the government had failed to prioritize the rescue of their loved ones and communicate effectively with them.
The report — based on interviews with 27 people connected to hostage cases, including former hostages themselves and loved ones — makes clear that those changes have led in some instances to better interactions between government officials and hostage families but that challenges still remain.