A well-formed argument against the doctrine of refusing to negotiate with terrorists to gain the release of hostages.
“From a pure negotiating standpoint,” writes Simon (The New Censorship: Inside the Global Battle for Media Freedom, 2015, etc.), executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, “adopting a public posture of ‘we don’t negotiate with terrorists’ is a terrible opening gambit.” First formulated by Richard Nixon, that posture reduces the value of the hostages to their kidnappers, which makes it more likely that hostages will be killed. Still, talking tough in the face of hostage-takers scores political points in the U.S. and the U.K. even as countries such as France pay in order to rescue their citizens. Again, that’s for political reasons. As Simon notes, when war correspondent Florence Aubenas was kidnapped in Iraq in 2005, the French government reportedly paid $10 million to retrieve her. Officially, the government denied that it had acquiesced, but the fact that it had underscores political differences: “When French citizens are kidnapped, the public often mobilizes to demand their release,” with the idea that part of the social contract is that the government protects its citizenry by whatever means necessary. On the other hand, Americans and Brits come with guns blazing, which often leads to the deaths of hostages, if not soldiers and civilian bystanders. As Simon observes, when the British sent in soldiers to rescue a New York Times correspondent and a colleague taken hostage in Afghanistan, a soldier, a woman, and a child died in the fire. “These deaths,” he notes, “were all the more tragic because private negotiators who were communicating with the kidnappers already had a deal for both hostages’ release.” Simon, who has been involved in negotiation efforts himself, ventures that Daniel Pearl’s killing in Pakistan might have been avoidable and that it was meant to send a signal “that kidnapping Westerners was now a sanctioned tactic" on the part of al-Qaida.
A persuasive argument that deserves to be heard in Foggy Bottom, the Pentagon, and other corridors of power.