Laura's Writings

Terrorism and Hostage-Taking

Part 3 of 4

A final, unique relationship bond that can develop in a hostage situation depends not so much on the hostage as it does on the captor. This situation is known as “dehumanization.” When hostages are hooded, or isolated together but apart from the captors, a process of dehumanization occurs (Poland 1999: 26). This is a signal that the victim has little value to the captor other than simply being a human asset; his/her identity is not important (Miron 1978: 9). Dehumanization is done by the hostage-taker to prevent the development of any relationship between hostages and the perpetrator. According to social psychologists, this is done because most people cannot harm another person unless the victim has first been dehumanized (Poland 1999: 26). If dehumanization is occurring, it is a sign to negotiators that the terrorists might be willing to kill their hostages.

Hostages and their relationships with terrorists are vital to understanding the situational dynamics of hostage-taking because it closely relates to the third area of analysis—response and negotiation. This is one area that is rapidly becoming an art form. If an armed group effects the release of hostages without casualty to innocents, then it is a job well done. But if the release is brought about by negotiation then it is a triumph (Morris 1988: 130). This is also the most intriguing aspect of hostage-taking resolution because neither side (hostage-taker or negotiator) has complete control or incomplete knowledge of the resources available to their opponent (Schreiber 1978: 118).

To begin the discussion on negotiations, one must first remember back to earlier in the discussion concerning the goals of a hostage-taker involving media attention, the delivery of ransom, the release of prisoners, or other political demands. Since it is the policy of most governments not to capitulate to these demands but also to secure the freedom of hostages, negotiators must walk a fine line between firmly dealing with terrorists but maintaining enough flexibility to save hostages.

Walking the fine line of dealing with hostage-takers involves four major steps: response, containment, negotiation and resolution. None of these is more important than the negotiation phase, which can make or break the success of the situation. However, all of these phases are important and control of a hostage situation requires that as one phase is completed, the next phase is initiated in an ordered fashion until the situation is resolved (Poland 1999: 37).

Response requires a clear understanding of the role of the authorities involved and proper training. The responsibilities at this stage are recognized as preservation of life, protection of property and enforcement of law. In sum, the basic objective is stabilization. This leads into the second phase of containment. The primary objective, in as much as it is possible, is to isolate the hostage-takers. This includes evacuating those around the area that are not hostages and the deployment of extra personnel, a negotiator and an assault team. This is also the opportunity to establish a contingency rescue plan in the event that negotiations break down. Once the situation is contained and stabilized, the negotiation phase begins (Poland 1999: 37-38).

Negotiation dialogue between the authorities and the hostage-taker has many advantages. Firstly, as the event unfolds, these negotiations are the only alternative to capitulation or the immediate use of force. Secondly, the authorities can engage in a dialogue while utilizing stalling tactics to wear down the hostage-taker and induce his peaceful surrender. If this is impossible, the delay still is useful for gaining time for rescue forces to plan and conduct a successful assault. Thirdly, hostage-takers also have an interest in negotiations. Political agendas of terrorists are better served by prolonging the incident; it allows for his/her actions and demands to be widely publicized (Antokol 1990: 134).

The most important element in the negotiation process is, of course, the negotiator. This statement may suggest that the negotiator is the one in charge when, actually, he is not (Antokol 1990: 134). The role of the negotiator is highly strategic and has three important purposes. First of all, since the negotiator is not in charge, it buys time since the negotiator has to always consult with superiors before a decision is made. Secondly, unfavorable decisions will be seen as coming from higher-ups and not the negotiator; therefor, this will not affect the trust developed between the negotiator and the terrorist. Thirdly, the attention of the negotiator is to be focused on the immediate problem of building a rapport with the hostage taker(s) (Poland 1999: 40).

Under these guidelines, the role of the negotiator is very distinct. His role in relation to the hostage-taker is to project a neutral and calming aura and must be able to focus on the practical questions related to resolving the incident. He is meant to avoid involvement in political or philosophical disputes with the hostage-taker. By far, the most important job of the negotiator is the keep the hostage-taker talking (Antokol 1990: 135). If negotiations fizzle out, and if the hostage-takers are convinced that no concessions are forthcoming, then they may start to carry out their threats and possibly kill their hostages (Schreiber 1978: 123). For the negotiator to gain trust from the hostage-taker and keep him/her talking, he must build rapport.

The overwhelming amount of hostage situations has been resolved through negotiation. Part of the reason for negotiations is to stall as much as possible; therefor, an effective negotiator must structure his dialogue in order to keep the maximum amount of control over the process. There are three distinct phases in a hostage situation that Antokol likens to the moves in a chess game: the opening gambit, jockeying for position and the endgame (Antokol 1990: 142).

The opening gambit is the initial phase of negotiation, which can amount to many hours at the least. During this period, the terrorists are usually extremely agitated and typically demand unreasonable things. It is important to realize this is a very dangerous period for the hostages. At this point, the negotiator’s task is to calm things down and establish a rapport with the decision-maker among the hostage-takers. After this has been accomplished, the “serious” decision making can begin (142).

Jockeying for position is a phase that constitutes the majority of the hostage situation. Time and discussion will usually result in a gradual reduction of the hostage-taker’s demands—first to realistic ones, then to the bottom-line where he/she attempts to save face in ending the standoff. The negotiator must be extremely patient and prepared to take advantage of any openings the hostage-taker provides (142).

The endgame is the final stage, and the fourth stage of the entire hostage management situation. Things begin to move quickly as the tension level increases dramatically and the terrorists want things to be done “now.” This is another moment when the hostages are at high risk of attack and errors or confusion can easily result in tragedy. The negotiator must, again, remain calm and alert to signs that agreements may be unraveling. This is the moment in which all the efforts of the negotiator to create trust and credibility will influence the likelihood that the outcome will be successful (142).

During the phases of negotiation, a number of tactics are used to successfully end the incident such as keeping the hostage-taker(s) in a detail-coping mode. This entails forcing the hostage-taker(s) to focus on a myriad of minor problems, thus wearing them down and causing them to lose control over the flow of events. Another tactic is using open-ended questions for the same purpose of wearing down the terrorists with details. A third method used is manipulating the environment of the hostage-takers by cutting of electricity, water, etc. Finally, forcing the hostage-taker(s) and hostages to cooperate in resolving problems is a useful tactic. One example of this is providing drinks and meals in bulk so that they must use a cooperative effort to produce the final meal. This helps promote important psychological bonds and enhances the Stockholm Syndrome (an important part of the negotiation process)...(cont.)

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