Laura's Writings

Terrorism and Hostage-Taking

Part 4 of 4

It would be more than sufficient to end the discussion of the situational dynamics of hostage-taking having discussed the role of hostage-taker, hostage/hostage-taker relation dynamics, and the negotiation processes; however, there is a fourth aspect to this analysis that begs attention. Although it is not an “internal aspect” of hostage situations, it is an element that, despite its separateness, intimately affects the goals of hostage-takers and negotiations. This fourth aspect is the creation of public policy towards hostage negotiation. More specifically, it is the analysis of the U.S. policy on hostage-taking.

As long as terrorism persists as a political means, kidnapping and hostage-taking will be part of the modus operandi of terrorists groups. It is obviously unlikely to safeguard even the most likely victims from attack (Miller 1980: 103). How then, does the U.S. address the issue of terrorism without infringing upon civil liberties, rights to privacy, etc.? Despite these obstacles, U.S. has taken the first step of clearly outlining its goals: maintain an effective, firm antiterrorist policy at home and abroad; seek legal remedies to terrorism; diminish terrorist networks; and, hold host governments where terrorism occurs responsible for the protection of foreign nationals within its territory (Farrell 1982: 34).

Additionally the U.S. has a strict policy of not paying ransom, releasing prisoners or otherwise yielding to blackmail by terrorist groups. It does seek to establish effective communication with terrorists whose hostages are under U.S. protective responsibilities. The U.S. also adheres to the principle that a terrorist should be prosecuted for criminally defined acts of terrorism within the country of commission or be extradited to a country having appropriate jurisdiction to try the offender (34).

Aware of both the terrorist threat in many parts of the world, the United States has developed enhanced physical and personal security programs for U.S. personnel and established cooperative arrangements with the U.S. private sector. It has also established bilateral counter-terrorism assistance programs and close intelligence and law enforcement relationships with many foreign states to help prevent terrorist incidents or resolve problems in a manner that denies the perpetrators the benefit of their actions (U.S. State Dept 1986: 1).

The U.S. policy on U.S. citizens abroad who are taken hostage specifically states the refusal “to pay ransom…and make other concessions to terrorists in exchange for the release of hostages…” under the assumption that practices only increases the danger that others will be taken hostage. At the same time, the U.S. claims it will, “make every effort,” including contacting the representatives of the captors to secure the release of hostages. Consequently, the U.S. also strongly urges American companies and private citizens not to pay terrorist ransom demands (2).

National policy also reflects a belief that good security practices, relatively modest security expenditures, and continual close cooperation with appropriate authorities can lower the risk to Americans that live in “high-threat” environment. It also offers to work closely with authorities and actively involve the U.S. Foreign Service posts and administrative services in safely ending hostage incidents. Each request for assistance, however, will be considered on a case by case basis (3).

The U.S. policy is a clear statement of a confident stand against terrorist hostage-takers and their demands. This policy is often referred to as flexible firmness because, although the U.S. does not grant concessions, it does allow itself the flexibility to negotiate with terrorists in a hostage-situation under the assumption that certain demands are non-negotiable. This limitation greatly affects the negotiating process by restricting the hostage-taker in what he/she is able to demand, and what is likely to be received, especially if he/she is aware of the U.S. policy against hostage-taking before the act is committed.

Overall, the internal analysis of the situational dynamics of hostage-taking includes recognizing the important elements of a hostage situation which primarily include the hostage-taker, the hostage, and the negotiator. Although the media and private corporations do contribute specific and unique dynamics to a hostage situation, they are not included in this analysis which seeks to focus on hostage-taking and its immediate actors and effects. Each of these actors were then evaluated in the context of the hostage profile, the hostage/hostage-taker relationship, the dynamics of response and negotiation and policy creation. All within this relationship contribute to the phenomenon of terrorism that is “hostage-taking.” They are all factors in the drama and suspense that infuses the hostage situation and makes it attractive to terrorists, terrifying to hostages, arresting for the public, and a formidable issue for authorities and governments.

Works Cited:

Antokol, Norman and Mayer Nudell. No One a Neutral. Medina: Alpha Publications of Ohio, 1990.

Aston, Clive C. “Restrictions Encountered in Responding to Terrorist Sieges: An Analysis.” Responding to the Terrorist Threat: Security and Crisis Management. Ed. Richard H. Shultz, Jr. and Stephen Sloan. New York: Pergamon Press, 1980. 59-92.

Crelinsten, Ronald D. and Denis Szabo. Hostage-Taking. Lexington: Lexington Books, 1979.

Evans, Ernest. “American Policy Response to International Terrorism: Problems of Deterrence.” Terrorism: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Ed. Yonah Alexander and Seymour Maxwell Finger. New York: John Jay Press, 1977. 106-117.

Farrell, William Regis. The U.S. Government Response to Terrorism: In Search of an Effective Strategy. Boulder: Westview Press, 1982.

Fuselier, G. Wayne. “A Practical Overview of Hostage Negotiations.” FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. Vol. 50, No. 2 (June 1981): 1-10.

Gladis, Stephen D. “The Hostage/Terrorist Situation and the Media.” FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. Vol. 48, No. 3 (September 1979): 11-15.

Hoffman, Bruce. Terrorist Targeting: Tactics, Trends, and Potentialities. Santa Monica: RAND, 1992.

Miller, Abraham H. “Responding to the Victims of Terrorism: Psychological and Policy Implications.” Responding to the Terrorist Threat: Security and Crisis Management. Ed. Richard H. Shultz, Jr. and Stephen Sloan. New York: Pergamon Press, 1980. 93-104.

Miller, James A. “Political Terrorism and Insurgency: An Interrogative Approach.” Terrorism: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Ed. Yonah Alexander and Seymour Maxwell Finger. New York: John Jay Press, 1977. 65-91.

Miron, Murray S. and Arnold P. Goldstein. Hostage. Kalamazoo: Behaviordelia, Inc., 1978.

Morris, Eric and Alan Hoe. Terrorism: Threat and Response. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988.

Poland, James M. and Michael J. McCrystle. Practical, Tactical and Legal Perspectives of Terrorism and Hostage-Taking. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 1999.

Roukis, George. “Negotiating with Terrorists.” Managing Terrorism: Strategies for the Corporate Executive. Ed. Patrick J. Montana and George S. Roukis. Westport: Quorum Books, 1983. 109-121.

Schreiber, Jan. The Ultimate Weapon: Terrorists and the World Order. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1978.

Thompson, Leroy. Hostage Rescue Manual: Tactics of the Counter-Terrorist Professionals. Mechanicsburg: Greenhill Books, 2001.

United States, Department of State. Bureau of Public Affairs. International Terrorism: U.S. Policy on Taking Americans Hostage. Ed. Colleen Sussman. Washington D.C.: Dept. of State, 1986.

White, Jonathan R. Terrorism: An Introduction. Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1991.


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