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More details emerge on failed mission to rescue James Foley

August 21, 2014 at 6:09 PM EDT
Judy Woodruff talks to The Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung about the U.S.’ attempt to rescue American journalist James Foley before his murder, and the country’s policy not to pay ransoms to terrorists.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For more on the attempted rescue of James Foley, we turn to Karen DeYoung of The Washington Post.

Karen, welcome back to the NewsHour.

First of all, what more is known about this rescue attempt?

KAREN DEYOUNG, The Washington Post: Well, I don’t think we got a lot more details today.

I think that, as we reported this morning, there were at least two Black Hawk helicopters on the ground. They discovered very quickly that the hostages weren’t there. There was a firefight, in which some of the Islamic State fighters were killed. One U.S. soldier was wounded, not seriously, before they took off. They were not on the ground for very long.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we just heard Defense Secretary Hagel say it wasn’t a failure of intelligence that explains the fact that this didn’t work out. Why do they believe it didn’t work?

KAREN DEYOUNG: Well, I think that — I think that their departure, the militant departure with the hostages from this place, took place not very long before the raid happened.

There’s every reason to believe that, in fact, they were there, that the intelligence was correct, but that they had left. It’s not clear — I have heard versions between several days and two weeks before the raid took place.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So it’s not known whether they knew this was coming?

KAREN DEYOUNG: Correct. Yes. I haven’t heard that suggested, but they certainly had been there.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What level of confidence, Karen, does the administration need typically in order to carry out something like this?

KAREN DEYOUNG: Well, you know, Secretary Hagel said today that — along with General Dempsey, said that they had undergone a lot of planning for this raid. They had practiced it a number of times. I think it does require a lot of planning. Whether that’s weeks or months, I don’t know, but I don’t think it’s something that they undertake, as we were told yesterday, without a great deal of planning and without intelligence from many different sources.

They had signals intelligence. They had human intelligence, so they did have good reason to believe that this is where the hostages were being held.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I think people — people are familiar with the successful raid to go after Osama bin Laden. I think some people may get the impression that something like this is usually successful. Do we know — I mean, do we know whether there are many other attempts made like this by special forces that we just never hear about?

KAREN DEYOUNG: I couldn’t say.

I think, in this case, for these hostages, we’re pretty certain that there haven’t been. But, remember, with the raid, the successful raid against Osama bin Laden, I think the confidence that he was actually there was far less than it was with this raid.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, in this case, more confidence, but it still didn’t work.

I was struck today, Karen, in one of the stories I read that some Pentagon officials quoted as saying they were angry that the administration made the decision to confirm this, that this happened. What do you know about that?

KAREN DEYOUNG: Well, I think, as the administration itself said last night and earlier today, there were several news organizations, including The Washington Post, that were prepared to run stories about it. We certainly were prepared to run a story about it.

We had the information that we felt we needed. When the administration decided that they would brief those few organizations that had come to them and said, look, we have this information, I don’t think we got a great deal more detail from them. And, of course, then they publicly announced it very shortly thereafter.

Again, I think that it was something that was going to come out regardless of whether the administration decided to publicly acknowledge it or not.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Karen, one other thing. We know the — we have been told the administration of the United States has a policy of never paying ransom in a situation like this. Do you get any sense in your extensive reporting that that’s something that is being discussed, being rethought, or what?

KAREN DEYOUNG: I don’t. In fact, the administration very strongly today came out and said, look, we don’t pay ransom, we don’t believe it’s a good idea to pay ransom, that that puts more Americans at risk.

It actually is against the law for Americans to pay ransom to the Islamic State and many other organizations that are designated as terrorist organizations. And I think the request didn’t come and wasn’t turned down by the United States government. It came to the family of James Foley and to GlobalPost, his employer. And the request was for 100 million euros, about $132 million.

And I think that neither they nor the U.S. government, who they informed about this, thought it was a serious offer. It was far, far more than anything that we know has been paid for some of the other European hostages that have been released.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Karen DeYoung with The Washington Post, we thank you.

KAREN DEYOUNG: You’re welcome.