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Refusing to pay ransom won’t stop kidnapping, says former hostage

June 24, 2015 at 6:37 PM EDT
The White House cleared the path for the families of hostages to be able to pay ransom, and offered other changes for how the government handles hostage cases. Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner gets reaction from Michael Scott Moore, a former hostage who was held in Somalia.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: For reaction to the White House announcement, we hear from a former hostage. Michael Scott Moore was held for nearly three years before in Somalia his release last fall. The German-American surfing writer was kidnapped in January of 2012 while researching a book on Somali pirates, with funding from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting. Pirate gangs finally freed him after his family and organizations from the U.S. and Germany paid more than a million-and-a-half dollars in ransom.

Our chief foreign affairs correspondent, Margaret Warner, spoke to Moore this afternoon in Washington.

MARGARET WARNER: Michael Scott Moore, thank you for being with us.

MICHAEL SCOTT MOORE, Former Hostage: Thank you.

MARGARET WARNER: How would the policy changes that the president announced today have changed the ordeal that you and your family and the other families, many of whom you know, went through?

MICHAEL SCOTT MOORE: Well, I’m not sure it would have changed my ordeal so much, but it would have changed the ordeal of some of the families who had hostages in Syria.

And my case was a criminal case. They weren’t terrorists, the pirates who were holding me. So I think, for example, information flowed to my family a little more easily than it did to the families in Syria, with people in Syria.

The review that was laid out today and this morning for us seems to release a little bit more classified information to families in those cases, in those instances. And that’s good.

MARGARET WARNER: And how important is it to those families that there will no longer be any threats that they could be prosecuted if they were to pay private ransom?

MICHAEL SCOTT MOORE: Well, that’s huge, but it’s a little bit cosmetic.

Somehow, word got around in official circles that people with hostage relatives in Syria, held by ISIS in particular, were going to be subject to material support laws.

MARGARET WARNER: That you can’t provide material support to terrorists.

MICHAEL SCOTT MOORE: That’s right.

MARGARET WARNER: Right.

MICHAEL SCOTT MOORE: That’s still illegal.

But I think the idea the government’s trying to get across now is prosecution was never on the table.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, the administration is making clear that nothing is changing about the U.S. government policy, but it won’t negotiate and it won’t pay ransom, because it wants to discourage hostage-taking of Americans. Based on your own experience, does it have that effect?

MICHAEL SCOTT MOORE: No.

Most of the people I was surrounded by in Somalia had no clue about differences in hostage policy between France and Britain, the United States, Germany, whatever.

MARGARET WARNER: So, they were demanding $20 million for you. And, what, they had no idea. They thought, what, the U.S. government was going to pay that?

MICHAEL SCOTT MOORE: Yes. They expected money from the U.S. government, from the German government, from my family, and wherever else they could find money, yes.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, tell us a little bit about your ordeal. I mean, what was the worst either aspect of it or moment of it?

MICHAEL SCOTT MOORE: I was held for two-and-a-half years altogether, but, for almost two of it, I was alone, with no one else to talk to besides the guards.

I think the duration of that was the worst part. There were other horrible moments, but I think, overall, that was the worst.

MARGARET WARNER: How did you cope?

MICHAEL SCOTT MOORE: I coped by revising books in my head. I had a couple of books that I knew needed some revisions.

MARGARET WARNER: You mean books you had written.

MICHAEL SCOTT MOORE: Books I had written, almost finished before I went to Somalia.

And I sat there and thought, well, they need to be changed. And I actually rehearsed whole new paragraphs and passages in my head. And that helped. Yoga now and then helped. And the guards too were aware that they weren’t getting exercise, so sometimes they tried to do yoga too. And so I wound up teaching yoga to my pirates.

MARGARET WARNER: So, what about the sense of despair? Did you despair?

MICHAEL SCOTT MOORE: Yes.

By 2014, after about two years, I think I gave up hope that I was going to get out. It just seemed like there was a deadlock. And I — no, that’s when I seriously considered either killing myself or killing the guards around me.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, you write that you did hope of being rescued. Is that what you wanted, despite the risk? Often, hostages are killed in rescues.

MICHAEL SCOTT MOORE: Sure.

After a certain amount of time, you give up thinking about the risks, and you just want out, you know? That’s a normal part of hostage psychology.

MARGARET WARNER: What was your mother doing in the meantime to try to win your release?

MICHAEL SCOTT MOORE: Trying to negotiate with the gang.

MARGARET WARNER: Directly?

MICHAEL SCOTT MOORE: Directly.

MARGARET WARNER: On the phone?

MICHAEL SCOTT MOORE: Yes.

MARGARET WARNER: And what sort of support did she get from the government?

MICHAEL SCOTT MOORE: She had close-quarters advice from the FBI.

MARGARET WARNER: And no threats to her about, don’t pay ransom?

MICHAEL SCOTT MOORE: No, not from the government, not directly.

There were a couple of moments where it seemed like the State Department was trying to sort of get in the way, but not a phone call to her. That seemed to happen mainly in the cases of the families that had hostages in Syria.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, you have written that, if the U.S. isn’t going to pay ransom, then you feel it has a moral obligation to do something else.

MICHAEL SCOTT MOORE: If we think that American policy is going to stop future kidnappings, then we’re misled by the idea that just saying to a TV camera that we don’t pay ransoms will actually prevent it, because that wasn’t the case in my case.

The one language that kidnappers and terrorists would understand is a consistent policy of rescue.

MARGARET WARNER: What do you mean a consistent policy of rescue?

MICHAEL SCOTT MOORE: Well…

MARGARET WARNER: What do you mean that they will understand this?

MICHAEL SCOTT MOORE: So, Jessica Buchanan was — and her colleague Poul Thisted were both rescued four days after I was captured.

If I had then been rescued a couple of months later, whatever, and other hostages had also been rescued around the world, I think word would get around a lot more quickly that the U.S. has no tolerance for this kind of thing.

But I think, if hostage-takers and the guards in particular were losing their lives on a consistent basis whenever they catch hostages, that would get the word out a lot more quickly.

But that’s different from saying that I think that every hostage case should be resolved by a violent rescue. I think families should have input on that. I think that should be an important element of the new policy.

MARGARET WARNER: Michael Scott Moore, thank you very much.

MICHAEL SCOTT MOORE: Thank you.

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