WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Wednesday that the U.S. government had let down the families of Americans held hostage by terrorists, and he outlined new policies that could make it easier for those families to pay ransom to help free their loved ones.
“These families have already suffered enough and they should never feel ignored or victimized by their own government,” Obama said as he detailed the results of a six-month review of U.S. hostage policy.
The review’s conclusions aim to streamline and improve communications with families, who have sharply criticized the government for providing them with confusing and contradictory information. Some families have complained about threats of criminal prosecution if they seek to pay ransom to terrorists — threats Obama said would end.
“The last thing we should ever do is add to a family’s pain with threats like that,” Obama said.
The president’s pledge essentially clears the way for families to take actions the U.S. government has long said put Americans abroad at greater risk. While no formal changes were being made to a law prohibiting material support for terrorists, the Justice Department indicated it would not hold families accountable if they pursue ransom payments.
Obama expresses his concerns that paying ransoms makes Americans greater targets for kidnapping and increases funding for terrorists. He also said the U.S. government would continue to abide by the “no concessions” policy, but made clear that government officials can have contact with hostage-takers.