Joel Simon on His New Book “We Want to Negotiate”

The brutal murder and dismemberment of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi spotlighted the dangers facing journalists around the world. Executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists joins the program to discuss his latest book “We Want to Negotiate” exploring how governments should respond when hundreds of their journalists and citizens are imprisoned or held hostage abroad.

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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Why did you write the book, and what conclusions did you come to regarding hostages who are journalists?

JOEL SIMON, AUTHOR, “WE WANT TO NEGOTIATE”: Well, I wrote the book because the Foley family, Diane and John Foley, came to me when their son, Jim Foley, was kidnapped in Syria. So he went missing at the end of 2012, and after some time, they concluded that they were not getting the support they needed from the government. They were on their own; they came to me, and they asked for my help, if I could help them raise a ransom to win his release. And I was, of course, very concerned about that, very concerned, because it was illegal potentially to pay money to the Islamic State. In the end, it was not successful, and Jim was killed. And after that, Diane came to me, and we had a conversation about this premise of you should not negotiate, you should not pay random. I was concerned that paying ransom could actually increase the threat to journalists by making them more of a target. And Diane said to me, said, “Well, how do you know that’s true? How do you know that it actually increases the risk?” And I said, “Well, I really should look into this.” I’m a journalist, after all. I need to – I need to spend some time getting to the bottom of it. And that was really how I began the research for this book.

AMANPOUR: Let’s just work through a few of these case studies. So Diane Foley, mother of Jim Foley, whose son was the first to be so brutally, publicly beheaded – obviously, Daniel Pearl, that happened to straight after 9/11 – and this is what Diane Foley said about the government response when she went to them for help, and this is her testifying before Congress.


DIANE FOLEY, MOTHER OF MURDERED ISIS HOSTAGE FAMES FOLEY: Our family and three other families of hostages held with Jim in Syria were threatened by Colonel Mark Mitchell, member of our National Security Council, with prosecution by our government, although there was never any precedent if we attempted to raise a ransom to free our loved ones. He also very clearly told us that our government would not ask allies to help negotiate for release and would never conduct any military operation to rescue them. He made it very clear that our United States Government planned to abandoned these four Americans.


AMANPOUR: So she obviously, as the mother of Jim Foley, as any mother in this situation, took it very, very badly, and believed that the government was practically responsible for her son’s ultimate murder.

About This Episode EXPAND

Christiane Amanpour speaks with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and journalist Yonit Levi about the complex state of affairs in Israeli politics; and discusses protecting journalists with Joel Simon, Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. Walter Isaacson speaks with Steven Johnson, author of “Farsighted,” about how we make the decisions that matter most.