This week, American journalist Peter Theo Curtis was released by the Syrian terrorist group Jabhat al-Nusra. Curtis was captured in October 2012 after he entered Syria to cover the raging civil war that ravished the country. After two years of talks and discussions with other countries in the region, the United States was able to secure the safe and peaceful release of Curtis to American authorities. Curtis’s capture is not an anomaly. According to The Guardian, in an annual report last November, the Committee to Protect Journalists estimated that at least 30 journalists had been kidnapped or had disappeared in Syria. Curtis’s case, though, is one that supports the longstanding U.S. policy against any government negotiations with terrorists. A change in stance would essentially undermine America’s core values.
Curtis’s case stands in stark contrast to the tragic story of another American journalist who was captured in Syria, James Foley. Like Curtis, Foley was covering the civil war in Syria and was captured in 2012. A video surfaced last week of Foley being beheaded by the militant group ISIS.
Though Foley’s story unfortunately ended in an appalling manner, both stories of American journalists demonstrate the effective policy of not negotiating with terrorists. It is important to note that even if the $132 million ransom had been paid for the release of Foley, his safety was never guaranteed. Even if it had been ensured, the rest of the hostages currently held by ISIS would still be in danger. The Foley video pictured Steven Sotloff, a freelance journalist that had disappeared in August 2013, in the background.
Terrorist organizations do not operate on the same principles of integrity as governments and their word cannot be trusted. The groups resort to terrorism because they hold alternative views of the world and they want their voices to be heard. If negotiations are offered, these groups will be given increasing power and influence, legitimizing their methods of violence. If the United States had started to bargain with ISIS, organizations like Al-Qaeda and the Taliban might want to take part in captive negotiations as well. Moreover, using civilians as tools for negotiation is beneath the integrity and values of the U.S. government. Diplomatic routes with other countries, in cooperation with the United Nations, offer a more secure and democratic route for the release of captives.
As the preeminent global military power, the United States should lead the way in demonstrating to radical organizations that their demands will never be met if they utilize barbaric and antiquated methods of killing captives. The killing of journalists and American citizens is inexcusable and atrocious. It does no good to negotiate with those who undertake those actions to get what they want. After all, even in the event their ransom is paid, where do the demands stop? The mere uncertainty to this question points to the host of issues present in the concept of negotiating with terrorists. Most importantly, though, is that the paying of ransoms and meeting of terrorist demands compromises the beliefs of the United States.
Athanasius Georgy is a sophomore majoring in biological sciences. His column, “On the World Stage,” runs Thursdays.