The Obama administration has softened its stance toward terrorism once again, the Associated Press reported late Tuesday – this time, allowing families of American hostages to negotiate with terrorist captors and even pay ransom for their relatives.
The decision is part of a broad review of US hostage guidelines due to be released Wednesday afternoon.
The review was ordered last fall after Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists began killing American hostages, including journalists Steve Sotloff and James Foley and aid workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller. Two others, Warren Weinstein and Luke Somers, were killed in Pakistan and Yemen, respectively.
The families of some of the hostages have complained to the press that Washington had threatened them with criminal proceedings in the event they attempted to contact their loved ones.
Two anonymous insiders stated to AP that there will be no formal change to the law. The US will instead clarify that no criminal proceedings were threatened or will be filed against families who pay ransom to terrorist groups – even though providing money to terrorists is explicitly forbidden by US law.
In practical terms, the statement will allow families to pay ransom, however – restricting the ban on providing money to terrorist groups specifically to the US government and any associated organizations.
End of 'War on Terror'?
The move is yet another sign of the kind of legacy US President Barack Obama wants to leave, as this is the latest in a series of move to discreetly tone down the US's 'war on terror' over the past several years.
Obama spearheaded the campaign for a complete US pullout from Iraq, which was completed during his first term, in December 2011.
Prisoner swaps have also become more common, both with terror groups in the Middle East and with former sworn enemies of the US.
In May 2014, the policy became the subject of intense scrutiny after the controversial return home of US soldier and longtime captive Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who was traded for five top Taliban terrorists.
Weeks later, an anonymous White House official revealed to Reuters that a Frenchman, a Kuwaiti and ten Pakistani prisoners were sent back to their respective home countries at the end of May.
Last winter, Obama completed a high-profile prisoner swap with Cuba, in exchange for longtime Jewish-American captive Alan Gross – and renewed diplomatic relations with Havana.
And in January, an insider revealed to the Daily Beast that a potential swap with Qatar – trading a top Al Qaeda terrorist for a US couple held prisoner there – had been on the table last year, but then scrapped at the last minute.