Hostages’ families demand better communication with government: report

Family members of Americans who are wrongfully detained overseas or held hostage by non-state armed groups say the U.S. government must more effectively communicate with them about their relatives’ cases, despite recent improvements.

In a new report from the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, several of the hostages’ family members expressed concerns that their relatives’ cases were not being addressed by top government officials. Those whose loved ones were detained by foreign governments also said they felt their cases took a backseat to those who were taken hostage by militant or criminal groups.

“The problem is not communication, it is getting results! I don’t feel neglected, I have had several calls, I fly in for meetings, I’ve been able to meet with senior officials. My problem is getting people at State to commit to the current policy and implement it,” said one participant. 

The report, based on interviews with 25 former hostages and detainees, their relatives and advocates, said the U.S. government had made improvements in communicating with family members since it revamped its hostage policy five years ago. However, family members of those detained said more work is left to be done to improve the flow of information regarding those held abroad. 

“Hostage participants, in general, remain concerned about the level of completeness of the information they receive, while wrongful detainee participants were generally dissatisfied with the level of communication from the U.S. government related to their loved one’s case,” the report says.

The report is just the latest effort to examine the way the federal government deals with hostages and their families, taking a closer look at the policies that were drafted in 2015 under President Obama and have largely remained the same under President Trump. Among the changes implemented in 2015 were the creation of an FBI unit dedicated to rescuing hostages and the appointment of a State Department official dedicated solely to hostage affairs.

The policy was overhauled after the beheadings of Western journalists, including James Foley, led to a cavalcade of calls to transform how the government approaches international hostage situations.

Despite efforts to establish lanes of responsibility for hostage affairs, some family members said they felt they were unsure of who they should be reaching out to regarding their loved ones.

“I’m not sure who has the lead on our case,” said one person interviewed for the report.

“I don’t know who I’m supposed to be talking to,” added another.

The Trump administration has said rescuing hostages and others held abroad is one of its highest priorities, touting the release of Americans held in North Korea, Yemen, Afghanistan and more. Its efforts were thrust back into the spotlight last week when the family of retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, who disappeared on a CIA mission to Iran 13 years ago, said it had informed that the U.S. government believed that he was dead.

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