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Militant Islam Monitor > Articles > How paying for hostages prolongs the fight against terrorists: "Deals from the Dark Ages" by George Jonas

How paying for hostages prolongs the fight against terrorists: "Deals from the Dark Ages" by George Jonas

July 29, 2007

Deals from the Dark Ages

George Jonas
National Post

Saturday, July 28, 2007http://www.canada.com/nationalpost/news/story.html?id=2a9bdf8e-e6c4-437b-921a-40838a00b54e

On Wednesday, the bullet-riddled body of 42-year-old Bae Hyung-kyu was discovered in the Qarabagh district of Afghanistan, the region where 23 South Korean Christian aid workers had been abducted on July 19 by the Taliban. The initial response of Baek Jong-chun, South Korea's chief presidential secretary for security affairs, was to sound a stern warning. The kidnappers "will be held accountable for taking the life of a Korean citizen," he said in a statement before leaving Seoul for Afghanistan.

There was a trace of bewilderment in the Taliban spokesman's tone as he responded to South Korea's outrage. Why, the hostage wasn't killed wantonly. He was killed only because the abductors' demands hadn't been met. "The Taliban are not asking for money," explained Qari Yousef Ahmadi. "We just want to exchange our prisoners for Korean hostages. When they release the Taliban, we will release the hostages."

Spokesman Ahmadi sounded genuinely perplexed. What, he seemed to ask, was wrong with the proposed transaction? Isn't this the way human affairs are conducted in warfare or, for that matter, commerce? One side in a conflict takes something of value from the other side, thereby forcing the other side to offer something in exchange. What else?

France's President, Nicolas Sarkozy, seemed to endorse the Taliban's view. The day before Mr. Bae's body was found, France's equivalent of Air Force One landed in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, delivering five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor held by Libya since 1999. Accused of deliberately infecting children with HIV in the port city of Benghazi, tortured into confessing, convicted and sentenced to die, the foreign medical workers were eventually released this week because the European Union paid the Libyans US$460-million, in addition to other valuable considerations, such as an undertaking to "normalize" relationships between Europe and Libya.

The French President helped to negotiate the deal but shrugged it off as being all in a day's business. He called it "a new pragmatism in foreign affairs."

New? Personally, I'd call it a very old pragmatism. Old enough to have not only gone out of fashion, but then turn around and come back.

Taking hostages and ransoming them used to be practised by the best circles in the Dark Ages, until people no longer regarded it as comme il faut. Now it's with us again. Blame the Taliban?

Yes, by all means, or blame Colonel Muammar Gaddafiof Libya, but remember, they couldn't resurrect the charming medieval custom without the "new pragmatism" of the European Union or leaders like France's President.

"The Ottomans in the 16th century made [hostage-taking] a national money-maker," writes the historian Victor Davis Hanson, "by sweeping over the Mediterranean to intercept any Italian or Spanish galley they could." As an industry, hostage-taking requires two conditions: One, the captive's kin or country must have the money and willingness to meet the demands -- "valuing life more than honour," as Hanson puts it -- and two, the abductor must deliver by keeping "the prize alive" and letting it go "after concessions or money are granted."

The first condition is fully controlled by the putative ransom-payer -- as long as he refuses to pay. Needless to say, the refusal has to be genuine. Cheap ruses, like calling the EU's $460-million ransom payment to Colonel Gaddafi's thugdom a "settlement" between the captive medical workers and the families of the HIV-infected children, won't do. Surrender may save lives, at least in the short run, but it's no victory. Victory comes from liberating hostages, as Israeli commandos did at Entebbe or Peruvian commandos at Lima. Ransoming hostages spells defeat.

Attempting to spin surrender into a photo opportunity isn't enough to disguise defeat -- which didn't prevent the EU from trying this week. The gnomes of Brussels (or of the Palais de l'Elysee) sent France's presidential plane to pick up the Bulgarian nurses from Libya, with France's first lady, the photogenic Cecilia Sarkozy, flanked by Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU's attractive commissioner for foreign affairs, at hand to personally deliver them to a joyous crowd waiting in Sofia.

"The liberation of the medics is an example of the power of the EU," commented a Bulgarian journalist, Velislava Dureva. Well, no. Rescuing the medics and guillotining Gaddafiwould have demonstrated the EU's power, but paying off a bandit regime has only demonstrated Europe's moral confusion. I'd even say it has contributed, indirectly, to Mr. Bae, a deputy pastor of his Presbyterian Church, being gunned down by his Taliban captors the next day. It happened to be his birthday, according to church officials.

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