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Hostage and Other Negotiations (From Terrorism and America: A Commonsense Strategy for a Democratic Society, P 35-46, 1998, Philip B. Heymann, -- See NCJ-191436)

NCJ Number
Philip B. Heymann
Date Published
12 pages
This chapter describes the choices when a hostage situation or an ongoing terrorist campaign must be addressed.
As a tactic, hostage taking has very clear advantages for a politically violent group. Holding hostages keeps the story in the lead of television news and on the front pages of newspapers throughout the country for a far more sustained period of time than any terrorist action except a far more difficult extended campaign of bombing. A hostage-taking story is more vivid and dramatic because the lives of ordinary Americans are at stake. There is drama in the choice confronting the government between its responsibility to individual citizens and its responsibility to uphold its policies for discouraging terrorism. And demonstrating the powerlessness of the most powerful leaders in the world -- one important purpose of taking hostages -- is itself dramatic. Kidnapping involves the taking of one or a few individuals to a secret location and making demands in exchange for their release. The location of hostage-takers and of the hostages is no secret under a second variation -- barricade-hostage events. The hijacking of a plane or ship, using its passengers as hostages, is a third variation. There are three options available to the United States in a hostage-taking event. It can negotiate in good faith with the group, making concessions if necessary to obtain the release of the hostages. It can sometimes launch a rescue mission, using specially trained forces. The final option, stalling, may be successful in dealing with terrorists who have not planned their hostage taking, but where it is purposeful or planned, stalling can only be pursued for a limited amount of time. A nation is wise to have a well-established strategy to guide its response to hostage taking. “No concessions” has been the announced policy of the United States for many years. Concessions may be sensible where the disparity between what is threatened and what is sought is immense.


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