About the Author: Salmah Y. Rizvi serves as the Truman Fellow in the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism (S/CT).
During a typical work day, the Operations Directorate (Ops) of the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism is involved in the interagency coordination of international counterterrorism crises, including terrorist hostage crises. During his stint as former Director of the Hostage Working Group in Baghdad, S/CT Ops employee Erik Rye found himself in some unlikely situations. After having been rescued by U.S. forces, one hostage returned to his home, not to be welcomed with hugs, kisses, and relief, but skepticism and doubt about his story. Having not seen their husband and father for seven months, the hostage's wife and family didn't believe his sensational story of being an al-Qaida captive. The family soon took a trip to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad to visit Rye. During the conversation with the Iraqi family, Rye reassured them that the hostage had indeed been rescued by the U.S. government. Rye knew his job would present challenges, but he never would have imagined himself assuming the role of marriage counselor!
Rye spent over 13 months in Baghdad managing hostage situations, and several other members of S/CT Ops staff have also done rotations there -- and elsewhere in the world. Over 450 foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq since 2004, with over 60 nationalities represented. "We had a new case everyday in Iraq and at any given time I was working on at least a dozen cases. To resolve cases, we would do everything from coordinating with military and intelligence entities to just taking a report from an Iraqi civilian," Rye explained.
Because the United States does not make concessions to terrorist demands, these and other techniques are used to alleviate hostage situations. The most daunting cases are those in which there are not adequate leads. We do what we can to provide the families with information without compromising sensitive information that could allow us to solve the case. Nevertheless, we understand that it is difficult for family members, because they have limited visibility of the case (since most of the information we collect is classified).
The overall approach to hostage crisis management involves recovering the victims, bringing the criminals to justice, and using lessons learned to prevent future hostage situations: Recovery, Justice, Prevention. This method, coupled with the policy of no concessions to terrorist demands, has ultimately increased the security of American civilians overseas, making them less vulnerable to hostage crises. International cooperation with governments and local law enforcement has also proven beneficial. The recent Colombian hostage release is an example. There were hundreds around the world who touched this case. As explained by Rye, "It was a five-year-old case, and that is huge."Plan Colombia is a wonderful success story as it highlights the return of hostages, the justice brought to insurgents and numerous lessons learned to help U.S. government officials in future occurrences.