Biden issues an executive order to help Americans wrongfully detained abroad

New executive order
Support to the families of wrongfully detained Americans
Financial sanctions
Share intelligence information with the families of detainees
Strategies to deter future hostage-takings
A common practice
The captor won’t openly state its geopolitical ends
Countries that practice hostage diplomacy
Desperate for leverage against American threats
The “D” indicator
Countries with risk of wrongful detention
The “K” indicator
Chinese officials avoid the subject of wrongful detentions
About 200 Americans wrongfully detained in China
Syria excluded from the “D” designation
An American journalist missing in Syria
Activists have pushed Biden for a more vocal approach
Calling too much attention to the cases can increase the hostage’s value
Engaging too quietly may not be the answer either
A phone call to the hostages’ families
A one-way conversation
A mural of the wrongfully detained
The faces of 18 American hostages
Americans held in Russia
Paul Rusesabagina
Jailed for saving people from genocide
Pre-managing press attention from hostage families in D.C.
A good next step
What the detainees’ families have been asking for
Current hostage watch
New executive order

President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Tuesday that codifies a 2020 law dealing with Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad.

Support to the families of wrongfully detained Americans

The new executive order will reinforce the U.S. government's efforts to support families of Americans wrongfully detained or held hostage overseas, according to the White House.

Financial sanctions

The order will authorize the federal government to impose financial sanctions on those who are involved, directly or indirectly, in wrongful detaining of Americans abroad, the White House said.

Share intelligence information with the families of detainees

Moreover, government agencies will be directed to improve engagement with those Americans' families, including sharing intelligence information about their loved ones and the government’s efforts to free them.

Strategies to deter future hostage-takings

The order will also demand experts across agencies to develop "options and strategies to deter future hostage-takings," the White House said.

A common practice

The wrongful detention of Americans abroad is know as hostage diplomacy, and the objective is to influence amenable political decisions, or prisoner swaps.

 

The captor won’t openly state its geopolitical ends

Usually, the responsible government does not openly state its geopolitical ends, but it will imply that the captive’s fate is linked to broader hostilities or even to some specific demand.

Countries that practice hostage diplomacy

The practice is often associated with authoritarian states like Iran, Venezuela and North Korea. 

Desperate for leverage against American threats

Hostage diplomacy usually occurs in countries that have little international standing or foreign tourism to risk and may be desperate for leverage against American threats of regime change or war. China, Turkey and Russia have also been accused of this tactic.

The “D” indicator

This is why, in addition to the executive order, Biden will introduce a new "risk indicator", the D indicator (D for detention), to the U.S. Department of State's travel advisories for particular countries to alert Americans of the risk of wrongful detention by a foreign government, said the White House.

 

 

Countries with risk of wrongful detention

The first countries to receive this additional risk indicator will be China, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Russia and Venezuela, a senior administration official told reporters.

The “K” indicator

The "D" indicator joins the existing "K" indicator (K for kidnapping), that covers the risk of hostage-taking by non-state actors, as well as a range of other existing risk indicators.

Chinese officials avoid the subject of wrongful detentions

China's "D" risk designation may spark rage in Beijing, where Chinese officials have largely tried to avoid the subject of wrongful detentions and where Western sanctions are a constant trigger.

About 200 Americans wrongfully detained in China

Experts estimate that roughly 200 Americans are arbitrarily jailed in China, and that even more are subject to unlawful "exit bans," barring them from leaving the country.

Syria excluded from the “D” designation

Syria, with which the United States does not currently have formal diplomatic relations, will be notably excluded from the "D" risk designation.

An American journalist missing in Syria

U.S. officials believe that while the Syrian government may not be currently holding American journalist Austin Tice, it could have valuable information on his whereabouts and perhaps those of other missing Americans. Tice was abducted in Syria nearly 10 years ago.

Activists have pushed Biden for a more vocal approach

Some advocates have pushed for the Biden administration to take a more vocal approach to secure their freedom, rather than the standard behind-the-scenes diplomacy.

Calling too much attention to the cases can increase the hostage’s value

Nevertheless, the question of how much attention to call to such cases is debatable. Playing them up can effectively increase the hostage’s value, making their quick return less likely. 

Engaging too quietly may not be the answer either

However engaging too quietly can risk conveying to foreign governments that hostage diplomacy goes unpunished.

A phone call to the hostages’ families

The White House recently held a telephone call for the relatives of detained Americans to share information with them about these new announcements.

A one-way conversation

Nevertheless, Jonathan Franks, spokesperson of Bring Our Families Home Campaign, accused U.S. officials of ignoring these relatives' requests to meet with Biden, and said the phone call the White House held with them was a "one-way conversation with families." 

A mural of the wrongfully detained

Some families are in Washington, D.C. this week for the unveiling of a public mural depicting their loved ones, according to Franks.

The faces of 18 American hostages

The mural in Washington’s Georgetown neighborhood depicts  the faces of 18 American hostages and wrongful detainees.

Americans held in Russia

Among those featured are American basketball star Brittney Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan (in the picture), both of whom remain detained in Russia.

Paul Rusesabagina

The mural will also depict Belgian national and U.S. permanent resident Paul Rusesabagina, who inspired the acclaimed 2004 film Hotel Rwanda and was sentenced last September to 25 years in Rwandan prison over terrorism charges.

Jailed for saving people from genocide

During the 1994 Rwandan genocide, Rusesabagina saved hundreds of people by sheltering them in the hotel he then managed. In August 2020 he was kidnapped while en route to Burundi and appeared in Rwanda several days later, where he is now wrongfully jailed.

Pre-managing press attention from hostage families in D.C.

Franks said the Biden administration was rolling out these steps in order to "pre-manage the press attention from many hostage families being in D.C. this week to unveil their mural."

A good next step

Nevertheless, other hostage’s relatives celebrated the White House measures. Whelan's brother, David Whelan, told ABC News the executive order was "a good next step and shows a long-term commitment by the Biden administration”.

What the detainees’ families have been asking for

Whelan said the White House holding the call with families in advance of the public announcement "was exactly what families had been asking for: communication in advance of new announcements that would impact our families."

Current hostage watch

According to the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, there are currently 67 publicly known cases of Americans being held hostage or wrongfully detained around the world.

Más para ti