Time magazine is reporting that during an interview about the deal to trade Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban detainees from Guantanamo, when "[a]sked whether the Taliban would be inspired by the exchange to kidnap others, a commander laughed. 'Definitely.'" The response should not come as a surprise to the Obama administration given an exchange that took place at a State Department press briefing in January of this year.
A reporter asked spokesperson Jen Psaki about a UN resolution to discourage private companies from paying ransom to terrorists for the release of kidnap victims. The reporter said that "basically, these companies paying a ransom through their own insurance is really one of the only ways that we’ve seen success of release of these kidnapping victims." Despite the apparent "success," Psaki told the reporter that giving in to the terrorists' demands simply "perpetuates the action":
MS. PSAKI: Well, our concern is, as I mentioned, the – what this perpetuates, which is the fact that terrorists kidnap people and they have raised well over $120 million in ransom payments. So the belief here, clearly, by the UN Security Council, but the United States, is that this is not an approach that can continue because it perpetuates the action. But beyond that, I’d have to check with our team and see if there’s more specifics on it.
The Washington Post has reported that early in the Bergdahl ordeal, the Taliban's demands for his release included "$1 million and 21 Afghan prisoners." Spokesperson Marie Harf could not confirm or deny this week whether or not cash payments were considered as part of the deal as executed by the Obama administration last week when five Taliban commanders released into Qatari custody. But in the January press briefing, Psaki warned against not just ransom, but "concessions" as well [emphasis added]:
So we commend the consensus adoption of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2133 on kidnapping for ransom, which identifies kidnapping for ransom as a source of terrorist financing and expresses the Council’s determination to secure the safe release of hostages without ransom payments or political concessions...
The resolution is also directly in line with the United States longstanding policy to make no concessions.
However, this week, Harf would not concede that releasing the five detainees even amounted to a concession:
QUESTION: Well, it’s just – it’s very general, but it relates to this. When people are saying the U.S. does not negotiate with terrorist groups, is that statute or is that general policy? And --
MS. HARF: Well, our line is that we don’t make concessions --
QUESTION: That’s what I was about to ask you.
MS. HARF: -- which is different. I mean, that’s the – you’re quoting it colloquial. That’s actually not what you’ll hear us say from the podium (inaudible).
QUESTION: Okay. And how do you define the difference?
MS. HARF: How do we define the difference? Well, I --
QUESTION: Between making concessions and negotiating.
MS. HARF: I think it’s clear that we don’t make concessions to terrorists. And that’s a judgment, right, that we don’t – I think – I don’t know. I think those words, using Matt, I think are fairly well defined.
QUESTION: So releasing five of their prisoners or five of their --
MS. HARF: Is not making a concession.
QUESTION: It’s not a concession?
MS. HARF: No. It is consistent absolutely with what’s happened in previous wars, including Korea, including Vietnam. I think one of the large tranches of prisoners in Vietnam, it was something like around 500 Americans for 1,200 North Vietnamese. So again, this has a long history in the United States of prisoner swaps.