–Turkish hostages in the hands of Syrian Armed Forces.
To which you could reasonably add large chunks of the populations of Iran and Syria, held hostage by their own regimes.
Moreover, there are the hostages held by Somali pirates (hard to keep track of them, but there are certainly many of these poor souls), and those in Mexico (enough so that the State Department issued a travel warning a few days ago, citing kidnapping as one of the major reasons), and those in Sinai, the latest “wild west” in the region.
Some of them, notably those in Mexico, Sinai, and Somalia, are being held for profit. Some of those sought-after profits are pretty big numbers, sometimes running into millions of dollars. Others are part of the war, the global war nobody wants to talk about.
Five Iranians — alleged to be members of the infamous Revolutionary Guards Corps’ foreign legion (the Quds Force) by their captors in the Free Syrian Army — are held as leverage against Iran, which, along with Russia, is the major sponsor of Bashar Assad’s war against his own people. In addition to these purported Quds Force members, and a number of Iranian “pilgrims,” there are also two groups of Hezbollah killers in the hands of the FSA. This is still unreported, so far as I can tell, although you can find some reporting on Hezbollah’s very active role in Syria.
The Turks in the hands of the Syrians (reportedly 19, accused of being “intelligence officers” by the Syrians) are held as leverage against the Free Syrian Army, which depends on Turkish help for protection. The FSA wants the Syrians to stop the attacks against Syrian dissidents and release political prisoners, while the Syrians want the Turks to shut down the FSA and turn over its leaders to Damascus. Earlier this month, the Russian foreign minister and the head of the Russian intelligence service went to Baghdad to broker a swap.
This produced, at a minimum, the release of some Iranian hostages.
The plight of the Americans in Cairo has been well covered in the MSM, but Americans and the Canadian in Iran get only occasional attention. The latest American, a former Marine with dual citizenship named Amir Hekmati, has been sentenced to death for espionage.
The Canadian/Iranian also faces execution, for the “crime” of writing a software program that was allegedly used by somebody in Iran to download pornography.
There are other American and Canadian hostages in Iran, including Hossein Derakshan, aka “Hoder,” one of the most celebrated early Iranian bloggers, who was arrested during a trip to Iran in 2008.
And so it goes.
Each of these stories has a certain fascination, and taken together they show just how lawless the world is, but their significance goes well beyond their separate dramas. Hostages play an important policy role, but you’d never guess it by the stuff you read in the popular press, or even in some of the highbrow journals. Just for starters, when the Russian foreign minister and chief spook travel to Damascus in the middle of violent turmoil to deal with hostages, you know it’s an important matter. Important in the affairs of states, not just in the lives of the unfortunate victims.
Hostages aren’t released for humanitarian reasons very often; for the most part they are ransomed. Sometimes — think Somali pirates — corporations pay. More often, it’s governments. I can promise you that the three American ”hikers” were ransomed, and that the U.S. government paid a price for their freedom. I don’t know the price, and I’ve encouraged a small army of journalists to try to find out, but they haven’t pursued it very avidly. Nor do they seem very curious about hostages in the context of the “dialogue” between the Obama administration and the Khamenei regime. Secret talks go on all the time, sometimes through one of the three major channels (the Sultan of Oman, old man Talebani, and Turkish President Erdogan), sometimes directly (as when a State Department official met an Iranian counterpart late last fall, or when President Obama sends a note to Khamenei via the Swiss), sometimes indirectly (the so-called “Track Two” talks involving former American officials and academics and Iranian friends of the supreme leader). How often do the hostages come up in these exchanges? What does Iran want from us before freeing a hostage? To what extent are American options — and even public statements — conditioned by fear that an American hostage will be killed if we do the wrong thing?
For many years, there was a polite conceit to the effect that we Westerners did not negotiate with terrorists or terror states for hostages, but nobody believes that any more, not with Israel releasing thousands of convicted terrorists for one soldier, not with the German foreign minister going personally to Tehran to bring back an arrested German journalist, not with top Russians brokering hostage swaps between Ankara and Damascus.
It’s an important matter, but we don’t want to talk about it. It’s creepy and humiliating. It makes us do things we don’t want to do.
Dr. Michael Ledeen is the Freedom Scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He is also a contributing editor at National Review Online. Previously, he served as a consultant to the National Security Council, the State Department, and the Defense Department. He has also served as a special adviser to the Secretary of State. He holds a Ph.D. in modern European history and philosophy from the University of Wisconsin, and has taught at Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Rome.
Dr. Ledeen regularly appears on Fox News, and on a variety of radio talk shows. He has been on PBS's NewsHour and CNN's Larry King Live, among others, and regularly contributes to the Wall Street Journal and to National Review Online. He has a blog on Pajamasmedia.com.
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