Published June 23, 2015 | Associated Press
In a softening of longstanding policy, the Obama administration will tell families of Americans held by terror groups that they can communicate with captors and even pay ransom without fear of prosecution -- part of a broad review of U.S. hostage guidelines that will be released Wednesday.
President Obama ordered the review last fall after the deaths of Americans held hostage by Islamic State militants. The families of some of those killed complained about their dealings with the administration, saying they were threatened with criminal prosecution if they pursued paying ransom in exchange for their loved ones' release.
Two people familiar with the review said there will be no formal change to the law, which explicitly makes it a crime to provide money or other material support to terror organizations. However, the administration will make clear that the Justice Department has never prosecuted anyone for paying ransom and that that will continue to be the case.
Four Americans have been killed by the Islamic State since last summer: journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller. After the release of gruesome videos showing the beheadings of some hostages, Obama approved an airstrike campaign against the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria.