August 22nd, 2014

Europe pays ransoms, the US and UK don’t

It’s significant that in the Western world it is the US and the UK that refuse to pay ransoms, and continental Europe that acquiesces. That’s another example of the Anglo-American link, and the European divergence.

Obama may be yearning to be more like Europe, and determined to lead the US in that direction, but so far he isn’t Europeanized enough to have changed our basic policy on this issue.

In fact, the US position on ransoms is still (at least nominally) even harsher than that of the UK (if this report is correct): the US has a policy, at least on paper, of threatening private companies who ransom employees from terrorists with prosecution for violating the law on funding terrorism. The UK government does not pay ransoms to terrorists, but it does not prosecute or even threaten to prosecute those companies who do.

The governments of continental Europe, however, are the culprits responsible for a great deal of terrorist fund-raising:

The French, Italian and Spanish governments, along with others in Continental Europe, have a long record of directly paying ransoms. These deals have secured the freedom of at least nine captives in Syria alone. Considerable sums are involved: al-Qaeda has made at least $125 million (£75 million) from ransoms since 2008, according to a New York Times investigation. Much of this will have come from European governments. In particular, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in North Africa has probably raised most of its funding by selling captives to European countries.

Setting a policy on ransoms to terrorists would seem simple enough in principle, although excruciating in execution. Paying ransom is like appeasement or enabling or both. You buy a moment of peace at the expense of feeding the monster. The short term result is that you get the person back. The long term result is more abductions and more terrorism, and the need to pay ever more ransoms.

That’s the way it would seem. However, when dealing with ISIS, this article by Alexander Hitchens makes an excellent point:

[ISIS] is a group with an ideological and propaganda incentive to brutally slaughter citizens of Western nations, in particular Americans and Britons. They have multiple and very lucrative revenue streams, including the oilfields they now control, and do not require the extra few million dollars gained from a ransom payment. As demonstrated by the blanket media coverage of James Foley’s murder in the West, the propaganda value of killing an American citizen far outweighs the few million dollars they would receive for his ransom. When approaching this dilemma like this, the argument against paying ransoms loses its most important pillar – Isil will kidnap Westerners regardless of the financial incentives involved.

So money isn’t really ISIS’s main motivation; it’s probably almost an afterthought. They why did they ask for money for Foley in the first place, if the propaganda value of a beheading is so high? Were they just messing with the Foleys’ (and Obama’s) minds? The ransom demanded for Foley was so very much higher than previous ones paid to other groups that it doesn’t seem to have been serious; perhaps just a cruel tease on the part of ISIS.

In addition, it is not certain that ISIS has actually accepted ransoms even from European countries:

…[T]he French journalist Nicolas Henin, who was held alongside Foley, was released in April after his own government negotiated his release. French President François Hollande denies any funds or weapons were handed over, but many are justifiably suspicious that Isil would settle for much less.

Hitchens doesn’t seem to know that in the US people can be prosecuted for paying ransoms, because he seems to think US companies sometimes pay them. But as US State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said:

…it is illegal for any American citizen to pay ransom to a group, such as the Islamic State, that the U.S. government has designated as a terrorist organization.

However, would the US really do anything about it if it were to happen? There’s this:

But the next email [to the Foleys] came with a ransom demand: $132 million, or release of several prisoners held by U.S. authorities…The Foleys and GlobalPost began to quietly raise the money, even though the U.S. government has clear policies against giving money to a terrorist organization such as Islamic State, the heavily armed Al Qaeda spinoff that was holding Foley. FBI and other officials, who were given a copy of the emails, did not try to stop them.

“The appropriate arm of government was aware of every action that we took,” Balboni [of GlobalPost] said. “We were never told to stop doing what we were doing.”

But then the captors stopped communicating…

So it’s not clear what the US would have done had the ransom been paid that way.

And have European governments paid ransoms to ISIS, or haven’t they?:

Four French and two Spanish journalists were released by the Islamic State earlier this year, reportedly following ransom payments. It is unclear whether the money was paid by their companies, their governments or their families…Harf said that ransom payments are “one of the main ways ISIL has been funded.”

One would think that, if everyone would stop paying ransoms to terrorists, these kidnappings might cease. But would that actually happen? ISIS might still find it quite useful to kidnap Americans and Europeans in order to release video after video, horrifying us and increasing the pressure on us, and inspiring more jihadis to join the war against us. For that matter, what’s to stop ISIS from murdering a victim after a ransom is paid? I don’t know exactly how that’s usually controlled for in kidnappings, but it would seem particularly difficult to keep ISIS from some sort of deception on that score.

[ADDENDUM: These differences between the US and European countries regarding ransoms (and ransoms from Muslim terrorists, at that) go back to the earliest days of our nation, if you know the history of the US’s role in the First Barbary War

The parallels are fascinating:

Barbary corsairs led attacks upon American merchant shipping in an attempt to extort ransom for the lives of captured sailors, and ultimately tribute from the United States to avoid further attacks, much like their standard operating procedure with the various European states. Before the Treaty of Paris, which formalized the United States’ independence from Great Britain, U.S. shipping was protected by France during the Revolutionary years under the Treaty of Alliance (1778–83)…As such, piracy against U.S. shipping only began to occur after the end of the American Revolution, when the U.S. government lost its protection under the Treaty of Alliance.

…Spain offered advice to the United States on how to deal with the Barbary States. The advice was to offer tribute to prevent further attacks against merchant ships. The U.S. Minister to France, Thomas Jefferson, decided to send envoys to Morocco and Algeria to try to purchase treaties and the freedoms of the captured sailors held by Algeria…

American diplomatic action with Algeria, the other major Barbary Coast state, was much less successful than with Morocco. Algeria began piracy against the U.S. on 25 July 1785 with the capture of the schooner Maria, and Dauphin a week later. All four Barbary Coast states demanded $660,000 each. However, the envoys were given only an allocated budget of $40,000 to achieve peace. Diplomatic talks to reach a reasonable sum for tribute or for the ransom of the captured sailors struggled to make any headway. The crews of Maria and Dauphin remained in captivity for over a decade, and soon were joined by crews of other ships captured by the Barbary States.

In 1795, Algeria came to an agreement that resulted in the release of 115 American sailors they held, at a cost of over $1 million. This amount totaled about one-sixth of the entire U.S. budget, and was demanded as tribute by the Barbary States to prevent further piracy. The continuing demand for tribute ultimately led to the formation of the United States Department of the Navy, founded in 1798 to prevent further attacks upon American shipping and to end the extremely large demands for tribute from the Barbary States…

Jefferson argued that paying tribute would encourage more attacks. Although John Adams agreed with Jefferson, he believed that circumstances forced the U.S. to pay tribute until an adequate navy could be built. The U.S. had just fought an exhausting war, which put the nation deep in debt. Federalist and Anti-Federalist forces argued over the needs of the country and the burden of taxation. Jefferson’s own Democratic-Republicans and anti-navalists believed that the future of the country lay in westward expansion, with Atlantic trade threatening to siphon money and energy away from the new nation on useless wars in the Old World. The U.S. paid Algiers the ransom, and continued to pay up to $1 million per year over the next 15 years for the safe passage of American ships or the return of American hostages.[citation needed] A$1 million payment in ransom and tribute to the privateering states would have amounted to approximately 10% of the U.S. government’s annual revenues in 1800.

Jefferson continued to argue for cessation of the tribute, with rising support from George Washington and others. With the recommissioning of the American navy in 1794 and the resulting increased firepower on the seas, it became increasingly possible for America to refuse paying tribute, although by now the long-standing habit was hard to overturn.

Go to the link for the rest if you’re unfamiliar with it. Let’s just say that when Jefferson finally became president, he decided enough was enough, and he won the war. That didn’t settle the problem, though; it took the Second Barbary War of 1815 to finish the job.]

[ADDENDUM II: From the link on the First Barbary War:

In March 1785, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams went to London to negotiate with Tripoli’s envoy, Ambassador Sidi Haji Abdrahaman (or Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja). When they enquired “concerning the ground of the pretensions to make war upon nations who had done them no injury”, the ambassador replied:

“It was written in their Koran, that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave; and that every mussulman who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise. He said, also, that the man who was the first to board a vessel had one slave over and above his share, and that when they sprang to the deck of an enemy’s ship, every sailor held a dagger in each hand and a third in his mouth; which usually struck such terror into the foe that they cried out for quarter at once.”

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.]

20 Responses to “Europe pays ransoms, the US and UK don’t”

  1. John F. MacMichael Says:

    For the European governments ransoming their citizens is a twofer: they get their people back and the ransom money funds more attacks on America and Israel. A win-win!

  2. Sgt. Mom Says:

    Ah, yes – an American tradition of never submitting to paying the Danegeld, or the Islamic equivalent. This is where the line of the Marine Corps hymn about the “shores of Tripoli” comes from. How nice that the current resident of the White House still feels moved to support it.
    I am fairly certain that he has his minions now frantically researching how this principle can be got around, without doing too much damage to him politically and personally.

  3. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    Not that this will happen, but announce a new American doctrine. Any jihadist will be given a military trial and if found guilty, executed immediately by drowning them in a vat of pigs blood. The executions will be televised and uploaded to a gov. website for viewing. Also a new hollow point bullet will be developed for the US military containing an appropriate amount of dried pigs blood.

    No ‘paradise’ for jihadist terrorists. Use their own beliefs against them.

  4. Roy Lofquist Says:

    “We never pay any-one Dane-geld,
    No matter how trifling the cost;
    For the end of that game is oppression and shame,
    And the nation that pays it is lost!”

    Rudyard Kipling

  5. gopth Says:

    Has kidnapping ever been used honorably anywhere, in any sense?

    Seems paltry to even call it a crime against humanity. It’s abominable leverage against families, maybe worse than outright murder.

    I’m not talking about rounding up criminals, or capturing fighters.

    How sick a person do you have to be to support rounding up innocents and preying on their families’ strongest emotions. What kind of cause is honorable that can do that?

  6. blert Says:


    How ironic: the original payor of Danegeld WAS England.

    It had to be paid to Vikings — typically by English abbots — lest their monasteries receive the Viking ‘treatment.’

    The VERY FIRST widely noted Viking attack was against an exalted monastery on the English North Sea coast. It was sacked to ruin — with every single soul cut down — and left unburied, to boot!

    The Viking ‘haul’ was so tremendous (and unexpected — by the Vikings) that they made it a regular ‘commute’ from that point thereafter.

    It was only at that point that the Catholics discovered that Danegeld could eliminate a lot of bloodshed.

    Pretty soon the Catholics were remitting Danegeld — echoing the (Eastern) Roman emperors hand outs to the Hun.

    Ultimately, the Danes decided to make an illegal immigration to England. Their English GHQ was YORK.

    Recent excavations have evidenced that the Norsemen were pretty slick operators — of urban living. Much in the manner of the Romans, the Norse/ Danes constructed/ dug out communal latrines.

    And it’s from such excreta that modern researchers have learned much.

    Go to BBC YouTuber videos to see what they’ve unearthed.


    This Danish connection, of course, is why Hamlet was a Dane. Denmark was the perfect alter-crown at a time when Spain and France were so ‘touchy.’

  7. Illuminati Says:

    By the time the USA became involved with the Barbary pirates, the pirates (Muslim Jihadists)had given up their attempt to conquer Europe and were using their Jihad to extort money from Europe. therefore the damage done by the ransom was limited. This is no longer the case since modern Muslims have every reason to expect their conquest of Europe and of America will succeed. When they pay ransom they are paying for their own destruction.

  8. Ymarsakar Says:

    How sick a person do you have to be to support rounding up innocents and preying on their families’ strongest emotions. What kind of cause is honorable that can do that?

    People just used to kill everyone in war. The ransom was the price of maintaining a prisoner.

    Islamic Jihad’s ransom tradition is a bit different. It comes from their 1000+ years of slave empires.

  9. Ymarsakar Says:

    Part of the reason why cease fires or periods of calm leads to terrorist regeneration wasn’t so much because the locals of Iraq wanted to kill Americans. That wasn’t the primary issue with insurgencies. The primary issue with insurgencies is that if you don’t cut off their supply and kill their people, they regenerate like a hydra. Afghanistan’s Taliban, Iraq’s foreign AQ, and Hamas in Judea are all like that.

    Europe and the American Left didn’t want Iraq to succeed because partially they knew they were paying for the other side to win.

  10. neo-neocon Says:


    Yes, ISIS has designs that are more immediately global than those of the Barbary pirates. So paying money to them is even more dangerous than paying the pirates.

    But, as the quote in ADDENDUM II illustrates, the long-term aims of conquering non-Muslim lands seem to have been the same.

  11. Illuminati Says:

    Neo said:
    “But, as the quote in ADDENDUM II illustrates, the long-term aims of conquering non-Muslim lands seem to have been the same.”

    Exactly true. Islam has not changed significantly since the days of Al-Ghazali 900 years ago. Averroes tried to counteract Al-Ghazali but failed. For his efforts Averroes was banished from Andalusia. Because the Roman Catholic church was dedicated to knowledge from any source, Averroes was widely read in Europe and helped spark the scientific revolution.

    The only difference between ISIS and traditional Islam is that during the Middle Ages the contrast between Islam and Christianity was mostly between the Byzantine empire and Islam. The Muslims and the Byzantines shared a grudging respect since they had interacted for hundreds of years and were roughly equal in technology and power. That is no longer the case.

    Just as a bad philosopher plunged Islam into permanent darkness, modern anti-Christian philosophers have extinguished the intellectual lights in the West. Because of the left, the West has lost their moral superiority (100 million dead civilians in one century) and has adopted the same hatred for Christianity and Judaism which infuses Islam. This frees the inner beast in Islam to blaze forth in all its violent strength.

  12. Bellarion The Fortunate Says:

    Like the man said, the problem with paying Danegeld is that you never get rid of the Dane. On the other hand, the nations of Continental Europe really couldn’t get rid of the Dane even if they tried. Their armed forces are a joke. Britain still has a real army, though given the defense cuts under the Cameron government the sun is setting on it rapidly. (The Royal Navy and the RAF are in much worse shape.) At the moment, the British Army has more horses than main battle tanks. I expect that Britain will at some point start paying ransoms, if only to try to placate their Muslim subjects. It won’t work, but they’ll try it.

  13. southpaw Says:

    The more things change, the more the are the same is true to a point. The Islamic states have not wavered in their belief they have a legitimate right plunder the non-Muslims. All of them, not just males who take up arms in opposition to them. Women, children, old, sick, etc are all enemies.
    On the other hand, we have become a nation that’s no longer willing to defend itself by any means necessary. We go to great lengths to avoid harming the “innocent” who are defined as anyone who’s not holding a bomb, grenade launcher, or Kalashnikov near the point of impact of one of our Hellfire missiles.
    We have convinced ourselves that we are better than them, but this kind of vanity will be our undoing. We bicker about torturing captured enemies, refuse to knock out a mosque full of weapons because we’re certain it will only inflame more violence, and on and on the half measures go while nothing changes. As each generation passes, we are more dedicated to be civilized, while the other side recruits for their cause of winning at all costs. The more civilized we become, the more shocked we are at their barbarism. On our side, we ponder why they don’t like us and try to understand them, on theirs they simply devise ways better ways to kill us.
    A sparring partner used to tell me, “you gotta get some to give some”. And he made good on the promise. He was willing to get a bloody nose or worse to win, and just as willing to beat me senseless.
    Unless our will to survive and defend our culture exceeds our sense of morality, we will ultimately lose the fight. The West needs to recognize it’s in a battle of will and cannot have it both ways- we can’t cling to the myth that sinking to their level means we’re no better than them. Who is ‘better’ is irrelevant to winning a fight, the winner is the side that refuses to lose at any cost – moral or material.
    My sense is the other side fights as if it has nothing to lose while we in the West hope throwing a few hard punches will discourage them from coming back for a few more. At some point, we need to be willing to knock out the opponent, or we will be knocked out.

  14. blert Says:

    ” Because the Roman Catholic church was dedicated to knowledge from any source, Averroes was widely read in Europe and helped spark the scientific revolution.”


    Nope, nope, nope…

    The political-religious divide in Spain was so great that Muslims were NOT the linkage to pre-Islamic knowledge.

    For starters, one of the most dominant Muslim despots destroyed every bit he could get his hands on. In his case that turned out to be the Library of Alexandria. (!)

    We now know that Greek maths came up through Catholic/Orthodox scribes in Anatolia.

    They still had (somewhat) original scrolls from the Greek and Roman eras.

    [ Only ‘somewhat’ because scribes were working a monkey reads — monkey writes transcription service. The result is that the later text is essentially unmodified from the original — except for the flubs. No attempts were made to comprehend or editorialize the true source texts.]

    Hard times and religious devotion had Catholic scribes ‘re-purposing’ earlier vellum scrolls: palimpsests.

    [I say Catholic, since their scribblings conformed to the Roman Church… the ones we have in hand. One must presume that the Orthodox efforts went straight up north, instead.]

    Local environmental conditions proved to be ideal for preserving vellum for — literally — thousands of years.

    While the palimpsest process erased plenty of the earlier scrolls — enough remained to ‘leak’ into Italy — especially via the Fourth Crusade.

    Remember? How the Doge of Venice entirely
    perverted that crusade into a spoils enterprise?

    Well, during the sack of Constantinople, the Venetian ‘project’ brought home more than horse statutes for Saint Mark’s Square.

    In sum: the Greek and Roman writings made their way to Venice — and to the associated lands that participated in the Fourth Crusade. The need to auction off the goods resulted in all of the ‘portables’ being sent thither and yon.


    Now, it must be said that the Catholic Church ended up with no small amount of these scrolls… the ones that had not yet been perverted into palimpsests.

    These were kept largely hidden from the world, which had been their fate across the centuries.

    None-the-less, their engineering, geometries, and other maths made their way into the applied arts of this or that monastery. It was in this era that Western monasteries gained a well nigh universal reputation for practical engineering!

    Imagine that!

    Practically ‘overnight’ monasteries erected water wheels — total knockoffs from the Greek scrolls. All of this occurred in the centuries before 1492.

    During all of this hydraulic industrialization, the monks were tight lipped. Indeed, they were so silent that most historians — lacking even the slightest access to monastic archives — were blind as to the path of knowledge.

    The notion that the methods came up via the Muslims in Spain was either put out as Islamic agitprop — or as classic ruse to stop further inquiries into this or that monastery.

    (In a world without patent rights, trademarks — modernity — no abbot dared wave a ‘revenue-to-be-had-from-our-library-here’ flag. Instead the local potentate was given to believe that he need only travel a thousand miles over sea and mountain and fighting frontier to get the goodies.)

    Yeah, it worked like a charm.


    Muslims are STILL claiming that Algebra was their creation. It’s now well established that they, as ever, cribbed EVERYTHING from the Hindus — the polytheists.

    In particular, Hindus were using the Zero and ‘modern’ number systems at least a full century before any Muslim.

    As seen in the last millennia, Muslims just CAN’T create new thought. To do so is to be an apostate. Mo’ has fulsomely established that EVERYTHING worth knowing is already in the Koran — and that he is the man to emulate, the brigand.

    Lastly, Muslims change the religious affiliation — after ones death — of anyone (infidel) who was particularly celebrated. This tick is currently practiced in Indonesia.

    So, you can’t trust ANYTHING a Muslim tells you about Islamic ‘history.’ They are that ‘flexible.’

  15. blert Says:

    For curious readers:

    The Archimedes Codex (2007)

    ISBN-10- 0-306-81580-X

    ISBN-13 978-0-306-81580-5

    Using remarkable technology and teams of geniuses, researchers have peeled off the centuries to reveal the super genius of Archimedes.

    It is now positively known that Archimedes was a towering mathematician centuries a head of his time. His proofs were so advanced that very few of his contemporaries could begin to comprehend them.

    This sparse readership explains why his brilliance was lost entirely.

    Everything had to be rediscovered using totally different maths.

  16. Ymarsakar Says:

    Arabian numerals were indeed originally Indian numerals.

    And the Indian tradition of the widow burning herself up at the funeral of her husband, came from the Islamic conquests of India, since Islam likes to take slaves for their economy.

  17. blert Says:

    Neo neocon…

    FYI: Jefferson was fixated on dinky, cheap, gunboats.

    So, notwithstanding his policy shift vis a vis the pirates he was not building the navy that could transit the Atlantic and get the job done.

    He inherited the famous 44-gun frigates from Washington’s and Adam’s budgets.

    He’s the real reason that frigate construction totally stopped dead. Naval historians consider it one of Jefferson’s biggest blunders seeings how he demanded a blue water policy.

    One must surmise that Jefferson objected to shunting Big Bucks into the coffers of (Federalist) naval contractors.

    Illustrating just how broke the new nation was, these vessels just about tapped out the Federal budget. The budding USN was breaking the bank! It couldn’t have been the wood. America had more timber than it knew what to do with. The canon must have cost a pretty penny.

    I can’t lay my hands on the specs, but I’d hazard that the canons were imported from European foundaries.

    (All canons face away from Brussels, you know.)

    During the War of 1812 the Royal Navy ought to have given Jefferson a medal. Even the few American frigates on hand proved to be a royal pain.

    In 1945, Donitz admitted that his U-boats were entirely employed in emulation of the USN, circa 1813. His study of naval history — especially those challenging the Royal Navy — informed him that no-one caused the British more grief than the USN at that time. Their weakness was protecting their commercial fleet and import economy.

    Curiously, neither the British nor the Americans made that connection until he spilled the beans.

    Subsequently, the Royal Navy has doubled down on preserving her adjacent seas. Sailing to a far remove is now a nostrum for the history books.

    Or is it?

  18. Charles Says:

    Sgt. Mom – “to the shores of Tripoli” – that’s just what I was going to say. Jefferson had the idea that ransom was NOT going to be paid by the US.

    And, I hope that we never do.

  19. Ymarsakar Says:

    US Foreign aid is de facto ransom in the eyes of the receivers, even if it isn’t considered so from the State side.

  20. kidnappings | terrorists | Foley | Sotloff | ransoms Says:

    […] Americans occur, and our enemies grow richer. Plus, there is no guarantee that a group such as ISIS is actually serious about such […]

About Me

Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

Monthly Archives


Ace (bold)
AmericanDigest (writer’s digest)
AmericanThinker (thought full)
Anchoress (first things first)
AnnAlthouse (more than law)
AtlasShrugs (fearless)
AugeanStables (historian’s task)
Baldilocks (outspoken)
Barcepundit (theBrainInSpain)
Beldar (Texas lawman)
BelmontClub (deep thoughts)
Betsy’sPage (teach)
Bookworm (writingReader)
Breitbart (big)
ChicagoBoyz (boyz will be)
Contentions (CommentaryBlog)
DanielInVenezuela (against tyranny)
DeanEsmay (conservative liberal)
Donklephant (political chimera)
Dr.Helen (rights of man)
Dr.Sanity (thinking shrink)
DreamsToLightening (Asher)
EdDriscoll (market liberal)
Fausta’sBlog (opinionated)
GayPatriot (self-explanatory)
HadEnoughTherapy? (yep)
HotAir (a roomful)
InFromTheCold (once a spook)
InstaPundit (the hub)
JawaReport (the doctor is Rusty)
LegalInsurrection (law prof)
RedState (conservative)
Maggie’sFarm (centrist commune)
MelaniePhillips (formidable)
MerylYourish (centrist)
MichaelTotten (globetrotter)
MichaelYon (War Zones)
Michelle Malkin (clarion pen)
Michelle Obama's Mirror (reflections)
MudvilleGazette (milblog central)
NoPasaran! (behind French facade)
NormanGeras (principled leftist)
OneCosmos (Gagdad Bob’s blog)
PJMedia (comprehensive)
PointOfNoReturn (Jewish refugees)
Powerline (foursight)
ProteinWisdom (wiseguy)
QandO (neolibertarian)
RachelLucas (in Italy)
RogerL.Simon (PJ guy)
SecondDraft (be the judge)
SeekerBlog (inquiring minds)
SisterToldjah (she said)
Sisu (commentary plus cats)
Spengler (Goldman)
TheDoctorIsIn (indeed)
Tigerhawk (eclectic talk)
VictorDavisHanson (prof)
Vodkapundit (drinker-thinker)
Volokh (lawblog)
Zombie (alive)

Regent Badge