Marco Werman: James Foley's kidnapping was not an isolated case. There have been numerous cases in recent years of American journalists being held captive by militants. Investigative reporter David Rohde experienced that in Afghanistan. He was kidnapped by the Taliban in 2008 and held captive for 7 months before he managed to escape. Rohde is with Reuters now but at the time he was a New York Times correspondent. He says his kidnapping, like Foley's in Syria, was subject to a media blackout demanded by the captors and agreed to by family members back in the US.
David Rohde: Families do that because they don't want to get their relative killed. The problem with the blackouts is that it keeps everything in the shadows and it doesn't hold governments accountable for what's happening. The payments by European governments for their hostages are being kept secret and then the American government faces little pressure and I think there should be a debate about what governments should do in these cases.
Werman: Bring that ransom issue out for us back into the open. What can you tell us about what happens behind the scenes, ransoms - Europeans do pay them out, Americans don't pay ransoms. What is the reasoning? What does happen?
Rohde: There's a very different political calculus. I think the public in European countries expect the governments to do something to help captives. That's not really as true I think in American and British political context. There was an excellent story in The New York Times last month that found that al-Qaeda affiliates have been paid at least $125 million in revenue from kidnapping since 2008 and last year alone they received $66 million. Much of that is coming from Europe. Kidnapping is working. That needs to come out, that needs to be debated.
Werman: There's another American journalist, Steven Sotloff, being held. Should his ransom be paid?
Rohde: I don't know what the ransom is. The current practice is that if an American family or an organization can come up with some kind of ransom, the American government will turn a blind eye. The problem is when European governments are paying millions of dollars, that puts these families in an impossible situation. The payment of these ransoms is the precedence for what a captor can receive. In 2003, according to this New York times story, roughly $200,000 in ransom per hostage was being paid. Today, millions of dollars are being paid for individual captives. No family, no American family can come up with millions of dollars. Again, this lack of coordination between US and Europe leaves Jim Foley, Steven Sotloff and their families in these impossible situations.
Werman: Are there any cases where there are suggestions that the US or the UK had been paying ransoms on the QT and we just don't know about it?
Rohde: No and I know even from my own abduction, I know that kidnappers don't believe this. They actually think the US does secretly pay ransoms. It's been 5 years since, I've talked to many families that go through this. Other than the very well-publicized exchange of prisoners that occurred for Bowe Bergdahl, an American soldier, there's not been a single case I've heard of the American government paying a ransom and that really is the policy that is really what happened in my case and what happened in Foley's case. Maybe that's what the policy should be but American citizens shouldn't kid themselves in thinking that the government is going to secretly pay ransom or help them if they get abducted. That's not going to happen.
Werman: Where do you come down on the debate? What do you think the answer is?
Rohde: It's an impossible question to answer. To me, and I'm biased because of my own experience, this is the most craven, cowardly crime. These are cowardly men, it's horrific what they did to Jim. I'm not sure I have the answer but this is a spreading problem and a horrific problem.
Werman: Getting back to the war on Syria, now going into its 4th year, how have these kidnappings helped shift the narrative of the war there?
Rohde: The kidnappings have stopped the narrative. There are no foreign journalists covering the conflict and the suffering of the Syrian people. I covered the war in Bosnia. The media can't change things as easily as I think many people think but I think coverage of the suffering in Bosnia did increase awareness. That has not happened in Syria. It has not received the level of attention that you're seeing even in northern Iraq with the crisis there in the Yazidi community. Dramatic footage of people scrambling to get on those helicopters doesn't automatically lead to action by the government but it does change the debate.
Werman: Journalist David Rohde reports for Reuters. Thanks as always David.
Rohde: Thank you.