Thursday, October 27, 2011

Of kidnappings and ransoms.


I read a case (a few days ago) about a fund that was created to pay out rewards for information following an upstate NY girl's kidnapping.  This led to a 40-minute Google search down the rabbit hole about well-publicized kidnappings and abductions and changes to American law (ie. AMBER alert).

Now I have a weird question about policy/ethics regarding a reward/ransom.

A few weeks ago I read a NY Times Magazine article about an older English couple who was kidnapped by pirates and held captive for over a year.  (True Confession: I actually started reading this rather lengthy article because I thought it was a fiction piece with all the fun and fanfare of Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.)  It took their family that much time to come up with the money and also other liaisons to set up an exchange.  The thing is the British government policy is NEVER to pay ransom.

Contrast this with one of the cases I read on Wikipedia about Arjan Erkel who was kidnapped doing work for Doctors Without Borderrs and then released 20 months later when the Dutch government paid a ransom of €1,000,000. 

What are the incentives put in place by a country's ransom policy?  What is the conduct that we are encouraging or discouraging?

Disregarding the fact that the Dutch guy was actually imprisoned/kidnapped for a longer time, has the Dutch government focused a kidnappers' target on their citizens?  Will pirates and other evildoers focus on Dutch citizens because Holland pays ransom whereas England does not?  Or are the countries helping to spare the lives of their citizens?  Will a pirate kill his English victim upon finding out the victim is not wealthy and that his country will not pay a ransom for his return?  According to the Times Magazine article, keeping a hostage is very expensive.  If you have little chance at reaping a ransom, isn't it cheaper to "dispose" of your hostage?

Very difficult questions, indeed.  Today is one of those days I'm glad I'm not one of those key policy-decisionmakers.

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