The discussion of hostages, however, led lawmakers into a wrenching topic: whether it is wise for the United States to pay ransoms for kidnapped citizens.
Among the witnesses testifying before the subcommittee was Diane Foley, mother of James Foley—an American journalist beheaded by the Islamic State in 2014—and the founder of the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation. “Our son James was tortured and starved by ISIS for nearly two years, just for being an American,” Foley testified. “Our family’s ordeal was made worse by our incoherent and often ineffective hostage policy.”
The traditional argument against paying for hostages’ safety is that it will encourage further kidnappings down the line, but Diane Foley cast doubts on that line of thought. “I am told our strict adherence to this policy saves lives by decreasing the rate of capture of Americans, but no one has been able to show me the research behind our hostage policy,” Foley testified.
Foley suggested that the government communicate with captors going forward: “What if we had been shrewd enough to engage with Jim’s Syrian captors in the fall of 2013, to learn all we could about them, instead of ignoring them?”
Foley’s presence did not deter one lawmaker from speaking out against ransoms.
“With Mrs. Foley here, I feel bad saying it—but I don’t think that we should be allowing paying money and ransoms to terrorist organizations,” said Rep. Brad Sherman, a Democrat from California. “From an emotional standpoint, it may get you the particular loved one back, but it’s just awhile before they kill some other Americans or seize some other American hostages.”
Selling History to Funding Violence
The group also works to sell artifacts and other cultural items on the black market. The territory currently controlled by ISIS contains artifacts from ancient Mesopotamia, one of humankind’s earliest large-scale organized societies.
Now, experts fear that past is disappearing. Dr. Michael D. Danti of the American Schools of Oriental Research said the Syrian conflict has brought about “the worst cultural-heritage crisis since World War II.”
“Over the last 16 months, ISIS has developed a highly organized approach to looting, trafficking, and selling antiquities and other cultural property for funding,” said Dr. Danti. “To ISIS, antiquities are natural resource to be mined from the ground or pilfered from cultural repositories.”
The actual dollar value of the antiquities controlled by ISIS is unknown, Dr. Danti said, but the group finds the revenue source “crucial” to their operations. He pushed for the United States to prioritize “reducing global market space for conflict antiquities.”
Another source of revenue for terrorist organizations are private donations from individuals in other countries. Dr. Weinberg listed four U.S. allies that “pursue problematic or even adversarial positions” over private donations to terrorist organizations: Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.