The White House will announce on Wednesday that the administration will tell families of Americans held by terror groups they can communicate with captors and even pay ransom without fear of prosecution — a move likely to stir controversy on Capitol Hill.
President Obama ordered the review after the deaths of Americans held by Islamic State militants. Some families of those killed complained about their dealings with the government, including threats of prosecution if they paid ransom to secure their loved ones’ release.
The payment of ransoms to terror groups like ISIS and al Qaeda has long been tolerated, though it is technically illegal, CNN reports. The administration has looked the other way when families of Americans held overseas have paid ransoms.
Officially, U.S. policy prohibits paying ransom to terrorists. Foreign Policy magazine reported that the administration would make clear that families could pay ransom without fear of prosecution, despite the law.
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.
The new directive will not include a formal change to existing laws. But administration officials will state publicly, for the first time, that ransom payments will be tolerated.