Tag Archives: hostages

The James W Foley Legacy Foundation has launched its second annual review of US Government handling of hostages cases. Bringing Americans Home 2020 is based on interviews with 25 people with direct experience of hostage taking or wrongful detention, both those who were held as well as their family members.

I was honored to join the launch event hosted by New America Foundation alongside Diane Foley, Lisa Monaco, and report author Cynthia Loertscher.

I would urge anyone interested in hostages and hostage policy to read the report in full, but here are the main findings.

  1. The US Government’s 2015 hostage policy reforms have largely been durable, but there is always room for improvement
  2. The families of Americans wrongly detained by a foreign government have not benefited from the changes stemming from the 2015 review and report poor satisfaction regarding their interaction with the US government
  3. While the current Administration has prioritized bringing Americans home, more focus and further prioritization is needed

The report is rich with quotes from families and former hostages and detainees and contains a long list of concrete recommendations for the USG government, nonprofit organizations, and others. Excellent work – and well worth your time to read it in full.


My interest in security was sparked when I was at university and my beloved uncle Phil was kidnapped in Colombia. Suddenly, I was thrust into a world of private security companies and response consultants, and felt like an extra on a Hollywood movie set. It led me to ask a few basic questions: who had taken him? Why would they want him? How would we get him back? And, importantly, what could be done to help others who might suffer the same anguish as his family did for 7 long months?

I now dedicate part of my life to the final challenge – running a small charity called Hostage UK, which supports the families of hostages during a kidnap and the family and hostage post-release. We offer pastoral care, put the families in touch with others who have been through the same experience, provide them with any professional support they might need, and offer advice and guidance on how best they can cope with their experience.

When I am not running Hostage UK, I am Research and Policy Director at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue. There, I oversee our work on extremism and counter-terrorism, where – amongst other things – we have recently launched the Against Violent Extremism Network (AVE) to bring together former extremists with the survivors of violent extremist attacks to work to counter radicalization and help reintegrate extremists looking to leave their movements.

I have been reflecting on where these two worlds collide, and it strikes me that there are lessons to be learned from the reintegration of hostages and former extremists back into their family environments. I am not seeking to make light of the experiences of hostages, or draw parallels between their suffering and the choices of extremists. But if we look at the specific challenge of reintegration, there are some parallels. Here are five lessons that those looking to reintegrate former extremists could learn from our work at Hostage UK.

First, both the hostage and the family experience extreme forms of trauma. Hostages always say that their family experiences more stress than they do, because they always have the luxury of knowing whether they are alive or dead. When the hostage is released, the family is often not in a position to support fully, because they are in need of support themselves.

Second, the hostage and the family go through different experiences, and this can mean that they feel estranged from one another when the hostage returns.

Third, while the hostage has been away, the family has inevitably moved on. It is so often the main breadwinner who has been taken, and in their absence their wife (it is usually a female partner at home) has assumed the position of head of household, taken on responsibility for finances, and usurped the hostage’s role within the family. This can make reintegration difficult, as the hostage will not be able simply to slot back in and might feel excluded. It is mainly for this reason that there can be higher than average incidences of divorce post-release.

Fourth, the hostage may have experienced things during their captivity that they do not wish to share with their families due to a sense of shame and an inability to communicate. This only increases the sense of division between them and their family members.

Fifth, there is so often a reluctance on the part of both the former hostage and their family to accept that they might need help and support.

Applying these lessons across former hostages and former extremists may not be entirely intuitive. But it is vital to acknowledge that extremism – like kidnapping – is a human crime with a human solution, of which families must be a part. It is vital that these lessons are learned.

For more information about Hostage UK, visit our website.

It is sad to hear the news that a British woman has been kidnapped in Kenya. Her husband was killed, before she was taken away over the weekend. There are unconfirmed reports that the couple are David and Judith Tebbutt, but the UK Foreign Office has not released the victims’ names. They were staying at the Kiwayu Safari village in Kenya, located near the border with Somali. It is not yet known whether the motives for the kidnapping are financial or political.

This case reminds us that the threat from kidnapping continues. There is no complete data set to show the number of Britons who are kidnapped each year. The Foreign Office records cases it works on or is aware of, but this is thought to account for a small minority of cases. This is because they do not tend to be involved where the motive is financial – the bulk of kidnaps – because they cannot pay a ransom and the cases are therefore handled privately. These cases also tend to remain out of the spotlight because it is important to downplay the ‘value’ of the hostage in order to secure a swift and safe release.

The absence of a dataset is a real problem – it means we don’t really know the scale of the threat, how it has changed, or where it might develop next. Hostage UK has been looking to bring together data from official sources and private security companies. But until that is possible, we really don’t know as much as we should do about this terrible crime.

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