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Obama Announces Change In U.S. Policy On American Hostages


More than 80 Americans have been held hostage by overseas groups since 9/11. Families of some of those hostages have accused the government of turning its back on them. Today, President Obama promised that will change.


BARACK OBAMA: The bottom line is this. When it comes to how our government works to recover Americans held hostage and how we work with their families, we are changing how we do business.


He said many of the changes originated from complaints by families who spoke of their frustrations in dealing with their own government.


OBAMA: How there's been confusion and conflicting information about what the government is prepared to do to help, how they've often felt lost in the bureaucracy and how, in some cases, families feel that they've been threatened for exploring certain options to bring their loved ones home, that's totally unacceptable.

MARTIN: He was referring to families who feared criminal prosecution for paying ransom to groups like ISIS or al-Qaida. Obama said in fact, no American has ever been prosecuted for paying a ransom.

CORNISH: The U.S. does maintain a strict no-concessions policy, meaning the government does not pay ransom to hostage takers, unlike some European countries. President Obama said that as a husband and father, he'd move heaven and Earth to get his family members back. But as president, he also says he has to consider greater national security.


OBAMA: I firmly believe that the United States government paying ransom to terrorists risks endangering more Americans and funding the very terrorism that we're trying to stop.

MARTIN: Other changes the president announced today include the appointment of a hostage czar and the creation of a fusion cell. This is a special team at the FBI tasked with finding hostages and bringing them home. He also promised to treat families as partners, assigning them a coordinator who will share intelligence and other information. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.