• How Obama Failed The Families Of Four Now-Dead ISIS Hostages

    The Obama administration failed the families of four now-dead U.S. hostages held by the Islamic State, an adviser to the families wrote in a scathing piece Wednesday that coincides with a similarly critical in-depth account of the families’ experiences by The New Yorker.

    “As Americans died, their government was powerless to stop the slaying,” Barak Rafi, a researcher at the New America Foundation specializing in Arab and Islamic Affairs, writes in Foreign Policy. “For while European governments tirelessly toiled to secure the release of European hostages, President Barack Obama’s administration’s passive approach doomed their American cellmates.”

    Rafi was deeply involved in the experience of the four families whose children — James Foley, Peter Kassig, Steve Sotloff and Kayla Mueller — died or were executed in captivity. He knew Kassig and advised the parents of Mueller. Sotloff was his best friend.

    Rafi was part of a group of civilians working independently to secure the release of the ISIS hostages. The White House seemed passive, the FBI shut down some of their leads and the State Department warned of criminal prosecution if the families tried to make an independent ransom payment. (RELATED: Sweeping New Hostage Policy Due To ‘Idiot’ At State Department WILL Harm Americans)

    “The White House did not do enough to rescue the four Americans,” he writes. “During Steve’s imprisonment, it rarely worked with the hostages’ families, kept them in the dark, and was essentially passive, rather than discussing ways to secure their release.”

    Rafi accuses the White House of giving the families only “token attention,” writing that White House officials rarely met with all the hostages families. The White House welcomed Chaldean leaders and helped them secure visas for Iraqi Christians endangered by ISIS, he writes, but Obama did not even respond to a letter from the hostages’ families passed on by his counterterrorism advisor, Lisa Monaco.

    The FBI was “useless” and the State Department was no better, he adds. “It was left to civilians like me to gather information and debrief the released European hostages. Because of my experience in the Middle East, I became the principal advisor to Steve’s family, directly handling their communication with the Islamic State.”

    Frustrated with the government and afraid to share their story with anyone else, the families of Foley, Kassig, Sotloff and Mueller joined forces with the family of then-hostage Theo Padnos. David Bradley, wealthy and influential owner of The Atlantic Media Company, connected the families and set up a team of investigators to find the hostages.

    The effort spanned two years and resulted in the release of Padnos, but was otherwise unsuccessful. In a lengthy account of their experiences published by The New Yorker Wednesday, Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent Lawrence Wright also finds the Obama administration at fault in its handling of the hostage situations.

    Padnos, who unlike the others was held hostage by al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra, was released largely through the efforts of Bradley and his connections in Qatar — not the U.S. government, Wright reports. When the handoff took place the FBI mistakenly went to a location on the Jordanian border, so Bradley had to call and redirect them to the correct location on the Israeli border.

    When Mueller’s parents traveled to Qatar to work out a potential prisoner exchange including Mueller, they were welcomed and put up in lavish hotels. Mueller’s father, Carl, told Wright he felt better taken care of by the government in Qatar than by the U.S. government.

    Bradley’s team eventually contacted more than a hundred people in their search, but only a few of them said they had been contacted by federal investigators, reported Wright. The FBI repeatedly shut down leads his team was pursuing, but seemed passive in its own investigation.

    After Padnos was freed, he discovered he could still track his iPhone’s location through apps that were being used by his captors, who had confiscated the phone. Foley had also carried an iPhone, but when his former girlfriend asked the FBI a year into his captivity whether they were tracking the phone, an agent asked her for the serial number.

    Most of the families learned of their child’s death at the same time as everyone else — online or by word of mouth. When Obama called Foley’s family to offer his condolences, Foley’s mother mentioned he had campaigned for Obama, and said: “He expected you to come get him.” Sotloff’s father refused to accept the condolence call.

    “The July, 2014, raid on the Raqqa facility [to rescue hostages] may have been a masterpiece of coördination, as General Sacolick called it, but it came too late,” Wright writes. “The intelligence community was slow to contribute drones and other tools that might have helped the military act more quickly.”

    “The government’s greatest failure, however, was its handling of five American families under extraordinary duress,” he adds. “Bradley’s team did not succeed in bringing four of those children home, but it did give the families hope and comfort.”

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