Obama Changes Policies to Help Captive Journalists Like Miami's Steven Sotloff

For more than a year before he was brutally murdered, Pinecrest native and freelance journalist Steven Sotloff was held captive in Syria in often torturous conditions. On the advice of security experts, Sotloff's family in Miami kept the news of their son's kidnapping quiet, fearing publicity would only further endanger Steven. Behind the scenes, they worked furiously to try to secure his release. 

They would later say they had little help: After the world learned via a sick propaganda video that Sotloff, like James Foley before him, had been executed by his captors, the Sotloffs lashed out against what they felt was an egregious lack of coordination and effort in the Obama administration's response to the kidnapping.

As the family grew increasingly desperate, the State Department stood firmly behind its policy of not paying ransoms; at one point, a family spokesman would say, the family was even callously told by a department official that they could be prosecuted if they tried to negotiate for their son's release on their own. 

"I fucking hate you, Obama!" Steven's younger sister Lauren wrote in a Facebook post. "You killed my brother."

Yesterday — nearly 10 months after Sotloff's death and in the face of a continued ISIS threat to journalists — the White House announced new measures aimed at helping kidnapping American journalists and their families, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

Families who seek to negotiate with their loved one's captors or pay ransom will not be threatened with criminal prosecution, the announcement said, and the White House will also establish a new office to work with families of American hostages. The changes come after Obama had ordered a review of policy following the deaths of Foley and Sotloff. 

"For too long, American journalists have been doubly victimized — first by the kidnapping itself and then by the poorly coordinated U.S. response to the tragic incidents," said the Committee to Protect Journalists' Executive Director Joel Simon in a release.

"This new hostage policy directive should lessen the anguish of the families and improve the likelihood of a successful outcome by providing a central point of contact, removing the threat of the prosecution for families that choose to pay ransom, and allowing U.S. government officials to communicate with hostage takers or their intermediaries."

Following their son's death, the Sotloff family established the 2LivesFoundation, which aims to support courageous journalists. On a visit to Miami last month, Obama also met with the Sotloff family to express his condolences in person.  
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Trevor Bach