White House Admits Threatening While Pretending to Deny It

The White House admits threatening the families of the hostages killed by thugs of the Islamic State. They communicated to the Foleys and the Sotloffs that they would be prosecuted if they paid a ransom to get their boys back. As Newser.com puts it:

“In terms of what was communicated to the families, in the midst of many, many meetings over the course of this very difficult circumstance, we obviously made clear what the law is,” chief of staff Denis McDonough told Fox News Sunday, as per Politico.

But somehow this is not threatening. McDonough continued, “We didn’t threaten anybody, but we made clear what the law is.”


When you recite the law to someone, and tell them you plan to prosecute that law, then you are threatening them with the violence of enforced law. How do you think those families heard this “information” about the law when they were scrambling for ways to save their sons’ lives? How do you think they remember those conversations now that they may be regretting they did not do more?

White House: We will prosecute you according to the full letter of the law we just broke.


This message of the law would be perceived as especially threatening when the Administration has a reputation for not enforcing the law all the time. When you are known for disregarding the law, then threatening to enforce it can only be understood as a whimsical threat of violence, not as a rigorous loyalty to the law.

Consider how the White House broke the law to trade Bowe Bergdahl not for money but for terrorists in Guantanamo Bay.  Why was it okay to disregard the law when they wanted to do so but not for these parents?

The fact is, as much as I hate to admit it, the Administration was probably right to threaten to enforce the law. In the Bible, the civil penalty for kidnapping someone was death. This would rule out the possibility of paying a ransom. The problem with the Administration is that they won’t follow their own law.

Why make a law that forbids paying a ransom? Obviously because, when you pay the ransom, you enable and encourage the kidnappers to repeat their crime in the hopes of getting more money. Others are encouraged to adopt the same practice because they see abductors succeeding in their kidnapping endeavors. While the kidnappers might kill their hostage, everyone else is safer if the ransom is never paid. (The 1996 Mel Gibson movie, Ransom, does a great job of showing why you don’t want to pay an abductor.)

The real question is whether the ransoming of Bowe Bergdahl ended up increasing the risk for other servicemen. By rewarding the kidnappers, the Obama Administration has taught everyone that abduction can bring rewards to the abductors.

Rather than issuing denials that they never threatened the family, even as they admit at the same time that they did threaten the family, the White House should explain why their illegal trade for Bergdahl was okay. Why did no one explain to Barack Obama the consequences of breaking the law?

Oh, right, because, for him, there are none. We only threaten grieving families.