Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Where's the Hostage?

Update: Hostage Released

Philippine hostage Angelo de la Cruz was delivered to the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates. Reuters reports:

A Filipino truck driver held hostage in Iraq was freed and handed over to the United Arab Emirates embassy in Baghdad Tuesday, an Emirates official said. "He has been handed over and we will hand him over to the Philippine authorities," the official told Reuters. Manila ignored criticism from the United States and Iraq's interim government, which accused it of bowing to terrorists, and completed the withdrawal of its humanitarian contingent of troops Monday in response to demands from the kidnappers. The Philippine ambassador in Baghdad could not be reached, and a source at the embassy said he had heard nothing.

In another story Reuters also reported that "the wife of freed Filipino hostage Angelo de la Cruz thanked her husband's kidnappers on Tuesday for not harming him". President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said "'it was a time of trial and a time of triumph'. She also spoke with Philippine diplomats in Baghdad, thanking them for their efforts. After hanging up, she raised her arms and said: 'Well done!'

I wrote this just an hour earlier.

One of the most important variables to watch in the negotiating process is how the power balance changes at each bargaining step. This is especially true when negotiating the release of a kidnap victim. Before the ransom is paid each side has something the other wants. But once the victim's family has paid the power balance shifts completely to the criminal's side. He's got the money and the victims family can only hope that someone who has lied all his life will suddenly keep his word.

When the Philippine Government pulled all of its 51 troops out of Iraq (and reportedly paid $6M in ransom) it effectively transferred all of its chips to the terrorist gang which kidnapped Filipino truck driver Angelo de la Cruz. Now despite the fact that the Philippines has completed its pullout the hostage has still not been released. ABS-CBN reports:

The nation anxiously awaited Tuesday word on the fate of Filipino truck driver Angelo de la Cruz. Malacañang (the equivalent of the White House) said it is hoping that de la Cruz will be released by Iraqi militants after the government complied with their demand to pull out troops. The last batch of soldiers left Iraq Monday morning and reached the Kuwaiti border at dawn. Reports said they are to board a commercial flight to Manila. Government officials in Manila and Philippine negotiators in Baghdad issued very limited information on de la Cruz's condition.

The Malacañang press corps stayed overnight at the press office awaiting possible announcements from the administration. Reporters who have closed in on the relatives of de la Cruz were likewise clueless as to the progress of the situation. De la Cruz was last seen in a video sent by his captors to Arab TV network al Jazeera.

Hope is all they've got. What is worse, the Philippine Government needs the hostage released more than ever. It would be a political catastrophe for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo if, despite everything his captors held him back. In fact, his kidnappers would be in a position to demand even more from the Philippine Government to avert both domestic and international humiliation. Where once they held a man now they hold a nation.

Even if de la Cruz is finally released, the Philippine Government may still have to contend with the families of those who may be killed from weapons purchased with the ransom money they may have paid for de la Cruz's release. The Virginian Pilot reports that the families of the sailors who died on the USS Cole are suing Sudan for $105 million "claiming the East African nation provided financing and training for the al-Qaida terrorists who carried out the attack in October 2000." (Hat tip: Jenn Martinez)

“Al-Qaida could not have existed or planned its acts of terrorism, including an act directed at an American Naval vessel, without the support of state sponsors of terrorism” including Sudan, the suit filed in the Norfolk U.S. District Court , says. The lawsuit was filed by the families of Richard Costelow, James R. McDaniels, Andrew Triplett, Kenneth E. Clodfelter, Ronald S. Owens, Kevin S. Rux, and Lakiba N. Palmer.

James Cooper-Hill, a Texas attorney for the Cole plaintiffs, said if this suit is successful, he will seek Congressional approval for payment from $29 million in Sudanese assets that the United States has frozen, but he realizes that is not enough to cover the amount he is seeking. The lawsuit is seeking $10 million for each of five spouses, $10 million for a long-time companion of one of the victims, and $5 million for each of eight children of the victims, and $5 million for one victim’s sibling.

Sudan last year acknowledged its support of terrorist groups, but has since vowed to crack down on such organizations. In May 2003, the Sudanese minister of foreign affairs, during a visit to the United States, issued a public apology for the aid his nation provided to al-Qaida and other terrorist groups.

Any suit against the Philippines may be bigger. Six million dollars buys a lot of IEDs and it has more money than the Sudan. Paying extortion is really another term for giving money to a bully so he can buy a bigger pair of brass knuckles to tattoo your face. Once he's got the brass knuckles he can force enough from you to buy a meat cleaver. After that, the sky's the limit.