This concise, well-reasoned treatise takes as its central question whether governments should make concessions—in particular, ransom payments—when dealing with political kidnappings. To Simon, who has worked for nearly 20 years at the Committee to Protect Journalists, the question is a matter not just of political will or moral philosophy but also of who lives and who dies. Simon notes that, while there are enormous numbers of kidnappings around the world, the seizing of Westerners by terror groups is a relatively rare event. Because of the emotions surrounding these events, the results assume a significance greater than the numbers would suggest. Western governments are divided into two camps: the U.S. and U.K. fall into the “we don’t negotiate with terrorists” camp, and most of continental Europe negotiates and pays ransom. Simon’s statistics show that European hostages are likely to come home alive and American and U.K. hostages are likely to die. He carefully and clearly presents the central arguments for both sides so that all readers will understand how he reaches his conclusion that “no one should have to die for a policy that isn’t working.” General readers will find the material enlightening, and those professionally involved will find it essential. (Jan.)
"A firm no-concessions policy that relies on meager evidence is inexcusable, he argues, when lives hang in the balance. We Want to Negotiate is a helpful, accessible contribution to a decades-old dilemma." —The Wall Street Journal
"This excellent and careful book asks tough questions about whether and how governments should negotiate with kidnappers to get hostages released." —Foreign Affairs
"As Joel Simon expertly explains in his new book, We Want to Negotiate, there is no consensus about how to respond to an ancient practice that has made a terrible resurgence in the post-9/11 era." —Jason Rezaian, The Washington Post
"Kidnapping today has taken a more sinister and professional turn, as demonstrated in Joel Simon’s We Want To Negotiate ... kidnapping is in a state of constant flux, endlessly evolving to meet demand." —Caroline Moorehead, The Times Literary Supplement
"A wise and thorough investigation of the painful conundrum posed by terrorist kidnappings. Simon makes a cogent argument about how to change our current, failed approach to negotiation." —Lawrence Wright, author of The Looming Tower and The Terror Years
"Joel Simon has written an invaluable insider's account of the how and the why of the shadowy business of ransom negotiation at the highest level. For anyone who has ever wondered why some governments negotiate for the release of their captured citizens, while others—including our own—do not, Simon's book is essential reading. As head of the Committee to Protect Journalists, Simon has seen the hostage crisis up close and this book reflects his intelligence, courage, and clear-eyed approach to this murky but, sadly, thriving business." —Kati Marton, author, journalist and former Board Chair of the Committee to Protect Journalists
"This is an excellently researched and reasoned book on a terrible and complicated problem—what to do when someone is taken hostage. I hope all those who have had to face this awful dilemma will read it, and especially those who make and carry out government policy." —Terry Anderson, journalist, hostage in Lebanon for seven years
"Joel Simon's book about the dark world of kidnappers and their hostages is deeply reported, well written and well calibrated in its judgements. For anyone who wants to understand the many difficult questions raised by the kidnapping trade, Simon's book will be the standard." —Peter Bergen, author of United States of Jihad: Who are America’s Homegrown Terrorists and How Do We Stop Them
"In We Want to Negotiate, Joel Simon combines the breadth of his knowledge alongside stunning narratives to try to understand how the gruesome and murky trade of kidnapping really works. Simon's international policy expertise and his compassion for his subjects—many of whom he knew and worked alongside—shine through to create a spellbinding, chilling and important read." —Janine di Giovanni, Senior Fellow, the Jackson Institute of Global Affairs, Yale University, and author of The Morning They Came for Us: Dispatches from Syria
"To Simon, who has worked for nearly 20 years at the Committee to Protect Journalists, the question is a matter not just of political will or moral philosophy but also of who lives and who dies.... General readers will find the material enlightening, and those professionally involved will find it essential." —Publishers Weekly
"A persuasive argument that deserves to be heard in Foggy Bottom, the Pentagon, and other corridors of power." —Kirkus Reviews
"This readable and well-argued book is essential for ethics, journalism, and international relations collections, and a valuable rubric for assessing hostage policy, whether by governments, individuals, or businesses." —Library Journal
★ Winter 2018
Simon worked at the Committee To Protect Journalists for two decades. A number of journalists were kidnapped during his tenure, and this brief volume attempts to disentangle the debate over how to respond to hostage situations. Examinations into several high-profile kidnappings in the Middle East and South America evaluate different situations (criminal, political, terrorist, state-sponsored), and how Western countries have reacted. The central question surrounds the ethical, legal, and strategic problem involved in paying ransom for hostages. Some governments make it a priority to bring the hostage home; British and U.S. policy is to refuse to negotiate or pay any type of ransom, although this is often observed in the breach. Simon shows there is a business model for insuring high-risk private citizens, such as CEOs, with attendant negotiation and recovery efforts by the insurer. Hostage rescue by military or private organizations is an option, generally after negotiation has failed. VERDICT This readable and well-argued book is essential for ethics, journalism, and international relations collections, and a valuable rubric for assessing hostage policy, whether by governments, individuals, or businesses.—Edwin Burgess, Kansas City, KS
A well-formed argument against the doctrine of refusing to negotiate with terrorists to gain the release of hostages.
"From a pure negotiating standpoint," writes Simon (The New Censorship: Inside the Global Battle for Media Freedom, 2015, etc.), executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, "adopting a public posture of ‘we don't negotiate with terrorists' is a terrible opening gambit." First formulated by Richard Nixon, that posture reduces the value of the hostages to their kidnappers, which makes it more likely that hostages will be killed. Still, talking tough in the face of hostage-takers scores political points in the U.S. and the U.K. even as countries such as France pay in order to rescue their citizens. Again, that's for political reasons. As Simon notes, when war correspondent Florence Aubenas was kidnapped in Iraq in 2005, the French government reportedly paid $10 million to retrieve her. Officially, the government denied that it had acquiesced, but the fact that it had underscores political differences: "When French citizens are kidnapped, the public often mobilizes to demand their release," with the idea that part of the social contract is that the government protects its citizenry by whatever means necessary. On the other hand, Americans and Brits come with guns blazing, which often leads to the deaths of hostages, if not soldiers and civilian bystanders. As Simon observes, when the British sent in soldiers to rescue a New York Times correspondent and a colleague taken hostage in Afghanistan, a soldier, a woman, and a child died in the fire. "These deaths," he notes, "were all the more tragic because private negotiators who were communicating with the kidnappers already had a deal for both hostages' release." Simon, who has been involved in negotiation efforts himself, ventures that Daniel Pearl's killing in Pakistan might have been avoidable and that it was meant to send a signal "that kidnapping Westerners was now a sanctioned tactic" on the part of al-Qaida.
A persuasive argument that deserves to be heard in Foggy Bottom, the Pentagon, and other corridors of power.