The going rate for an American hostage these days is around $1.3 billion. That’s what the Biden administration paid out for five Americans in a prisoner swap with the Islamic Republic of Iran last week. And with little overhead, it’s mostly profit for the mullahs.
But don’t let the term “prisoner swap” insinuate that there is any moral equivalence. These are not two normal countries trading spies or combatants. No, this is just old-fashioned extortion.
The Iranians released political hostages, snatched off the streets of Tehran after unwisely returning to visit family or attending funerals or protests. Many of them were reportedly thrown into the notorious Evin Prison for the crime of having dual citizenship. Some, such as Siamak Namazi, were put in solitary confinement for more than two years.
Conversely, the United States released a bunch of spies, most of them caught trying to send military and nuclear equipment back to Iran—all of them given the benefit of due process.
Having a moral imperative to retrieve American citizens from these fascist regimes is admirable. Incentivizing more kidnappings is not. So it’s one thing for the Biden administration to contend that “we did what he had to do” and quite another for them to celebrate as if they had just signed the Peace of Westphalia.
On Sept. 19, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan posted a triumphant picture of the Biden team and the released hostages, writing, “Seven Americans on their way home from Iran alongside a world class group of American diplomats.”
The fact that Iran, a far weaker state with little leverage, walks away with its spies and $6 billion in sanctioned cash in exchange for five innocent people does not strike me as a great diplomatic coup—at least not for the United States.
Mullahs, and others, feel quite comfortable taking American hostages, which speaks poorly of our world standing and confoundingly of the Democrats’ soft touch with Iran. “Hey, that’s a nice military base you have there, it would be a shame if it ended up like the shredded corpse of Qasem Soleimani” is what the vile mullahs should be hearing. The same Democrats who are gung-ho to fight proxy wars against nuclear powers will almost never utter a word that might offend the supreme leader of Iran.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, trying to manage the political fallout, contends that the United States is “working every single day to take steps to make this practice (hostage taking) more and more difficult and more and more of a burden on those countries that engage in it.” They say the same thing every time. And it is never true.
For a long time, stated U.S. policy was to never pay ransom for hostages taken by terror groups. The Justice Department objected to former President Barack Obama’s midnight cash payments to Iran because it ignored those existing guidelines. This is why Washington now uses diplomatic euphemisms such as “wrongfully detained” rather than “hostage.” And the United States not only still considers Iran a state sponsor of terrorism but it also has designated the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the group that reportedly seized these very people we just liberated, a terror organization.
Which is also why the White House claims: “Under terms that provide confidence, the funds will be spent only on a limited category of humanitarian trade: food, medicine and agricultural products. That’s it.”
Is it, though? There is absolutely no way to ensure that the Islamofascists in Qatar, the nation “brokering” the deal, will hold their friends in Iran accountable or that it even matters. Before all the funds were even transferred to Iranian accounts, Iranian “President” Ebrahim Raisi told NBC News that his country would spend the $6 billion “wherever we need it.” Of course, even if the mullahs bought only “food, medicine and agricultural products” with it, that specific money is, as everyone knows, fungible.
Iran boosters will tell you that the ransom money is actually Iran’s to begin with—funds held by South Korea due to American sanctions. It shouldn’t be. The Iranian government, companies, and officials still owe American citizens at least $53 billion in outstanding judgments. Legislation passed in 2015 granted up to $4.44 million to every American held hostage by Iran in 1981—$10,000 per day. Then there are the families and relatives of 9/11 victims, who also won tens of millions in judgments against Iran, which not only gave safe harbor to Sunni terror groups but also helped transit al-Qaeda members out of Afghanistan before 9/11, including some of the hijackers.
Maybe we needed to make this deal, maybe not. But giving another $6 billion to a nation that attacks U.S. interests around the world, one that is responsible for the murders of hundreds of our soldiers, is nothing to brag about.