President Joe Biden signed a new executive order Tuesday intended to deter hostage taking and wrongful detentions around the world along with strengthening efforts to bring unlawfully detained Americans home.
According to CNN, in the executive order, Biden declared a national emergency to deal with the hostage taking and wrongful detention of Americans abroad, saying such “heinous acts” constitute “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.”
“The United States Government must redouble its efforts at home and with partners abroad to deter these practices and to secure the release of those held as hostages or wrongfully detained,” Biden said.
The executive order, which families of detainees were informed about on a call with administration officials Monday, was strongly welcomed and opposed as vigorously by others.
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CNN reports the executive order directs the administration to “identify and recommend options and strategies to the President … to secure the recovery of hostages or the return of wrongfully detained United States nationals.” The order continues to “coordinate the development and implementation of policies, strategies, and procedures for the recovery of hostages or the return of wrongfully detained United States nationals.”
It allows the administration to impose sanctions and visa bans on those involved with hostage taking and wrongful detentions. It is also meant to boost transparency between the administration and family members of hostages and wrongful detainees through enhanced information sharing, including intelligence briefs.
In addition to the executive order, the administration announced it will use a new indicator on State Department travel advisories for individual countries to highlight that a US citizen is at risk of being taken hostage or wrongfully detained if traveling there.
According to NPR, that warning indicator will be applied to the travel advisory for China – a country currently designated as “Level 3 – reconsider travel.” The indicator also will be applied to five other countries that the State Department has designated as “Level 4 – do not travel.”
Russia, Iran and Venezuela, which also have the “K” warning indicator for the risk of kidnapping and hostage-taking Burma and North Korea, which do not have the “K” warning indicator.
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White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre asserts, “We want to assure them, the Whelans and the Griner family, and all other … U.S. nationals who are being wrongfully detained or held hostage abroad that this president is doing everything that he can to make sure that they come home safely.” She continued, “We’re going to use any – every means that we have. Clearly, we cannot negotiate in public. That is not something that we’re going to do. But, we’re committed to making sure they all get home safely.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken described Tuesday’s actions as a demonstration of the US government’s commitment to the safety of US citizens abroad, saying in a statement, “we will continue to be relentless in our efforts to reunite Americans who are held hostage or wrongfully detained with their loved ones.”
Critics claim executive order is merely a distraction
The officials, according to family members briefed Monday, did not explain why the White House was rolling out the order Tuesday. Some family members told CNN that they felt the administration’s timing of the order is meant to distract from the negative attention and upcoming events held by the detainees’ families in Washington, DC, including the unveiling of a new mural commissioned by the “Bring Our Families Home Campaign.”
In a statement, Jonathan Franks, the spokesperson for the campaign described the call as “an effort to pre-manage the press attention from many hostage families being in D.C. this week to unveil their mural.”
After she spoke out about the lack of contact from the president, Biden held his first call with Cherelle Griner, the wife of Brittney Griner, earlier this month. Biden also called Paul Whelan’s sister, but only after she too expressed disappointment and frustration that the president hadn’t reached out to their family after three years. Once thought of as “Consoler-In-Chief,” critics argue Biden has worked at a snail’s pace to not only free American detainees, but merely contact their loved ones.
They were not able, they said, to voice questions or concerns during the call, which one family member described as “isolating.” Others said that if they had known ahead of time that the call would discuss the executive order, they would not have dialed in, because that call was “in no way a response to what we need and what we’ve asked for repeatedly.”