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 this week. And with little overhead, it’s mostly profit for the mullahs.
But don’t let the term “prisoner swap” insinuate any moral equivalence. These are not two normal countries trading spies or combatants. No, this is just an 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, like Siamak Namazi, were put in solitary confinement for over 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.
The 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, “we did what he had to do” and quite another for them to celebrate as if they had just signed the Peace of Westphalia.
Yesterday, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan tweeted out 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 six 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. Instead, Democrats, gung ho to fight proxy wars against nuclear powers, will almost never utter a cross 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.
Hostage-taking has been a lucrative business for the Islamic Republic since its inception. Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan both signed off on a deal to transfer nearly $8 billion to the Ayatollah for American hostages. Reagan tried to do it again in 1986 with a convoluted scheme that was also intended to help Nicaraguan rebels, which became known as the Iran-Contra affair.
Barack Obama’s midnight cash ransom payments — not to mention other highly dubious and likely illegal giveaways to Iran — was an even bigger scandal, though you would never have known from the coverage. Obama, obsessed with helping Iran become a Middle Eastern power, gave Iran virtually everything they wanted in nuclear talks. Guess what? Almost immediately, they began taking more American prisoners.
For a long time, U.S. policy was to never pay ransom for hostages taken by terror groups. The Justice Department objected to Obama’s lavish cash payments to Iran because it ignored those existing guidelines. This is why Washington now uses diplomatic euphemisms like “wrongfully detained” rather than “hostage.” And the U.S. not only still considers Iran a state sponsor of terrorism but it has designated the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, the group that reportedly seized these very people we just liberated, a terror organization.
Which is also why the White House claims that “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 real 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, “President” Ebrahim Raisi had told NBC News that his country would spend $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 none of this matters because the ransom money is actually Iran’s to begin with — funds held by South Korea due to American sanctions. It’s not theirs, we took it. Nor should it ever be theirs. The Iranian government, companies, and officials still owe American citizens at least $53 billion in outstanding judgments. Legislation passed in 2015 granted $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 a nation that attacks U.S. interests around the world, murders hundreds of our soldiers, takes hostages whenever it needs cash, and is at the center of every bloody conflict in the Middle East, another $6 billion is nothing to brag about.