VI. Hostages: A Special Problem

Article excerpt

A more complex challenge

Direct action by terrorists, such as bombings and assassinations, are relatively straight forward situations compared with hostage-taking and kidnapping, where the officials attempting to resolve the problem are faced not only with the need to apprehend the terrorists but also with the overarching need to protect the lives of the hostages or kidnap victims. The role of the mass media in such cases also is much more sensitive. Among other things, the constant quest for "human interest"--weeping relatives, etc.--may put undue pressure on the negotiators, benefit the terrorists and possibly increase the danger to the victims.

Brigitte L. Nacos devotes considerable attention to the hostage situation at the American embassy in Iran from 1979 to 1981, and especially to the multiplicity of pressures on U.S. presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan as they attempted to deal with the problem. Nacos cites the evolution of the crisis as reflected in fluctuations in public opinion polls--favorable to the President at first, then becoming negative as the crisis stretched out, seemingly with no end in sight (Nacos 1994: 103-112)--and press coverage from diverse sources (ibid., pp. 23-30). She emphasizes the power the terrorists can exercise in such cases:

   During hostage incidents like the Iranian crisis,
   the TWA hijacking, and the long captivity of
   Americans in Lebanon, international terrorists
   manage to cut even a superpower down to the
   size of a roaring mouse--mostly by creating this
   dilemma of the individual versus national interest. …