For their families as well, the choice looks different than for geopolitical figures worried about the precedent. “It’s a hard call, and fortunately I’m not the president of the United States,” David Whelan, Paul’s brother, told Fox News on Thursday. “But if the president makes that difficult decision, I would absolutely support Paul’s release if that’s the outcome.”
In recent years, the U.S. government has sought to create a more systematic approach to such situations. President Barack Obama signed an executive order in 2015 creating a special presidential envoy at the State Department dedicated to bringing home wrongfully detained American citizens.
President Donald J. Trump signed legislation in late 2020 shortly before leaving office codifying the special envoy and directing the State Department to evaluate every case of an American detained overseas to determine if they are being held illegitimately and refer those who are to the hostage affairs office.
Just this month, Mr. Biden signed an executive order building on the 2020 law to provide support for families of Americans wrongfully detained or held hostage overseas and to authorize financial and travel sanctions on those who are deemed responsible.
But Jared Genser, a longtime human rights lawyer who represents Americans held by foreign governments and has advocated some of the changes, said the reforms have not gone far enough. He has sent a proposal to Mr. Blinken and Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, urging a multinational agreement to facilitate joint responses to hostage taking, so that if a citizen of one signatory nation were wrongfully detained, many nations would take common action against the perpetrator. He also outlined the idea in a Wall Street Journal guest essay.
“In essence, since ’79, we are over and over and over again trying the same failed approach to recover our hostages,” Mr. Genser said in an interview. “We do this on a case-by-case basis, country by country, with blinders on as we do these negotiations. If a case gets a lot of public profile, it gets more resources and attention. But if you can’t get higher profile, you get no or little help at all.”
It was time, he said, to try to “end hostage taking once and for all.”
Adam Goldman contributed reporting.