Sunday, January 22, 2006

More on the ransoming of Susanne Osthoff 

About a month ago, I complained bitterly that Germany had apparently ransomed Susanne Osthoff, the German national who had (seemingly) been kidnapped in Iraq. Yesterday, Power Line passed along this strange story, which claims that Osthoff had some of the ransom money with her when she was released:
Part of the ransom money alleged to have been paid by the German government to win the freedom of Iraq hostage Susanne Osthoff last month was found on Osthoff after her release, the German magazine Focus said on Saturday.

Without citing its sources, Focus said officials at the German embassy in Baghdad had found several thousand U.S. dollars in the 43-year-old German archaeologist's clothes when she took a shower at the embassy shortly after being freed.

The serial numbers on the bills matched those used by the government to pay off Osthoff's kidnappers, the magazine said.


This story has been a stinker from beginning to end. Osthoff emerged from captivity only to defend the morality of her captors. Then we heard rumors that Osthoff, an archeologist by day, was actually supplying intelligence to the Germans (presumably for payment), and now it seems that she was carrying some of the ransom money. Each of these allegations supports John Hinderaker's observation that "[t]here are several possible explanations for how Osthoff could have wound up with some of the loot, but the most obvious is that the kidnapping was a hoax designed to extort cash from the German government. That's one of the risks of negotiating ransoms with terrorists."

There are at least a couple of other observations that one might make. First, if the story is true, the Germans had recorded the serial numbers on the currency paid for Osthoff's release. While I assume that is standard operating procedure in the payment of ransoms, it does suggest a way that coalition counterintelligence operatives might be hunting insurgents -- if you know the serial numbers on the currency that they spend, you might be able to walk the money back to the bad guys who spend it. The fact that you possess the serial numbers on the blood money also makes it at least a little less attractive to third party arms dealers who might be supplying the insurgency.

Second, the real problem with negotiating ransoms with insurgents is that it increases their capacity to kill. As I wrote last month,
Do not miss this point: the Germans have -- in all likelihood -- given money to the insurgents in Iraq, money which will be used to buy weapons and explosives that will kill American soldiers, Iraqi police and innocent civilians who are just standing by. This is of a piece with Germany's historical practice, in fact. Two years ago the BBC reported that the German government paid ransom to an affiliate of al Qaeda to release German tourists foolish enough to holiday in the Sahara. German nationals voluntarily put themselves in harm's way by traveling to some of the most hideous places on the planet (what sort of idiot vacations in the Sahara?), and then the government of Germany buys their release by paying money to the enemies of the United States. This moronic practice not only arms our enemies, but it encourages more kidnapping. Let us not hear any more about Germany being a "friend and ally" of the United States until it vocally renounces the paying of ransom to our enemies.

Yes, there are any number of reasons not to pay ransom to terrorists, including that they may cheat you and that concessions (including ransoms) only encourage more kidnapping. But the real problem with paying ransoms to an insurgency is that it is the equivalent of supplying them with arms. Would we have been outraged if Germany had given Osthoff's kidnappers 100 pounds of C4? Of course we would have. Well, paying them money is the same damned thing. Indeed, it may be worse, because it can be traded for anything the insurgency needs -- there's no risk of inventory imbalances.

Finally, if the Germans are going to pay ransom, why do it in U.S. dollars? Why not Euros? Probably because U.S. dollars remain the reserve currency of choice for jihadis everywhere. Or maybe so the Germans could deny they made the payment at all.

UPDATE: Oops. I stepped on Cass's post on the same subject. Great minds not only think alike, but they blog at the same time without knowing it!


By Blogger sirius_sir, at Sun Jan 22, 10:35:00 AM:

Going to Cassandra's closing line below, it will be interesting to see whether or not the German government charges Osthoff with a crime. What is your take? Is she an accomplice, an accessory, an unwitting (or witless) dupe?  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Sun Jan 22, 11:04:00 AM:

I hope they do charge her, but given the moral rot of the EU, I'll be surprised if they can summon the stones :)  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Sun Jan 22, 11:07:00 AM:

And nice job, by the way, TH. I suppose I find it more amusing than anything else, sad to say. The Italians pay ransom, the Germans pay ransom.

It's really kind of a given in this situation. We don't have the stomach to play chicken with these people, nor to place the blame for the killing where it truly belongs - on the heads of the kidnappers.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sun Jan 22, 11:17:00 AM:

It wouldn't be a "given," though, if people stopped writing that the only problem with paying ransoms is that it encourages more kidnapping. OK, well then it is easy to rescue the bird in the hand, and worry about the later kidnappings when they happen. And there's certainly enough money in Germany to pay ransoms to all the German nationals that might possibly be kidnapped in Iraq. But if you frame it in my terms -- that you are essentially shipping explosives and weapons to the insurgency -- you suddenly see that many more people will die if that ransom is paid. The United States should make this point loudly -- if you pay a ransom to the insurgents, you are killing American and Iraqi soldiers. Done.  

By Blogger sirius_sir, at Sun Jan 22, 12:06:00 PM:

Tigerhawk, your line of argument would only work on those who were capable of rational thought. Unfortunately, I suspect there are all too many who would agree with Osthoff that the terrorists are the good guys and she ,"cannot blame them for kidnapping her, as they cannot enter [Baghdad's heavily fortified] Green Zone to kidnap Americans."

Americans are expendable, don't you see?  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Sun Jan 22, 12:39:00 PM:

Yes, TH, but they will counter that our soldiers are combatants and their hostages are "innocent bystanders".

They will always prefer to ransom their citizens, even at the cost of killing our soldiers. To them, it's a zero-cost proposition. I don't believe for one second that:

1. They view our soldiers as fully human, or

2. Any nation views the trade of one of their citizen's lives for even several of another nation's citizen's lives as a good bargain. The political cost to them is too high.

Cynical, but true.  

By Blogger John B. Chilton, at Sun Jan 22, 01:59:00 PM:

Waiting for the left wing blowback - "they went through her clothes when she was in the shower?" Invasion of privacy. Innocent until proven guilty. ....

Evidently even the Germans had their suspicions about O., Susanne.  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Sun Jan 22, 06:06:00 PM:

And isn't that even more interesting in light of the rumors she was working for them?  

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