As we explore how the United States fails to win the release of its hostages overseas, we are joined by Stanley Cohen, a lawyer directly involved in secret talks to win the freedom of U.S. aid worker Peter Kassig. Cohen argues that the U.S. government missed a chance to prevent Kassig’s beheading last month by the Islamic State in Syria. A controversial attorney whose past clients include Hamas, Hezbollah and the son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, Cohen tapped his extensive contacts in a failed effort to win Kassig’s freedom. With the FBI’s blessing, Cohen flew to the Middle East where he spearheaded talks between figures aligned with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. But the plan fell apart when Jordan arrested a leading cleric who played a key role in the talks and the United States refused to intervene. Kassig was killed shortly after. "The United States made a decision — I don’t know if it was the White House, I don’t know if it was the State Department — they made a decision to throw Mr. Kassig under the bus, because, for whatever reason, the Jordanian government did not want this to happen," Cohen says.
In a year that saw the brutal televised beheading of Western journalists and aid workers by the Islamic State, the United States is facing calls to change a hostage policy that may have undermined chances to save their lives. Journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, as well as aid worker Peter Kassig, were all beheaded after being kidnapped by ISIS in Syria. Luke Somers, a photojournalist, was killed in Yemen this month during a failed U.S. rescue mission. Family members of the hostages have criticized U.S. government policy of refusing to engage with their captors, including the payment of ransom. Meanwhile, at least 15 hostages also kidnapped by ISIS in Syria have walked free. That’s because their governments — all but one European — have negotiated and paid millions of dollars to win their release. But not only does the United States refuse to negotiate or pay ransoms to captors, it has threatened the hostages’ families with prosecution if they try to do so on their own. We host a roundtable discussion with three guests: Philip Balboni, president and CEO of GlobalPost, where Foley was a freelance reporter when he was taken hostage in 2012; Gary Noesner, former chief of the FBI’s Crisis Negotiation Unit; and Sarah Shourd, who was was held prisoner by Iran for 410 days before ultimately being released in a deal brokered by Oman.
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Some 20,000 people, including a sea of uniformed officers, gathered in New York City on Saturday for the funeral of NYPD Officer Rafael Ramos, one of the two killed in a targeted ambush one week before. It was said to be one of the largest police funerals in New York City history. Controversy erupted as hundreds of police turned their backs on Mayor Bill de Blasio as he delivered a eulogy inside the church, protesting his earlier comments on police brutality and racial profiling. It was the second time officers have turned their backs on de Blasio since the two officers were killed. We are joined by Adhyl Polanco, an NYPD officer who says those who shunned de Blasio do not represent the feelings held by many police officers. Polanco previously blew the whistle on superiors who told officers to meet a quota under "stop and frisk," or face punishment — a move that led to his suspension without pay and later modified assignment.
In the 13 years since the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001, the country’s opium production has doubled, now accounting for about 90 percent of the world’s supply. To learn more, we are joined by Matthieu Aikins, a Kabul-based journalist whose latest report for Rolling Stone magazine explores Afghanistan’s heroin boom. "What has happened in Afghanistan over the last 13 years has been the flourishing of a narco-state that is really without any parallel in history," Aikins says. "This is something that is extraordinary, that is catastrophic, that has grave danger for the future and yet there has been virtually no discussion of in recent years."
Peace activist Kathy Kelly is about to begin a three-month prison sentence for protesting the U.S. drone war at a military base in Missouri earlier this year. Kelly, along with another activist, was arrested after offering bread and an indictment against drone warfare. Kelly is the co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, a campaign to end U.S. military and economic warfare.
The U.S.-led NATO occupation has formally ended its 13-year combat mission in Afghanistan. The move leaves Afghan forces in charge of security, though more than 17,000 foreign troops will remain. This includes more than 10,000 U.S. troops, who will continue to see a combat role despite the nominal change. Last month, President Obama secretly extended the U.S. role in Afghanistan to ensure American troops will have a direct role in fighting, along with jets, bombers and drones. The transition follows the deadliest year in Afghanistan since 2001. According to the United Nations, almost 3,200 Afghan civilians have been killed. More than 5,000 members of the Afghan security forces have also died, the highest toll in 13 years of fighting with the Taliban. We are joined by two guests: Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, a campaign to end U.S. military and economic warfare; and Matthieu Aikins, a Kabul-based journalist whose recent report for Rolling Stone magazine is "Afghanistan: The Making of a Narco State."
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