On Tuesday, President Joe Biden signed an executive order that reinforces the U.S. government’s efforts to support families of Americans wrongfully detained or held hostage overseas and impose sanctions on the criminals, terrorists, or government officials who hold them captive.
According to Politico, the administration also announced that it will add a “D” indicator to the State Department’s travel advisories that alert American travelers of the risk of wrongful detention by a foreign government. The new indicator joins the existing “K” indicator that covers the risk of kidnapping and hostage-taking by non-state actors.
“This additional risk indicator will highlight the elevated risk that Americans face in particular countries and provide Americans with comprehensive safety and security information with which to make informed travel decisions,” a senior administration official stated. The first countries to receive the indicator will be China, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Russia, and Venezuela.
Politico noted that the James Foley Foundation, created to honor the journalist killed by Syrian forces in 2014, approved the executive order but called on the administration to take further action to protect those detained overseas. The group stated that sixty-four Americans are wrongfully detained in eighteen countries across the world.
“While the new EO addresses tougher deterrence and accountability measures which are essential in preventing hostage-taking by state and non-state actors, let us not forget the urgency and importance to work towards the release of the 64 Americans who are currently held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad,” the foundation said in a statement. “We implore the US government to utilize all means necessary to secure their releases,” it continued.
Meanwhile, ABC News reported that a White House spokesperson said that the administration had invited families to learn about the new announcements before they were revealed publicly.
“As part of our regular communication with families of those who are held hostage or wrongfully detained, we invited them to hear about new policy efforts we are launching to help bring their loved ones home. We wanted to share information with the families first before we announce them publicly, which the families deserve,” the spokesperson said, adding that the Biden administration will “continue to be in regular touch with these families through the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell, and the president’s national security team as we do everything we can to support them during these difficult times.”
The executive order comes as Americans imprisoned overseas continue to make headlines, with the most recent high-profile case involving WNBA star Brittney Griner. The two-time Olympic gold medalist in basketball was detained at Sheremetyevo International Airport on February 17 after the Russian Federal Customs Service claimed to have found vape cartridges containing the marijuana concentrate hashish oil in her luggage. The Biden administration has classified Griner as “wrongfully detained.”
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Finance and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.