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The overseas kidnapping of foreign citizens for ransom or other concessions is not new. Each year, an estimated two dozen Americans are reported kidnapped abroad. Two notable cases in the past year—those of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan and New Tribes missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham in the Philippines—have attracted attention to the issue.

Even before these recent high-profile cases, the U.S. government was revisiting its policy on ransom negotiations. After a lengthy debate between the State Department and the Pentagon, the Bush administration in February signed a new policy that in two ways substantially changed the government's response to cases of kidnapped American citizens.

Dating to a Clinton-era study, the new policy states that the government will review each case in which an American is kidnapped to determine suitable action. An official told The New York Times, "What the new policy ensures is that the government will no longer ignore cases simply because a private citizen is involved, or because the kidnapping seems to be motivated primarily by money rather than political goals."

The February policy also drops the former blanket ban on ransom payments in favor of a case-by-case approach in which the government can cooperate with individuals or private companies choosing to pay. CNN reports the shift is modeled on a 2000 Colombian case where American oil companies paid millions to retrieve workers held hostage. The government then worked with local authorities to recover the money and capture those responsible.

Christian mission organizations are yet unsure what implications the policy shift will have on cases in which missionaries are kidnapped for ...

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