Today, President Biden reaffirms his commitment to bring home Americans held hostage and wrongfully detained abroad by issuing a new executive order (E.O.), Bolstering Efforts to Bring Hostages and Wrongfully Detained United States Nationals Home. This E.O. expands the tools available to deter and disrupt hostage-taking and wrongful detentions.  It creates new ways to impose costs on terrorist organizations, criminal groups, and other malicious actors who take hostages for financial, political, or other gains and thus threaten the integrity of the international political system and the safety of U.S. nationals and other persons abroad.  This E.O. advances the unwavering commitment of the United States to bring home Americans who are held hostage or wrongfully detained.

In addition, the Biden-Harris Administration is introducing a new risk indicator—the “D” indicator—to the State Department’s Travel Advisories to inform American travelers of the risk of wrongful detention by a foreign government.  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.  The “D” indicator joins the existing “K” indicator that covers risk of kidnapping and hostage-taking by non-state actors, as well as a range of other existing risk indicators.  State Department Travel Advisories are continuously revised and updated based on a comprehensive review of all available safety information and ongoing developments.

The executive order will generate expanded and enhanced ways to address the hostage-taking and wrongful detention of Americans abroad.  This E.O. reflects the Biden-Harris Administration’s continued commitment to bringing them home.  In particular, this E.O. draws on the 2020 Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act and reinforces the Administration’s tool kit in key ways.  Specifically, this E.O.:

  • Reinforces the U.S. Government’s efforts to support families of Americans wrongfully detained or held hostage overseas;
  • Authorizes agencies to impose costs and consequences, including financial sanctions, on those who are involved, directly or indirectly, in hostage-taking or wrongful detentions to support expanded and ongoing interagency efforts; 
  • Directs relevant parts of the U.S. Government to bolster their engagement and sharing of relevant information, including intelligence information, consistent with the protection of sources and methods, with families regarding their loved ones’ status and U.S. Government efforts to secure their release or return, as appropriate; and
  • Charges experts across the interagency to develop options and strategies to deter future hostage-taking and wrongful detentions.

This E.O. is informed by our regular communications with the families and other stakeholders who have undertaken incredible advocacy efforts on behalf of their loved ones.  The Biden-Harris Administration appreciates the continued diligence of such families and considers them essential partners in our efforts to bring Americans home.  President Biden and experts across the Administration will draw on this E.O. to advance our efforts and remain committed to reuniting Americans held hostage and wrongfully detained with their families. 

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