Obama orders review of US hostage policy

President Obama has ordered a review of how the U.S. handles the taking of hostages by overseas terrorist groups, according to letter by Christine Wormuth, the Pentagon's undersecretary of defense for policy.

"As a result of the increased frequency of hostage-taking of Americans overseas, and the recognition of the dynamic threat posed by specific terrorist groups, the President recently directed a comprehensive review of the U.S. government policy on overseas terrorist-related hostage cases, with specific emphasis on examining family engagement, intelligence collection, and diplomatic engagement policies," Wormuth wrote on Nov. 11 in a letter to Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.).

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Hunter had pressed the administration on its hostage policy over the summer, criticizing its process for seeking the release of hostages as wrought with bureaucratic infighting between government agencies, that was undermining release efforts.

The letter did not say whether the U.S. was reconsidering its policy of not paying ransom for hostages.

The review, first reported by The Daily Beast, comes a day after a video published showing the beheading of former U.S. Army Ranger Peter Kassig by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

It also comes after complaints by family members of slain American journalist James Foley, who was beheaded over the summer by ISIS, that different parts of the U.S. government were telling them different things in regards to paying a ransom. In addition, they said the White House threatened them with prosecution if they paid a ransom.

ISIS earlier this summer also beheaded American journalist Steven Sotloff, and British aid workers Davide Haines and Alan Henning. Kassig was the third American beheaded by the group.

Wormuth's letter comes in reply to an Aug. 20 letter by Hunter to President Obama asking him to appoint one person to oversee hostage release efforts.

"Based on the information I have received, I am very concerned that the U.S. government -- including the FBI -- is not adequately pursuing and exhausting opportunities to protect these individuals and to potentially secure their release," Hunter wrote.

Wormuth said in her letter she was asked to respond on the president's behalf.