The White House on Monday defended its policy of not paying ransom for terrorists, after the father of a hostage who died in the custody of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) decried the policy.

Press secretary Josh Earnest said the families of hostages like Kayla Mueller are in a “difficult position,” but said the United States has a policy that is “clearly in the best interests of the American people and our national security.”


“The president is confident that his administration did do everything that was possible, within the confines of that policy, using our military might, using our intelligence capability, using our diplomatic influence, to try and ensure the safe release of Kayla Mueller.”

In an interview airing this week, Kayla Mueller’s father Carl criticized the ransoms policy, which officials say is needed to prevent terrorist groups from kidnapping Americans in pursuit of a payout.

“We understand the policy about not paying ransom, but on the other hand, any parents out there would understand that you would want anything and everything done to bring your child home,” Carl Mueller said. “And we tried, and we asked. But they put policy in front of American citizens’ lives. And it didn’t get it changed.”

Kayla Mueller’s brother said ISIS raised its ransom demands when the administration had decided to swap five prisoners for captive U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl.

When asked whether the president regretted his decision to approve the swap because it might have made it harder to recuse Mueller and other hostages, Earnest demurred.

He said whether the Bergdahl swap made it harder to rescue Mueller would be contingent on whether the individuals negotiating on behalf of ISIS “have any credibility at all.”