The brutal murder of journalist James Foley in Syria by Islamic extremists has triggered an understandable debate over whether or not the United States should pay ransom for the release of Americans captured and held by terrorists.

Mr. Foley disappeared in November of 2012 and the Islamic State began demanding a ransom of $132 million several months ago, along with various political concessions from Washington. They got neither, and when Mr. Foley was beheaded his captors blamed the U.S. air strikes that have clearly impacted the religious fanatics in Iraq. Payment of the ransom demand may or may have gotten Mr. Foley out alive but it would have made his barbaric captors wealthier.

Many countries on the European continent, most notably France, Italy and Spain, have long paid ransoms to terrorists holding their citizens abroad, and according to the New York Times, those nations have paid at least $125 million to al-Qaida since 2008. That puts those countries in the business of funding terrorism, resulting in its spread and the deaths of untold numbers of others of all nationalities. By doing so, those nations are all providing terrorists with a powerful incentive to kidnap more of their citizens.

Mr. Foley and other brave journalists, like Steven Sotloff, a free-lancer for Time, the Christian Science Monitor and other news organizations who is also being held in Syria, knew the risks when they went into danger zones to report.


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They surely knew that the payment of ransoms made it more likely that they would be kidnapped. The loss of Mr. Foley is painful, and his parents in New Hampshire suffered greatly and will continue to mourn, but paying ransom to kidnapping terrorists is wrong and counterproductive on too many levels to justify. The U.S. has never done so and it never should.