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Lawmakers Launch Task Force To Bring Home Americans Held Hostage Overseas

More than 50 Americans are wrongfully imprisoned abroad

U.S. Marine veteran Trevor Reed / Getty Images
• June 19, 2021 4:59 am

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Representatives whose constituents are being held hostage by dictators and terrorists overseas want to put colleagues on alert about the growing problem of the international abduction of Americans through a new congressional task force.

Reps. French Hill (R., Ark.) and Ted Deutch (D., Fla.) announced the creation of the Congressional Task Force on Americans Held Hostage and Wrongfully Detained Abroad on Thursday. The task force will focus on advocating for the return of the more than 50 Americans detained overseas by bad actors, in addition to coordinating efforts across government with Congress to more effectively work at the issue.

One of Hill's constituents is Majd Kamalmaz, an American citizen and therapist who has been held in Syria since 2017. The GOP congressman told the Washington Free Beacon his task force will help Congress better stand up for the families of Americans trapped abroad. Through briefings, foreign trips, and work with the State Department, Hill hopes the task force will help America speak with "one voice" on a crucial issue: The government will take on the regimes and terrorists holding American citizens hostage.

"There’s some 50 Americans that we know of who are out there held abroad, which means that there are congressmen trying to meet the needs of those loved ones connected to their family members held abroad," Hill said. "Educating members how to help take care of their constituents is a key output of this task force."

The creation of the task force helps address the growing problem of American hostages overseas. American citizens are held by terrorists and rogue regimes worldwide, as far as Venezuela, Burma, and Afghanistan. Such hostages are often held for political gain, with governments and organizations hoping to get concessions from the United States government in exchange for their return.

Congress has expanded its oversight and cooperative role to bring back American hostages in the past year. Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) led a 2020 bill called the Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act, which provides much-needed support for the critical organs in government that work to bring Americans home, such as the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs. The act is named in honor of Robert Levinson, a former CIA operative who intelligence says was detained in Iran in 2007 and subsequently killed. Hill’s counterpart on the task force, Deutch, represents Levinson’s district.

Other members representing the districts of hostages also joined the effort. Rep. August Pfluger (R., Texas), a member of the task force, told the Free Beacon the fight to bring hostages home is "personal" for him due to the imprisonment of one of his constituents, former Marine Trevor Reed, in Russia.

"Advocating for Americans held abroad is personal to me, as my constituent and former U.S. Marine Veteran Trevor Reed is currently imprisoned by the Putin Regime as a political pawn," Pfluger said. "This task force provides certainty to the families of Americans held abroad that we in Congress will not forget their loved ones, and I am proud to be a part of it as we fight to get our men and women home."

The Trump administration enjoyed historic success in bringing home dozens of hostages under the leadership of former national security adviser Robert O’Brien, Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens, and former secretary of state Mike Pompeo. In a June event with the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation—a nonprofit dedicated to advancing hostage affairs issues—O’Brien said he hopes to see a continued "whole-of-government approach" to bring home detained Americans.

"We must have a whole-of-government approach to bringing Americans home," O’Brien said. "Open-mindedness on how to approach each case and creativity is critical to bringing our fellow Americans home."

Hill said the bipartisan nature of the task force will offer a relentless approach to defending the rights of hostages abroad.

"We don’t tolerate state or non-state actors who kidnap and hold Americans abroad," Hill said. "We’re not resting until the situation is corrected."