It’s an organization that you don’t hear about until you need them, but Hostage US has an extremely important mission. We sat down with the Executive Director, Liz Frank to talk about what they do and how it works. Hostage US offers support to Americans wrongfully detained or held hostage, and their families. The organization was created back in 2016, after then President Obama ordered a review on the U.S.’s hostage policy. It found a gap in support for families, so the organization was created.
What that support entails, may surprise you. It encompasses the obvious logistical piece of freeing the detained, but the organization also works behind the scenes to keep things fluid back home for their families and then to help hostages rebuild their lives when they return.
Let’s start with freeing hostages. Frank says they work hand in hand with families and experts in all field who free their time to try to free loved ones. This includes meeting upon meeting with hired attorneys in the foreign countries, U.S. government officials and contact with captors. The organization and families rely on pro bono services, as all of the flights to D.C., international calls and consulting fees get costly. “Often times when somebody is taken, there will be a change in income for the family. Unfortunately, most organizations won’t continue salary even if person was taken on work. Many companies can’t or just won’t continue a salary.” That’s despite the notion of duty of care.
Frank gave an example of a man freed only to come back to three years of fines from the IRS for failure to file his taxes. She said it took years and talking to the NSA to get the thousands of dollars abated but even then, it still was never completely resolved. Another scenario most don’t think about is a spouse who doesn’t have power of attorney can’t sell a home. So, if the hostage is not home for years but income has dwindled, it takes a lot for the spouse to be able to do anything legally.
Throughout all of this, Frank’s team also offers emotional support for families. It is paramount, especially when the weight of important decisions land in their laps. Often times, a rescue mission is dangerous not only to the military operatives doing the rescuing, but also for the hostage. That’s why families are sometimes given the choice of whether or not to attempt a rescue, realizing there could be collateral damage. We hear about a fraction of these hostage cases because of security concerns. Frank says a lot cannot be released to the press for fear the hostage would be killed or a rescue mission could be compromised.
Should the hostage come back home safely, the work then starts to help the person transition back into normalcy. That includes mental health awareness. Frank says the trauma and secondary trauma impacts everyone. “Massively impactful for person, community, family, just really earth shattering. It’s different than other crimes, it goes on for weeks, months, years. There’s a period of rebuilding everything that you have lost during that time. It’s not just the family, hostage themself. It’s co-workers, employees placed into similar countries or postings.”
Hostage US has an extremely small staff. They rely heavily on volunteers to help families. “Because we are not operational, having groups like The North Group be that operational option, that referral process can be nice to fill in where we stop.” If you’d like to offer services or have questions for Hostage US, reach out and we will put you in touch. Also, be sure to check back here on our website for more podcasts like this one.