America’s had enough of take-me-hostage tourism

The News TribuneJune 8, 2014 

A photo taken from a Taliban video of American Caitlan Coleman and Canadian husband Joshua Boyle was released by Coleman’s family.


What would it take to persuade people that North Korea, Afghanistan and Iran are not the Best Three Places to Visit in Asia? How many American hostages will it take to persuade the U.S. State Department to clamp down on travel to those countries?

Last week – right after the U.S. government gave up five Taliban terror lords in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl – North Korea indulged its longstanding habit of grabbing U.S. citizens for fun and profit. Tourist Jeffrey Edward Fowle now languishes in a North Korean prison, apparently for the “crime” of leaving a Bible in his hotel room.

Here’s a wild idea: Keep foolhardy American tourists out of places where they stand a good chance of getting abducted and turned into international bargaining chips by hostile powers.

Presidents really can do this. John F. Kennedy banned tourism to Cuba in 1962, and tight restrictions remain in place to this day. Normally, the government shouldn’t be in the business of micromanaging where U.S. citizens travel abroad – but there’s no constitutional right to put the nation’s interests at risk by traipsing into the hands of notorious hostage-takers.

When enemies seize Americans, the U.S. government has an obligation to try to spring them. That’s precisely the problem. The Taliban, North Koreans, Iranians and other pirates know they can buy nice things with captive Americans – high-prestige visits from ex-presidents and basketball players, craven apologies, perhaps even the release of high-ranking Guantanamo holy warriors.

Not all American hostages asked for trouble. Warren Weinstein, now 72, had a serious job working for USAID in Pakistan when al-Qaida grabbed him three years ago.

Warren remains in captivity while Bergdahl – who sauntered off base without permission into Taliban country – is back home. Presidents must attempt to bring soldiers back, but the injustice sticks in the craw.

Some American captives knowingly tempted fate. Kenneth Bae of Lynnwood – now doing 15 years of hard labor in North Korea – appears to have been doing missionary work and criticizing the regime when he was arrested in November 2012. He was a decent man exercising an American constitutional right – which happens to be considered treason in that miserable country.

Caitlan Coleman and her Canadian husband, Joshua Boyle, were doing what amounts to war zone tourism in 2012 when they traveled to a known Taliban stronghold – and got kidnapped by the Taliban. Now they are a presidential dilemma.

Then there’s 24-year-old Matthew Miller, who was arrested by the North Koreans April 10 for “rash behavior.” This consisted of tearing up his visa upon arrival and shouting that he wanted to stay in the country. His wish was granted. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time.

Wittingly or unwittingly, they and others have exposed America to enemy blackmail. Couldn’t we agree that North Korea, at least, is off limits to our innocents abroad?

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