Obama Hostage Deaths Review to Include Input From Families

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Josh Earnest, White House press secretary, speaks during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

A White House review of the drone strike that inadvertently killed two hostages includes looking at ways to keep in closer communication with the families of those being held and better coordinating rescue efforts.

Creation of a “fusion cell” of federal agencies to coordinate responses to hostage situations may be an outcome of a review President Barack Obama ordered after the deaths of an American and an Italian being held by al-Qaeda, White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters on Friday.

The inquiry is part of a broader review begun in late 2014 of how the U.S. handles hostage issues, including how government agencies communicate with affected families. Some of the families of hostages held captive by extremists abroad have criticized the U.S. government for failing to fully inform them about the status of the captives and attempts to free them.

“Throughout this process the administration has been committed to incorporating the viewpoint of families that have been unfortunately involved in this process,” Earnest said.

The administration also is reviewing the operation in Pakistan in January that resulted in the deaths to find out “what led to the tragic, unintended consequences,” he said.

The reviews will be concluded soon, although the conclusions may not be made public, Earnest said. Some lawmakers also have called for reviewing strikes by drones.

Obama Remarks

Obama on Friday defended the work of U.S. intelligence agencies and sought to boost morale in remarks at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which is marking its 10th anniversary.

“We’re not cavalier about what we do, and we understand the solemn responsibilities that are given to us,” Obama told the intelligence employees. “Everybody here is committed to doing it the right way.”

Elaine Weinstein, the wife of the American killed in the drone strike on an al-Qaeda compound in Pakistan in January, said in a statement on Thursday that the response from some elements of the U.S. government “was inconsistent and disappointing over the course of three and a half years.”

“We hope that my husband’s death and the others who have faced similar tragedies in recent months will finally prompt the U.S. government to take its responsibilities seriously and establish a coordinated and consistent approach to supporting hostages and their families,” Weinstein said.

Two Hostages

Her husband, Warren Weinstein, was held by al-Qaeda since he was captured in Pakistan in 2011. He and Giovanni Lo Porto, an Italian national who had been held by the group since 2012, were identified as the two hostages who died in the operation.

“I can understand, and I think anyone would understand, how frustrated” Weinstein’s family would be, Earnest said.

He said the U.S. had no indication that the hostages were present in the compound near the border with Afghanistan when the mission was conducted. Obama issued a rare apology on Thursday for the civilian deaths and took responsibility as commander in chief.

The president has set a standard for conducting such counterterrorism that there should be “near certainty” that civilians won’t be harmed.

“Absolute certainty in these situations is just not possible,” Earnest said.