As expected, President Obama said today that the US government had let down the families of Americans held hostage by terrorists, and he outlined new policies that could make it easier for those families to pay ransom to free their loved ones. "These families have already suffered enough and they should never feel ignored or victimized by their own government," Obama said as he detailed the results of a six-month review of US hostage policy. "We must do better," he added, per CNN. The review's conclusions aim to streamline communications with families, who have criticized the government for providing them with confusing and contradictory information. Some have complained about threats of criminal prosecution if they seek to pay ransom—threats Obama said would end.
"The last thing we should ever do is add to a family's pain with threats like that," Obama said. The president's pledge essentially clears the way for families to take actions the US government has long said put Americans abroad at greater risk. While no formal changes were being made to a law prohibiting material support for terrorists, the Justice Department indicated it would not hold families accountable if they pursue ransom payments. Obama did express his concerns that paying ransoms makes Americans greater targets for kidnapping and increases funding for terrorists. He also said the US government would continue to abide by the "no concessions" policy, but made clear that government officials can have contact with hostage-takers. (Read more President Obama stories.)