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Editorial: Ransom money finances terror

This undated file from video released on April

This undated file from video released on April 7, 2011 by GlobalPost shows James Foley of Rochester, N.H., a freelance contributor for GlobalPost, in Benghazi, Libya. Credit: AP / GlobalPost

Faced with a horrible choice -- pay ransom to terrorist kidnappers or allow American captives to be butchered -- the United States does not pay. That's a gut-wrenching decision, especially after the ruthless beheading of journalist James Foley.

But refusing to deal with terrorists is the right thing to do.

Some of our European allies have made the opposite call. France and Spain among others reportedly have paid tens of millions of dollars to terrorists over the years to save the lives of their captive countrymen and win their freedom.

The Islamic State group responsible for Foley's murder is holding at least one other American. So pressure on President Barack Obama to reverse the nation's long-standing policy may grow. Holding to a position that means journalist Steven Sotloff is all but certain to die has to make for an excruciating conversation with his loved ones. But staying the course is the better of two painful options.

Paying terrorists such as the Islamic State group for hostages would be tantamount to hanging an ATM sign around the neck of every American citizen.

The group demanded $130 million for Foley. Handing its members that kind of money would make kidnapping Americans a lucrative growth industry for organizations that grab citizens of other western nations to finance terrorist operations. It would put U.S. taxpayers in the ludicrous position of financing the worldwide recruiting efforts of groups whose unrelenting goal is to kill Americans. And it would make it even more difficult for journalists to report from the front lines of this conflict.

Giving in to ransom demands would make the United States a patsy ripe for the taking. It would result in more American deaths, not fewer.