This is the policy of officials who are simply wound too tight. It's not even true, it justifies high-risk daredevil raids, and leaves hostages like James Foley dead. At least 50 foreign hostages were released in the past five years in exchange for ransom. Just recently ISIS handed over eleven ransomed hostages to Turkey. It turns out that ISIS offered to release Foley for money, but was secretly rejected by the US.
Only this year the Obama administration negotiated and implemented a prisoner swap of Taliban leaders for Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl, held in captivity for five years. In the Vietnam era, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger agreed to provide $7 billion in reconstruction funds in a deal for returning POWs, then reneged on the promise when the POWs came home.
Why the absolutist policy? The claim that it's bowing to blackmail makes little sense. The US military budget, not to mention private charitable funds, can surely afford a few millions of dollars to save the lives of a small number of Americans captured abroad. It's true that precedents will be set, but we've lost hundreds of millions of dollars in systemic graft by our client states and private contractors. (See the annual US investigative reports for Iraq and Afghanistan.)
The hardline policy only worsens the chance that hostages will be spared. It signals the enemy force to prepare for a night attack, thus diluting the element of surprise.
It says we will spend money on going to war for American interests, but treat American hostages as collateral damage.
The Americans and the British lead the world in this counter-productive policy. Is this a vestige of imperial arrogance? It is time for reconsideration and public hearings. It's better to have no policy than an absolutist one.