| An EP-3 Aries II aircraft, like the one detained
in China along with its 24 American crewmembers(Official Photo)
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'H' Word May Soon Surface
When Does A Detainee Become A Hostage?
WASHINGTON (April 10) -- What is a hostage?
That semantic question is taking on geopolitical
significance as the White House tries to persuade China to let 24
American crewmembers of a Navy spy plane come home.
Bush administration officials deny the term applies. At least not
They aren't hostages, Vice President Cheney said Sunday on ABC's This
Week, ''because we have access to them, because they are being treated
very well, because we expect they will be released shortly.'' He said
the crewmembers weren't captured but instead were detained after their
plane made an emergency landing after its collision with a Chinese
Even so, Beijing's refusal to let the Americans leave until the administration
apologizes for the collision and the loss of a Chinese pilot seems
to fit the United Nations' definition of hostage-taking. The U.N.
defines a hostage-taker as ''any person who seizes or detains or threatens
to kill, to injure, or continue to detain another person in order
to compel a third party to do or abstain from doing any act as an
explicit or implicit condition for their release.''
The Bush administration is determined to avoid the word for as long
as possible. Referring to the American ''hostages'' could escalate
the crisis and inflame passions in both nations.
From its start in 1979, a drumbeat on how many days Iranian revolutionaries
had held Americans hostage in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran created a
political nightmare for President Carter. State Department officials
had initially argued that the Americans weren't hostages, although
by the third day, news reports routinely referred to them that way.
The crisis lasted 444 days.
How long before these Americans are called hostages?
''We've got 24 young American 'detainees,' I'll call them this morning,''
Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., said on CBS' Face the Nation . ''If you
ask me the question . . . in two or three days, I'm going to call
them 'hostages.' ''