Kidnapping and Hostage
Survival Guidelines

The chances of your being kidnapped or taken hostage are small. If it does happen, your chances of survival are high. Kidnapping is a terrifying experience, but you probably possess more personal resources than you think to cope with the situation. Remember, you are of value to those who are holding you only if you are alive, and they want to keep you that way. Your best defense is passive cooperation. The more time passes, the better your chances of being released alive.

Kidnapping can happen anywhere -- you can be taken off the street, from a car, or from your hotel room or residence. The best opportunity for escape is in the beginning, during the confusion of the apprehension while you are still in a public place. If escape is impossible or too risky, you should nevertheless try to cause as much commotion as safely possible to draw attention to the situation. You need to make others aware that an abduction has taken place so that the authorities are notified and the search can begin. Otherwise, it could be hours or days before your absence is reported. Also see Defensive Driving Overseas.

Once you have been forced into a vehicle, you may be blindfolded, beaten (to cause unconsciousness), drugged, or forced to lie face down on the floor of the vehicle. In some instances, hostages have been forced into trunks or specially built compartments for transporting contraband. If drugs are administered, do not resist. Their purpose will be to sedate you and make you more manageable. It is probably better to be drugged than to be beaten unconscious. If you are conscious, follow your captors’ instructions.

While being confined and transported, do not struggle. Calm yourself mentally and concentrate on surviving. Attempt to visualize the route being taken, make a mental note of turns, street noise, smells, etc. Try to keep track of the amount of time spent between points. You will be asked questions about this after your release in an effort to determine where you were held.

Once you have arrived at your destination, you may be placed in a temporary holding area before being moved again to a more permanent detention site. If you are interrogated:

  • Retain a sense of pride but act cooperative.
  • Divulge only information that cannot be used against you. Make every effort to avoid embarrassing the U.S. and the host government.
  • Do not antagonize your interrogator with obstinate behavior.
  • Concentrate on surviving. If you are to be used as a bargaining tool or to obtain ransom, you will be kept alive.

After reaching what you may presume to be your permanent detention site (you may be moved several more times), quickly settle into the situation.

  • Be observant. Notice the details of the room, the sounds of activity in the building and determine the layout of the building by studying what is visible to you. Listen for sounds through walls, windows or out in the streets, and try to distinguish between smells. Note the number, names, physical description, accents, habits , and rank structure of your captors. Try to memorize this information so that you can report it after your release.
  • Know your captors. Memorize their schedule, look for patterns of behavior to be used to your advantage, and identify weaknesses or vulnerabilities. Use this information to assess opportunities to escape.
  • Expect to be accused of being an intelligence agent and to be interrogated intensively. Do not admit to any accusations. Keep your answers short and don't volunteer information or make unnecessary overtures.
  • Try to establish a rapport with your captors. Family is a universal subject. So are sports and many hobbies. Your goal should be to get the hostage takers to view you as a real person, rather than simply an object. Listen actively to the terrorists' feelings and concerns, but never praise, participate in, or debate their "cause." If you know your captors' language, use it. Ask them to teach you their language.
  • Speak normally. Don't complain. Avoid being belligerent and comply with all orders and instructions. Once a level of rapport or communication is achieved, try asking for items that will increase your personal comfort. Don't be afraid to ask for anything you need or want such as medicines, books, or papers. Make requests in a reasonable, low-key manner.
  • Plan on a lengthy stay and devise a way to keep track of the passage of time. If isolated, you can approximate time by noting changes in temperature between night and day, the frequency and intensity of outside noises (traffic, birds), and by observing the alertness of guards.
  • Establish a daily schedule of mental as well as physical exercise. If your movement is extremely limited, use isometric and flexing exercises to keep your muscles toned. To maintain your strength, eat what you are given even if it does not look appetizing and you don't feel hungry. Use relaxation techniques to reduce stress.
  • If you detect the presence of other hostages in the same building, try to devise ways to communicate.

During interrogation, do not be uncooperative, antagonistic, or hostile towards your captors. Captives who display this type of behavior are often held longer or become the object of torture or punishment. Take a simple, tenable position and stick to it. Be polite and keep your temper. Give short answers. Talk freely about nonessential matters, but be guarded when conversations turn to matters of substance. Don't be lulled by a friendly approach. Remember, one terrorist may play "Good Guy" and one "Bad Guy." This is the most common interrogation technique.

Watch for signs of "Stockholm Syndrome" which occurs when the captive, due to the close proximity and the constant pressures involved, begins to relate to, and empathize with, the captors. In some cases, this relationship has resulted in the hostage becoming sympathetic to the point that he/she actively participates in the activities of the group. Establish a friendly rapport with your captors, but maintain your personal dignity and do not compromise your integrity.

If forced to present terrorist demands to authorities, either in writing or on tape, state clearly that the demands are from your captors. Avoid making a plea on your own behalf.

Be patient, as hostage negotiations are often difficult and time consuming. Remember, your chances of survival increase with time. Most episodes of kidnapping or hostage-taking end with no loss of life or physical injury to the captive.  Eventually you will probably be released or rescued. Do not try to escape unless you are certain of success. If you are able to escape, go first to a U.S. Embassy or Consulate to seek protection. If you cannot reach either, go to a host government or friendly government office.

If an attempt is made to rescue you, keep a low profile and immediately follow all instructions. Rescue will generally be attempted only after negotiations have failed. That means that lives of hostages, terrorists, and rescue forces are all at risk during the rescue. You don't want to be shot in the confusion while the rescue team identifies the terrorists, who may try to disguise themselves as hostages. To protect yourself, follow these rules:

  • DO NOT RUN. Drop to the floor and remain still. If that is not possible, cross your arms on your chest, bow your head, and stand still. Make no sudden moves that a tense rescuer may interpret as hostile.
  • Wait for instructions and obey all instructions you are given.
  • Don't be upset if a rescuer isn't sure whether you are a terrorist or hostage. Even if you are handcuffed and searched, do not resist. Just wait for the confusion to clear.

Related Topic: Defensive Driving Overseas, DoD Code of Conduct.

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