"The U.S. government does not get in the way of private citizens making arrangements," Zarate told guest moderator John Dickerson.
The American government, he noted, "does not offer concessions to hostage takers or kidnappers." But "if the shipping company were to want to pay ransom, the U.S. government may not be in a position to actually stop that."
Zarate, a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the growth of a "pirating-culture" has led to the current situation.
"The real problem is on land," he told Dickerson. "And the problem is the lawlessness in Somalia, and, frankly, these networks growing in power and influence."
"Certain types of options have existed – Bagram, the Bagram facility in Afghanistan has been one – but you're still going to run into the same types of legal questions and problems and restrictions there as you have in Guantanamo," he said.
Zarate added that the Obama administration may simply look to standard courts for detainees like Osama bin Laden, though there are problems with that as well.
Watch the entire "Washington Unplugged" episode below. It also includes interviews with commentator Mo Rocca, who takes on the topic of White House pets, and Hotline editor Amy Walters, who talks about President Obama's domestic policy and potential resistance from Congress.