Elaine Weinstein spent almost four years and hundreds of thousands of dollars negotiating for the release of her husband, Warren, who had been kidnapped in Pakistan. It was a nightmare she and dozens of American families have had to deal with since 9/11; few have told their stories. On Sunday's 60 Minutes, Weinstein offers videos, tapes of phone calls from Warren and the chat messages of his kidnappers -- some never before public -- to provide a rare look inside the stressful and illegal process of negotiating and paying ransom for a kidnapped relative, though the government has often looked the other way. Her interview, conducted by Lesley Stahl, will be broadcast Sunday, Feb. 21 at 7 p.m. ET/PT.
Weinstein, 68 at the time, didn't know her husband was alive for seven months until his kidnappers called early one morning in April 2012. She begged them to put him on the phone. "The first thing he says to me was, not 'Get me the hell out of here!' but 'I'm sorry I did this to you.'...That I will never forget."
Thus began her long ordeal to free him. She dealt with hundreds of chat messages and phone calls, many in the middle of the night. 60 Minutes will publish and air some of those for the first time.
She sent them $243,000 and pleaded with them not to harm Warren. On one night alone, she received 18 phone calls from the kidnappers between 1:00 and 6:00 AM. "On my mind all the time was, 'You keep it together. Your husband's life is in your hands,'" she tells Stahl.
Weinstein had advice from the FBI, helping her despite the fact that it is illegal to pay money to terrorists who have kidnapped Americans. She also hired a private firm specializing in hostage negotiations. But his fate was still in her hands, they could not intervene nor make decisions in the process without her sign off. She was forced to make terribly difficult decisions. "Can you imagine? My word is the last word? I have to decide....I never held life and death in my hands."
Warren was not released after the money was paid and was handed over to another group in North Waziristan, which was looking to swap Warren for prisoners held in Pakistani jails. At this point she went to the State Department, where she pleaded with Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Advisor Lisa Monaco.
"'Do something. You're the strongest country in the entire world, do something,'" she says she asked. "And they did nothing." It's U.S. policy not to pay ransom for the release of hostages, a policy that's led to criticism from hostage families who say they feel abandoned by their government.