It is obviously cause for great joy that two American hikers seized by Iran along the Iraqi border two years ago have now been freed and returned to their families. It was feared that they would have to spend at least eight years as prisoners in Iran, which had accused them of being spies - though no evidence for the espionage charges was ever presented.
But the manner of the men's release is troubling.
Iran freed them in exchange for what it cynically called "bail" - amounting to $1 million. Traditionally, of course, bail is money that a suspect puts up to ensure that he will show up in court on the date of his trial.
But the freed U.S. hikers - Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal - are not going to be returning to Iran for a trial. So the $1 million being paid to Iran for their freedom isn't "bail" at all. It's ransom - much as one might pay to kidnappers for the release of hostages.
The United States negotiated the release through Switzerland and the Gulf state of Oman, because our country does not have formal diplomatic ties with Iran.
Plainly, no one would wish for any innocent American to be held prisoner - or hostage - by Iran. But paying ransom to Iran will only encourage other terrorist states to take Americans captive and then demand payment in exchange for their release.
That is a path our nation should not tread.