The families of four American hostages who were killed while in Islamic State custody issued a joint letter Wednesday imploring the Obama administration to “use all appropriate means” to find and return missing U.S. journalist Austin Tice.
Tice is the last unaccounted-for American reporter in the Syrian civil war; he was abducted by unknown gunmen in August 2012 and has been incommunicado ever since. Tice’s parents have asked the White House to step up search efforts, with their calls sounding increasingly urgent as the clock runs out on the Obama administration’s final term.
State Department spokesman John Kirby said U.S. officials are working through the Czech government, the U.S. protecting power because the U.S. embassy in Damascus is shuttered, to find information on Tice’s “welfare and whereabouts.” Kirby said officials are in regular contact with families of U.S. detainees overseas, but that privacy considerations prevented him from saying more about Tice.
“We are deeply concerned about the well-being of Austin Tice,” Kirby said. “His case has the attention of the highest levels in the U.S. government and the administration.”
The letter the Tices released Wednesday bore the names of the slain hostages’ parents – a raw reminder of search efforts that didn’t find captives in time. They represented journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and humanitarian aid workers Abdul-Rahman Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller.
The Islamic State beheaded Foley, Sotloff and Kassig in gruesome propaganda videos. Mueller, who reportedly was enslaved and assaulted for months by Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, died in a coalition strike, apparently an inadvertent casualty of the U.S.-led campaign targeting the Islamic State’s so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria.
We are four families bonded together by tragedy and terror. . . . But there is something that still can be done: Bring Austin Tice safely home.
Open letter to President Obama
The Tices got to know the other families when they united to lobby for changes in hostage policy – they were at the White House together a year ago this week when President Barack Obama announced a revamped process based on the families’ recommendations.
“We are four families bonded together by tragedy and terror. We will never fully recover from the horrific outcome of our own hostage crisis,” the families of the slain captives wrote in the joint letter. “But there is something that still can be done: Bring Austin Tice safely home.”
Neither the Tices nor the other families named specific steps the Obama administration could take to find Tice and win his release. They alluded to diplomatic efforts and urged officials not “to hesitate in leveraging all appropriate means.” The parents also chided Obama for failing to mention Tice – the only U.S. journalist in captivity in the world – during his high-profile speech at the annual White House Correspondents Association dinner April 30.
Austin Tice is the only American journalist being held captive in the world.
“We are not asking the White House to put anyone in harm’s way, nor compromise national security,” the families wrote. “We are asking the president, fully within the responsibilities and obligations of his office, to put aside any personal or election year concern, to engage boldly and to use all appropriate means to bring Austin Tice safely home as soon as possible.”
The families gave wrenching testimonials about having a loved one held hostage in Syria.
Mueller’s parents and brother, Carl, Marsha and Eric, wrote that they are “haunted every day” and urged the government not to repeat what they deemed as missed opportunities and “the deadly silence that cost all the hostages their lives.”
Foley’s parents, Diane and John, told Obama that they’re counting on him to keep the promises he made “after the horrific execution of our son.” Kassig’s parents, Ed and Paula, said they’re “devastated by the loss of our son, but the pain will be slightly lessened” if his death spurred the government to act urgently to bring Tice home.
Shirley and Arthur Sotloff were even more direct.
“We, the family of the late journalist Steven Sotloff, remind President Obama of the following: You told us in person that if it were your daughters, you would do anything in your power to bring them home,” they wrote. “We implore you: Bring Austin Tice home.”
Tice, now 34, a U.S. Marine-turned-journalist who reported for outlets including McClatchy and The Washington Post, vanished in Syria in mid-August 2012. Apart from a video clip showing him in the custody of unknown gunmen shortly after his disappearance, there’s been no confirmed sighting of Tice since.
Unlike the other American captives, Tice is widely believed to have been seized by loyalists of the Syrian regime – not by the Islamic State. Damascus denies any knowledge of his whereabouts. This August will mark his fourth year in apparent detention.
The parents of the hostages closed their letter of support by recognizing the Tice family’s anguish. They, too, know how “it requires mountain-moving faith to maintain hope as the crisis continues.”
“With unwavering hope, Austin’s parents do not give up,” the families wrote. “The United States government must not give up.”