This week marks two years since American journalist and Marine Corps veteran Austin Tice went missing in Syria.
Tice’s 33rd birthday was Monday. A video showing Tice in the captivity of unknown abductors was posted online in September 2012, and the family has had no word since.
Last week, White House press secretary Josh Earnest was asked about the impending anniversary, and whether Tice’s case is “on the radar” of the administration.
“These kinds of situations are on the radar of the American foreign policy and national security apparatus here in the Obama administration. It’s something that the president on a regular basis is updated on,” Earnest responded.
“And, you know, we continue to spend a great deal of time and effort and resources to safely recover or ensure the return of those American citizens who are being held hostage around the globe,” he continued. “That is something that is — is the — that is something on which the president’s advisers spend a lot of time. And it continues to be a high priority, as you’d expect.”
Tice was one of the few foreign journalists to report from Damascus after arriving in the war-torn country in May. He’d fallen in love with this part of the world on his tours as a Marine Corps infantry officer from 2005 to December 2011. Leaving the Corps with the rank of captain, Tice soon would put his studies at Georgetown Law School on hold to become a freelance journalist.
His battlefield experience lent immense credibility to the pieces he filed for McClatchy Newspapers, the Washington Post, and other outlets, and as a correspondent he quickly earned the respect of the Free Syrian Army fighters.
“Spent the day at an FSA pool party with music by @taylorswift13. …Hands down, best birthday ever,” reads Austin’s last tweet, on Aug. 11, 2012.
Two days later, he disappeared after departing for the Lebanon border.
On Sept. 26, a video titled “Austin Tice still alive” was posted on a pro-Assad website, and raised alarms about the Syrian government’s potential role in his capture. Foreign policy experts and Syrian natives alike agreed that everything from the poor production quality to the costumes and chants seemed staged to look like jihadi yokels, calling out “God is great” while leading a blindfolded Tice up a hill. Tice stammers an Arabic prayer followed by, “Oh Jesus, oh Jesus.” The video ends abruptly.
There were no demands accompanying the video, also a suspect sign, and the Syrian regime has denied any involvement in Austin’s capture.
“I think the Assad regime thinks Austin is a high-value asset that can be traded for some concessions,” one Syrian opposition source told PJM in December 2012. “…The fact they staged the video is a signal that they want to use him but without the PR burden of being associated with his kidnapping. To go through this means they value Austin.”
The Tice family maintains a website with a plea in English and Arabic for his return: “Austin Bennett Tice is a home schooled, Eagle Scout, National Merit Finalist, graduate of Georgetown University, former Captain in the United States Marine Corps and recipient of the 2012 George Polk Award for War Reporting. He is the eldest of seven children, and was born and raised in Texas.”
Before the Senate left for the summer recess, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) spoke on the floor of the upper chamber about Tice, propping the journalist’s photo on an easel next to the podium.
“Austin was a strong believe in freedom of the press and letting his fellow countrymen know what was happening in the Syrian civil war,” Cornyn said. “…I once again call on the Obama administration to do whatever they can with the resources the federal government has to locate and safely return Austin Tice to his family.”
“And I say once again to Austin’s family, we’ve haven’t given up. We will never give up until we find your son and bring him safely home.”