An American who disappeared 2012 has been freed from Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s prison, raising hopes that another American seized two months earlier might also be alive.
Kevin Dawes traveled to Syria via Turkey in September 2012 in what GQ described in an extensive January profile as an adventure-seeking mission by a paranoid young man on a downward spiral who at times passed himself off as medical help or a journalist.
Le Figaro reported in March 2015 that the U.S. was negotiating with the Syrian regime over an American prisoner.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters today that “a U.S. citizen was released by Syrian authorities, but obviously privacy considerations, as always, prevent us from commenting further about the identity of this individual.”
“We do applaud the work of our Czech protecting power in Syria, which helped us both gaining access to this individual, but also in getting his release,” Toner said.
“I can say that this individual was released in the last few days, just to give you a sense of the timeframe. He is no longer in Syria. And beyond that, I don’t have too much else.”
Toner said the U.S. was also “appreciative of efforts on the part of the Russian Government that it undertook on behalf of this U.S. citizen in Syria.”
Russia is a strong ally of Assad.
Toner said he couldn’t provide the “precise number” of U.S. citizens missing in Syria, then added that one of those missing is journalist Austin Tice.
“We continue to work on the welfare of, whereabouts of him in particular, but we also obviously take seriously our responsibility to get access to and protect other U.S. citizens who may be detained there,” he said.
Tice’s battlefield experience in the U.S. Marine Corps 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. They even brought me whiskey. Hands down, best birthday ever,” reads Austin’s last tweet, on Aug. 11, 2012. The Houston resident disappeared as he was trying to travel to Lebanon.
On Sept. 26, 2012, 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. The Assad regime has denied any involvement.
In December 2012, a Syrian general who defected from Assad’s forces and was leading FSA rebels told PJM “there is no way any opposition party would keep or capture any American journalist.”
“We would have known immediately. I know this with no ifs, ands, or buts.”
The general said Austin’s route from Darayya to the Lebanon border left him vulnerable to fall into the hands of Assad loyalists with close ties to Hezbollah. Austin could possibly be in a Hezbollah stronghold in Lebanon, he added, completely hidden from anyone who would betray his location.
“They’re going to keep him as a card for the future,” he continued. “No way they will think about executing him. He is going to be safe until the time comes and he is played as a card.” The general stressed who would know what happened to Tice: Assad allies Iran and Russia.
The years have come and gone with no word on Tice’s fate.
His mother, Debra, tweeted on March 28, “1323 Days Relentlessly Asking~Seeking~Knocking Praying for Peace and
#FreeAustinTice In God’s mercy, Who will be our Hero?”
Asked if Russia was helping bring Tice home, Toner vaguely said today “we welcome Russia’s support wherever we can get it in terms of ascertaining – or getting the release or the – of any Americans who are held and detained in Syria.”
“We continue to work through the Czechs on the ground to get information on the welfare and whereabouts of Austin Tice. It’s something we raise all the time,” the State Department spokesman continued. “We can’t provide any individual – any additional details at this time. We are obviously in direct contact with his family as well as the families of any U.S. citizens detained there.”
The National Press Club said Dawes’ release renews hope that soon Tice may be freed.
“Tice is now the only American journalist known to be in captivity, and he has been missing for far too long,” said National Press Club President Thomas Burr. “We hope Jim O’Brien, the first Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, can succeed in bringing Tice home to his family at the earliest possible date.”