Today is missing Houston journalist Austin Tice’s 35th birthday.
Tomorrow will be the fourth anniversary of his kidnapping in Syria.
As the 2011 Arab Spring protests drew violent reprisals from President Bashar al-Assad that spiraled into civil war, Tice reported from Syria for McClatchy Newspapers, the Washington Post, and other outlets. His background as a U.S. Marine Corps infantry officer enabled him to get close to the fighting as a war correspondent, and 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.
Tice disappeared as he was trying to travel to Lebanon.
On Sept. 26, 2012, a video titled “Austin Tice still alive,” showing the journalist blindfolded and praying to Jesus, 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.
Through Reporters Without Borders, which has been leading a campaign to bring awareness to Tice’s plight and bring the American home, Austin’s parents Debra and Marc Tice noted in a statement today that they met with President Obama in the Oval Office on July 19.
“Our president is fully informed about Austin and personally involved in the ongoing efforts to secure his safe return. Mr. Obama assured us of his absolute commitment to see Austin safely home,” the Tices said. “When he spoke of his preparedness to ensure that his successor will be fully briefed of the White House commitment to our son, we reminded him that he is Austin’s president and he must not even consider the possibility of leaving this undone.”
“Please join us in asking President Obama to use every appropriate and possible diplomatic opportunity to achieve Austin’s freedom. Write or call United States officials asking them to remind President Obama that this is an important piece of his legacy – bringing Austin safely home is something which cannot be undone by any subsequent administration,” they added.
“Most importantly, please keep Austin in your thoughts and prayers until he is safely home. We continue to fervently pray, relentlessly work, and steadfastly believe Austin will be returned to his life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.”
In a June plea, Diane and John Foley (the parents of James Foley), Ed and Paula Kassig (the parents of Abdul-Rahman Peter Kassig), Carl, Marsha and Eric Mueller (the parents and brother of Kayla Mueller), and Shirley and Arthur Sotloff (the parents of Steven Sotloff) penned an op-ed for McClatchy noting that Obama “made a commitment to improve our government’s dismal record on the return of American hostages” after Foley, Kassig, Mueller and Sotloff were killed by ISIS.
“We are four families bonded together by tragedy and terror. We will never fully recover from the horrific outcome of our own hostage crises. But there is something that still can be done: Bring Austin Tice safely home,” they wrote.
The Sotloff family reminded Obama: “You told us in person that if it were your daughters, you would do anything in your power to bring them home. We implore you: Bring Austin Tice home.”
On May 3, State Department press secretary John Kirby was asked at the daily press briefing if the U.S. government believed Tice is still alive and whether the Assad regime is holding him.
“The truth is I think there’s still more information that we need,” Kirby replied. “Austin is never far from our minds and I can tell you that we continue to very energetically try to get more information about his whereabouts and to stay in touch with his family as much as we can about that. But there’s still a lot we don’t know. I can just tell you that it’s very much – very much and very close on our minds here.”
“We’re still trying to get better information about his whereabouts and his condition. I think I have to leave it at that.”
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.
After the ISIS beheadings of Foley, Sotloff and Kassig, the Tice family said they had information that led them to believe he was not being held by ISIS.