10 Years After Disappearing in Syria, Freedom Is Elusive for U.S. Journalist

BEIRUT — Ten years after the American journalist Austin Tice disappeared in Syria because the nation descended right into a brutal civil conflict, and was believed to have been held captive by the federal government of President Bashar al-Assad since, his launch nonetheless stays elusive.

Whereas one among his employers says that efforts to safe his freedom are choosing up steam, his household stays unconvinced that the Biden administration is doing sufficient to push the Syrian authorities, partly because of the diplomatic issues stemming from the shortage of formal relations between america and Syria.

McClatchy, the U.S. newspaper firm for which the journalist had been freelancing, amongst others, stated this week {that a} multinational effort to free Mr. Tice is displaying indicators of revival and that there had been direct contacts between the U.S. and Syrian governments.

A spokeswoman for McClatchy stated Monday that the progress was the fruits of intense exercise by the Biden administration and the journalism business main as much as the tenth anniversary of Mr. Tice’s disappearance. However the firm’s chief government, Tony Hunter, has additionally stated recently that there had not been a lot motion on the difficulty since Might.

“For McClatchy, this anniversary was a possibility to shine a light-weight on Austin’s decade-long plight,” stated the spokeswoman, Susan Firey. “And, in tandem, to shine a light-weight on the decade-long inaction of three administrations.”

Final week Debra and Marc Tice, the mother and father of Mr. Tice, who disappeared in August 2012 outdoors Damascus, wrote an opinion piece in The Washington Put up wherein they famous the household weddings, graduations and different household get-togethers their son had missed in 10 years of captivity, and urged President Biden to step up diplomatic efforts to free him.

The Tice household didn’t reply to requests for an interview.

The US has “engaged extensively” to get Mr. Tice again to america, together with by straight contacting Syrian officers and dealing via third events, in response to a senior administration official who spoke on situation of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case. Nonetheless, the official stated the Syrian authorities has not but agreed to debate Mr. Tice’s case.

Final week, President Biden stated in a press release that his administration has repeatedly requested Syria’s authorities to work with them to convey Mr. Tice dwelling.

“On the tenth anniversary of his abduction, I’m calling on Syria to finish this and assist us convey him dwelling,” President Biden stated within the assertion, including that america was sure that the journalist was being held by the Syrian authorities.

President Biden has stated his administration has no greater precedence than the discharge of American hostages and people wrongly detained overseas.

If he’s nonetheless alive, as america believes he’s, Mr. Tice, a former Marine Corps infantry officer who was deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, can be one of many longest-held American hostages overseas, a captivity that has prolonged throughout three U.S. administrations. He would have turned 41 on Aug. 11.

Mr. Tice, who was freelancing for The Washington Put up in addition to McClatchy and different retailers when he was kidnapped, had been in Syria for months, embedding with and writing about opposition rebels as an anti-government rebellion spiraled into civil conflict. Syria has lengthy maintained that it isn’t holding Mr. Tice and has no details about him.

Efforts to safe his launch have been difficult by the truth that america suspended diplomatic relations with Syria on account of the Assad regime’s brutal crackdown on dissent.

What we think about earlier than utilizing nameless sources.
How do the sources know the data? What’s their motivation for telling us? Have they proved dependable prior to now? Can we corroborate the data? Even with these questions glad, The Occasions makes use of nameless sources as a final resort. The reporter and at the least one editor know the identification of the supply.

Mr. Tice’s mother and father met on Might 2 with President Biden on the White Home, the place he directed his senior nationwide safety workers to interact straight with the Syrian authorities, in response to the article they wrote in The Washington Put up.

Weeks after that assembly, Lebanon’s safety chief, Abbas Ibrahim, got here to Washington and met with officers from the Biden administration and the C.I.A., in response to Nizar Zakka, president of Hostage Assist Worldwide. His group has been serving to Mr. Ibrahim and america for the previous two years to seek out leads relating to Mr. Tice, he stated.

The target of the assembly was to discover a strategy to make advances with the Syrians, who’ve at all times been evasive when requested about Mr. Tice, Mr. Zakka stated.

Mr. Ibrahim has been credited with negotiating the discharge of a number of Westerners from the Center East, together with an American and Canadian from Syria, in addition to Mr. Zakka, a Lebanese nationwide held for 4 years in Iran and accused of spying for america.

Following his assembly in Washington, Mr. Ibrahim went to Damascus and met with Syrian officers, however the assembly went nowhere, Mr. Zakka stated.

The Tice household remains to be demanding direct contact between the Biden administration and the Syrian authorities, dismissing purported State Division considerations about high-level recognition of President Assad.

In 2014 Debra Tice spent practically three months in Damascus “knocking on doorways, making cellphone calls, doing every little thing attainable to be taught of Austin’s whereabouts.” Finally she acquired a message from a senior Syrian authorities official: “I can’t meet with the mom. Ship a United States authorities official of acceptable title.”

The U.S. authorities has pursued quite a few efforts over time to safe the discharge of Mr. Tice, a lot of it underneath President Trump, who made liberating American prisoners and hostages held all over the world a precedence.

In 2017, within the first yr of Mr. Trump’s administration, the White Home arrange a again channel to speak with the Syrian authorities. In February of that yr, Mike Pompeo, then the C.I.A. director, spoke on the cellphone with Ali Mamlouk, the pinnacle of Syria’s Nationwide Safety Bureau intelligence service, who’s underneath U.S. sanctions.

The administration then despatched an middleman to fulfill with Mr. Mamlouk and ship an unsigned letter from the U.S. authorities. These communications fell aside after the Syrian authorities carried out a chemical fuel assault in rebel-held northern Syria and america responded with a missile strike on a Syrian airfield.

In August 2018, a high C.I.A. company official with experience within the Center East met with Mr. Mamlouk in Damascus and raised Mr. Tice’s case.

Two years later, high-level U.S. officers, together with Roger D. Carstens, the State Division’s particular envoy for hostage affairs, met with Mr. Mamlouk once more in Damascus to attempt to safe the discharge of each Mr. Tice and one other American citizen, Majd Kamalmaz, a Syrian-born psychotherapist who was taken at a checkpoint in 2017.

The Syrian authorities has additionally not acknowledged holding Mr. Kamalmaz.

Months after the assembly, a U.S. official stated that efforts to safe the discharge of each males have been of their early levels.

The reliance on such again channels and intermediaries owing to the shortage of U.S. diplomatic relations with Syria has made these efforts extremely difficult. The US closed its embassy in Damascus in 2012, and in 2014 closed the Syrian embassy in Washington and suspended diplomatic relations between the 2 international locations.

The US has additionally imposed sanctions on Syrian navy and political officers for human rights abuses, in addition to on Syrian companies and banks.

Within the op-ed they wrote, Mr. Tice’s mother and father known as the obstacles cited by U.S. administrations “excuses.” They welcomed Mr. Biden’s phrases of encouragement however stated their son wanted greater than that after 10 years of captivity.

“He wants our authorities to show the president’s phrases into motion,” they wrote. “He wants to return dwelling.”

Zolan Kanno-Youngs contributed reporting.

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