American journalist Austin Bennett Tice went to Syria as a freelancer to cover the ongoing conflict, he made his way to south of Damascus in August 2012 to file his final pieces, according to Tice’s family. The 31-year old journalist planned to leave to Lebanon August 14; however he never made it, instead, five weeks later, a 43-second video which was released without any message, showed that Tice was still alive.
Tice however is not the only still-missing American hostage, for instance Caitlan Coleman and her Canadian husband, Joshua Boyle, vanished in Afghanistan three years ago, in addition to retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, who went missing in Iran more than nine years ago.
Consequently, U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday said the United States is still committed to bring back home all Americans hostages who are still held captive overseas and assured that the government is still devoted to help their families.
Obama’s statement on Friday, marks a year after the administration promised to overhaul its handling of hostage situations.
“We will not stop until we can bring our fellow citizens back to their families – that includes Austin Tice, a journalist who went to Syria determined to shed light on some of the world’s most vulnerable people, and Caitlan Coleman, who was abducted with her husband in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. And we are committed to determining the whereabouts of Robert Levinson, a retired FBI agent who went missing in Iran over nine years ago”, said the American president in a statement on the anniversary of the White House’s policy review.
Earlier this week, the families of four Americans killed by ISIS urged Obama to do whatever it takes and whatever that can be done to bring home Tice, the only U.S. journalist known to be held in war-torn Syria.
The parents of the slain hostages criticized Obama for not personally naming Tice in his remarks at this year’s White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner when Obama said that he would “fight for the release of American hostages held against their will.” Noting that they believe Tice’s release and return would prove the success if the administration’s new policy.
The White House undertook a six-month review of its hostage policies after complaints from families that their initiatives to free relatives captured abroad had been discouraged and sometimes blocked by government officials.
As part of the overhaul, Obama named James O’Brien special presidential envoy for hostage affairs at the State Department to help coordinate the efforts of law enforcement and diplomats.
“But I know our work will not be done until our fellow Americans who are held against their will, and whose families mark their calendars by the days since they’ve held their loved ones, are reunited,” Obama said.