Veteran Marine captain and freelance journalist Austin Tice was captured in 2012 while reporting in Syria.

Veteran Marine captain and freelance journalist Austin Tice was captured in 2012 while reporting in Syria.

Before his final year at Georgetown law, 31-year-old veteran Marine captain Austin Tice decided to go to Syria as a freelance journalist. He wanted to show the world what the ongoing conflict meant for people who called Syria home. Days before he was set to return, he was kidnapped. That was just more than four years ago. Today, he’s the only American journalist in captivity. His family is one of dozens who successfully pushed for reform of how America handles hostages and communicates with their families. Still, some parts of policy – not paying ransom or offering concessions – have remained unchanged for decades. A year and a half later: Debra Tice and hostage policy experts discuss whether the policy is working and what could change under a new president.


  • Debra Tice Mother of Austin Tice, a veteran Marine captain and freelance journalist who was captured in 2012 in Syria. She and her husband, Marc, helped push for reforms of U.S. hostage policy, which were announced in June 2015.
  • Yochi Dreazen Foreign editor, Vox; author, "The Invisible Front"
  • Brian Michael Jenkins Terrorism expert; senior adviser, the RAND Corporation; former consultant for hostage negotiations. He is the author of "The Long Shadow of 9/11: America's Response to Terrorism."

Video: The Taliban hostages you’ve never heard of


  • 11:06:54

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Since the 1970s, the U.S. has taken a hard line on its hostage policy. It will neither pay ransom nor offer concessions to terrorists, but several high profile captures since 2010 lead to an overhaul of the way the government deals with hostage families. Officials say since the changes a year and a half ago, more than 70 hostages have been freed. What's not clear, what will happen under the leadership of a new president or whether the overhaul will help the U.S. get better at bringing long held hostages like journalist Austin Tice home.

  • 11:07:39

    MS. DIANE REHMJoining us in the studio, Debra Tice whose son Austin was captured in Syria in 2012, Yochi Dreazen, foreign editor at Vox. And by phone from California, Brian Michael Jenkins, a senior RAND Corporation advisor and former hostage negotiation consultant. And throughout the hour, as always, you are part of the program. Do give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send an email to Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And thank you all for being with us.

  • 11:08:21

    MR. YOCHI DREAZENThanks, Diane.

  • 11:08:22

    MS. DEBRA TICEThank you, Diane.

  • 11:08:23


  • 11:08:24

    REHMDebra, I'd like to start with you. Tell us about your son, Austin. Who was he and what was he doing?

  • 11:08:34

    TICEAustin is the oldest of our seven children and he relishes the roles of eldest brother, alpha male, and he is a Marine Corp captain, veteran of the Marine Corps and currently one of the longest enrolled students at Georgetown Law School. He began law school in 2004. And in the summer between his second year of school and his last year, he made the decision to go to Syria.

  • 11:09:11


  • 11:09:12

    TICEAustin felt that with his personality and his training in both Boy Scouts and the personal safety training that you get that he had the capability to go into Syria and to get photographs and to tell the world what was going on because at that time, many of the stories coming from Syria always had the caveat that we can't verify this information. And that was not acceptable to him. And so he went to Syria and in the very short time that he reported there -- and keep in mind, he was doing this during the summer between second and third year of law school.

  • 11:10:06

    TICEAnd with every intention of finishing law school. He became an award-winning journalist. He received the President's Award from McClatchy News. He received the Polk Award. He was honored by the National Press Club and is currently most well-known for being an award-winning journalist.

  • 11:10:34

    REHMSo did he have any fears about going, number one, was at all intimidated once he got there, number two? How did he live and move once he got there?

  • 11:10:58

    TICEI don't know how to speak to the fear issue. Austin, actually, all of our children were homeschooled. They were all encouraged to believe that they had a path and to follow their path according to be called on it without regard for the personal cost, whatever that means. And as a mom, of course, I never could've imagined this path, but I still feel it was important that he pursue that.

  • 11:11:41

    REHMHe was just a few days from returning when he was captured?

  • 11:11:49

    TICECorrect. Right. He had been in Syria for three months and he was ready to leave. He needed to leave.

  • 11:12:01

    REHMHad anyone bothered him or intimidated him while he was there?

  • 11:12:07

    TICENot that I know of. I think that he was -- that he moved pretty carefully and, you know, with whatever amount of freedom he could muster for himself.

  • 11:12:24

    REHMHow did you find out that he'd been kidnapped?

  • 11:12:29

    TICEWell, when we first didn't hear from Austin, we weren't sure what had happened because he had told us that there would be times when he couldn’t communicate with us because he was travelling. So it was about a week from not hearing from him until we understood that he had actually been taken captive.

  • 11:12:55

    REHMSo you hadn't heard from him at all during that period.

  • 11:12:59

    TICERight, right, which was unusual, because we usually had some kind of indication of contact every day.

  • 11:13:07

    REHMHow did you learn that he had been taken?

  • 11:13:11

    TICEWell, actually, I learned later because I was out in the boundary waters of Minnesota with no phone, no lights, no motor cars and so it was -- Mark noticed that Austin hadn't communicated. He...

  • 11:13:29

    REHMMark being...

  • 11:13:30

    TICEMy husband.

  • 11:13:31


  • 11:13:31

    TICEAustin's father. And so he notified Austin's editor at McClatchy and said, have you heard from him? And then it was actually the State Department called Mark and told him that The Washington Post had reported that one of their freelancers was missing.

  • 11:13:55

    REHMYochi Dreazen, how unusual or ordinary is that story in regard to the taking of journalists, the taking of prisoners in Syria, in Lebanon, anywhere else?

  • 11:14:12

    DREAZENSo journalists, I think, often find themselves the easiest to kidnap in some ways, unfortunately, because journalists are often the ones willing to go the furthest forward and to go closest to the danger. Aid workers similarly brave and also occasionally grabbed, but journalists, I think, disproportionately are the ones who are taken because you have people -- and I should say -- just underline the extraordinary bravery of Austin Tice and journalists like him who are willing to go to Syria when others are not.

  • 11:14:38

    DREAZENBut because of that willingness to go, because they're willing to go to Damascus, to go to Aleppo, to go to ISIS-held territory in Iraq, the dangers they face are extraordinary. And it's an open question, frankly, within journalism about the risk that freelancers take upon themselves. If you're a place like Vox, like The Washington Post, if you are commissioning someone willing to go, should you be willing to do so? And it's a very hard question because on the one hand, you have the extraordinarily brave journalist who want to go, in part, because they feel like they have a moral obligation to tell the story that the world might, otherwise, not know.

  • 11:15:12

    DREAZENOn the other hand, you have media outlets that want to be able to publish that story. But on the other hand, if someone goes missing, there's the question of can the newspaper -- should the newspaper have done more to protect them while they were there?

  • 11:15:24

    REHMAnd Brian Michael Jenkins, as a terrorism expert and a former consultant in hostage negotiations, what is the role of the U.S. government when a citizen, a journalist like Austin Tice is taken?

  • 11:15:46

    JENKINSWell, the U.S. government's official position is that it can try to assist American citizens abroad in dealing with any kind of difficulties and that is routinely done, whether they are in difficulties with the local government or whether they are victims of circumstances surrounding conflict zones, things of this sort. Having said that, of course, it is often difficult for the U.S. government to try to exercise its authority. These are areas where, in many cases, as in Syria, there are ongoing armed conflicts.

  • 11:16:31

    JENKINSThe U.S. itself may be a participant in those conflicts and there's only a very limited degree of protection that the United States can give these individuals. If they are taken captive, then, again, the United States can try to use its diplomatic influence to assist, but beyond that, again, its capabilities are quite limited.

  • 11:17:03

    REHMHow successful have diplomatic efforts been in retrieving individuals who've been taken?

  • 11:17:14

    JENKINSIn some cases, they are successful, but that requires -- they are more successful where the United States can deal with a sovereign government, that is a governmental entity. In dealing with nongovernment organizations, organizations in many cases have been labeled terrorist groups by the United States, of course, there's a far less success.

  • 11:17:41

    REHMBrian Michael Jenkins, he is with the RAND Corporation and author of "The Long Shadow of 9/11: America's Response To Terrorism." Short break here, and we'll be talking further about this issue of hostage-taking and especially about Austin Tice.

  • 11:20:02

    REHMAnd in this hour, we're talking about the taking of hostages by foreign governments. Unfortunately, Austin Tice, a journalist, has been held -- we are not quite sure where or by whom -- for a long period of time. He was a journalist -- a photo journalist taking a year off from law school, from Georgetown University, when he decided to go to Syria to show the world through photographs what life was life -- what life was like for the people there. Debra Tice is the mother of Austin Tice. She is here with me in the studio along with Yochi Dreazen, foreign editor of Vox and author of "The Invisible Front." Joining us from California is Brian Michael Jenkins, a terrorism expert and former consultant in hostage negotiations.

  • 11:21:21

    REHMDebra Tice, do we have any idea at this point of exactly who took Austin?

  • 11:21:32

    TICEThat is a question we're frequently asked. And for Austin's security, it's best that I not give a complete answer. But I can assure you that there is every reason to continue to advocate for Austin's safe return. And we expect him to return to us safely. And we want that to happen, of course, as soon as possible.

  • 11:21:59

    REHMDo we have any idea of where he's being held?

  • 11:22:05

    TICEHe's absolutely being held in Syria. And so, you know, this is a critically important time in both the U.S. and Syria. And so it is essential for those who are holding Austin to work with us now on a solution.

  • 11:22:27

    REHMHas the U.S. government been in touch with you in their efforts to work to try to retrieve Austin?

  • 11:22:37

    TICEI can tell you that the first couple of years were an exquisitely horrid nightmare as far as communications. The tragic outcome of four American hostages caused the government to realize that something absolutely had to change. Those families and certainly Mark and I and families of hostages going back decades worked together to change the way the American government worked with hostage families. And I am truly happy to be able to tell you that there has been an amazing change in the last year.

  • 11:23:30

    REHMWhat kind of change?

  • 11:23:32

    TICESo much more communication. So much more willingness to trust. Previously the family was seen as something to be contained and controlled. And now we work as a partner. We have a very open, sharing and frequent, and our ability to work together, to brainstorm about what some possible options might be, the government is much more willing to recognize its limits and realize that the private sector brings something to the table and that there can actually be collaboration there. It does not have to be, you know, this fiefdom idea of non-sharing. And so we are really encouraged by the change.

  • 11:24:39

    REHMBrian, do you see the U.S. policy on how to retrieve hostages changing?

  • 11:24:49

    JENKINSThe fundamental policy itself has not changed. That is that it remains the official position of the United States government that it will not pay ransom or make other concessions to terrorists holding hostages.

  • 11:25:07

    REHMThat's the official position.

  • 11:25:08

    JENKINSHowever, there has been a fundamental change in how these situations are being dealt with. And Mrs. Tice, I think correctly, points out that following some tragic outcomes of events in the Middle East regarding hostages, as well as some inappropriate remarks made by some U.S. officials at the time, had created a crisis. And that crisis led to an overall review of how the U.S. government will deal with hostage situations.

  • 11:25:47

    JENKINSOne of the outcomes of that review is, I think, a greater coordination within government of efforts to bring American hostages back. That was a problem before. I think a second consequence is higher level attention to these episodes. And third, a greater willingness to deal with, to communicate with the families of hostages. And if there's an unwritten part of the policy directive that resulted from that review, I think it is probably an encouragement to those involved in government in these episodes to think creatively, somewhat more agilely than had been the case previously.

  • 11:26:45

    REHMAnd to you, Yochi Dreazen, if, as Debra says, her son is being held in Syria, who would have been the likely parties to have abducted him?

  • 11:27:01

    DREAZENYou know, it's always difficult to speculate. But from the early conversations that reporters like me had when he and other journalists were taken, his case was seen as somewhat different than those, let's say, of James Foley or Steven Sotloff.

  • 11:27:14


  • 11:27:14

    DREAZENThe presumption was that he was taken either directly by the Assad government or by groups loyal to or affiliated with the Assad government. Which meant that there was a good chance he was being held in some capacity by the Assad government. And the positive thing -- as was relayed to us by members of the government, members of the military, others in the government who looked at this -- was dealing with a government, even one as kind of reprehensible and deplorable as that of Bashar al-Assad, was fundamentally different than dealing with a terror group of any kind, but especially the Islamic State.

  • 11:27:45

    DREAZENI mean, you know, it's worth pointing out that the way the Islamic State treats hostages and sees hostages is very fundamentally different not just from the way a government sees them but even from the way that other, what we would consider other terror groups also see them. And if you were captured, let's say, by the Taliban, there's a very good chance you'd come back because they would see you as somebody worthy of trading for money, for prisoners being held by the U.S.

  • 11:28:07

    DREAZENIf you're captured by the Islamic State, the odds of being returned are very slim. Because, to them, the value they see -- not to be grim about this but just to be blunt about it -- is a propaganda video. That the execution of that hostage brings them more value than money might or that the release of other prisoners might. And that is just a fundamental difference between the Islamic State and the Taliban. And in the case of Austin Tice, if it is correct that he is being held by some part of the Assad government, that is an -- a, thankfully, even more of a reason to believe that there is a strong chance of bringing him back safely and alive.

  • 11:28:40

    REHMBut would that imply that there is some backchannel negotiation between the U.S. and the Assad government?

  • 11:28:50

    DREAZENIf not directly, then through intermediaries that are trusted. I mean, frankly, it could be through the Russians. It could be other governments that -- European governments, other governments that are in some contact with both. You know, in the case of the war right now against ISIS, there is a de facto alliance between the United States and Bashar al-Assad that we don't like to talk about, that we don't like to acknowledge. But fundamentally, we bomb ISIS from the air and Bashar al-Assad, to varying degrees, tries to fight them on the ground.

  • 11:29:14

    DREAZENHe also, unfortunately, fights rebels we consider to be our allies. And of course he slaughters civilians by the many tens of thousands. But when it comes to ISIS, there already is a de facto alliance. And it would not be surprising, given the continued U.S. attempts for peace talks, for ceasefires, that there was communication in at least an indirect way in which this kind of case could be discussed.

  • 11:29:34

    REHMBrian, can you talk about how such a discussion might in fact take place?

  • 11:29:43

    JENKINSWell, let me first make it very, very clear that I am not involved in the Tice case. And therefore any comments I make are more of a general nature, having been on the other side and, in terms of involved in negotiations, it is my personal policy not to comment on ongoing hostage situations. That can only complicate things. In general, clearly, the United States will look for channels of communication. As was indicated, there are possible channels of communication. It will attempt to use these to elicit information about the hostage involved, to get confirmation of where that hostage is being held, what -- and confirm that they are there.

  • 11:30:41

    JENKINSAnd then it will attempt, through various diplomatic channels, direct communications and through other parties, to try to exert some type of diplomatic leverage or influence to bring about some negotiation that could lead to that hostage's release.

  • 11:31:01

    REHMNow, suppose, in fact Austin Tice had been taken by a terrorist group rather than, as has been speculated, the Assad government itself. How would the U.S. negotiate with a terrorist group, if possible, Brian?

  • 11:31:28

    JENKINSAgain, the United States will use all of its diplomatic and intelligence sources to obtain information about the individual. So the first thing is, any communications that can provide any type of -- any kind of information about the individual. Then, depending on the specific group, through diplomatic channels, the United States may try to reach countries who may have greater influence than the United States will in dealing with a particular group.

  • 11:32:11

    JENKINSThe policy -- the no ransom, the no concessions policy never expressly prohibited negotiations or communications. And that's an important thing. So that if there were an opportunity, hypothetically, in any case, to communicate with those holding an American hostage, that would not be rejected out of hand.

  • 11:32:44


  • 11:32:44

    JENKINSThere could be communications. And we do have to make that important distinction between concessions and communications.

  • 11:32:54

    REHMI see. Have you, Debra, had any communications with your son since he was taken?

  • 11:33:05

    TICEUnfortunately, no, we have had no communication with Austin or from Austin. Those holding Austin have not made, aside from early on there was a proof-of-life video in October of 2012. And any attempt to follow up on that was met with a wall of silence.

  • 11:33:31

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." How has that affected you and your family?

  • 11:33:44

    TICEWell, I've learned to really dislike silence. And it's had a profound effect on Austin's six brothers and sisters, because then suddenly they find themselves with a very needy mom. I just need you to check in with me. Yes, I know, you live five minutes away. So just -- our lives -- all of our lives have, to a certain degree, been suspended. We're waiting to do this until Austin comes home. There are many things that we're waiting to celebrate and to share with Austin. And four years, two months and 18 days is a long time to put things on hold.

  • 11:34:33

    REHMAnd, Yochi Dreazen, considering that length of time, how likely is it that negotiations -- which may have taken this long -- will prove successful in bringing him back home?

  • 11:34:53

    DREAZENYou know, I think that it's hard to gauge likelihood. I think it is easier to gauge, one, the human cost. And sitting next to Debra, to me, as a new parent, it's almost unimaginable the strength to get through that. But I think you can gauge that there are talks that are ongoing because there have been talks on other issues having to do with Syria. It is worth pointing out, just to a point that had been made a moment ago about communications as compared to concessions, there are many, including me, who would argue that the policy is fictitious and a fig leaf.

  • 11:35:23

    DREAZENBecause in the case of Bowe Bergdahl, there were -- the missing American soldier traded back for Guantanamo Bay detainees -- there's no question that was a concession. There's no question there was communication and negotiation to bring him back. He was being held by the Haqqani group, which we and many others consider to be a terrorist organization. They wanted Guantanamo Bay prisoners. We released them in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl. Many people in the government will way, well, it wasn't a ransom because we didn't pay money. To my mind, that's a nonsensical distinction. They kidnapped somebody hoping to get something. They got that thing. To my mind, that's the definition of a concession to, a ransom to a terror group.

  • 11:35:59

    DREAZENAnd so the policy may have shifted in terms of how much the government communicates to families. But this idea that we never concede to a terror group is nonsensical.

  • 11:36:07


  • 11:36:09

    JENKINSWell, there's no question that over the years there are cases where the United States, in contravention of its own declared policy, has made concessions. These have sometimes led to crises in government. For example, when the Reagan administration had made concessions to the government of Iran in order to facilitate the release of American hostages held in Lebanon. But there is a distinction that the U.S. government makes between a case involving a soldier who was taken captive overseas and a private citizen. We can argue whether that's appropriate or not, but a distinction is made.

  • 11:37:02

    JENKINSAnd when we go back and we look at how policy came about, there is a longstanding tradition in the United States that people being sent into combat may become prisoners and we will do whatever is necessary in conflict situations to bring them back.

  • 11:37:26

    REHMBrian Michael Jenkins, a former consultant in hostage negotiations. Short break. Your calls, comments, when we come back.

  • 11:40:02

    REHMAnd it's time to open the phones. Let's go first to Rachel here in Washington, D.C. Rachel, I gather you're with Hostage U.S.

  • 11:40:16

    RACHELThat's right, yes, I am. We're a nonprofit, which provides support to families going through this terrifying ordeal and to hostages on their return. Thank you for -- for this. I just wanted to thank Debra for her comments and for speaking out. We estimate that there are between 200 and 300 Americans kidnapped overseas each year, who -- most of whose families are suffering in silence. So thank you to Debra for giving herself a voice but also them, as well.

  • 11:40:46

    RACHELI wondered if I could just two questions, really, of Debra. One is to speak a little bit more about the kinds of support that she and her family have needed through this, their last four years. What kind of things are helpful for families to get? And then -- and secondly maybe her reflections on whether she thinks things have changed positively in the last year with some of the changes that the U.S. government has brought in.

  • 11:41:17

    REHMAll right, thank you.

  • 11:41:20

    TICEThank you, Rachel, thank you so much for asking. As to your first question, in four years, we have needed more support than we ever could have imagined possible, and I consider myself to be a globetrotting beggar, just asking for help in all kinds of quarters.

  • 11:41:47

    REHMWhat kind of help?

  • 11:41:48

    TICEWe have needed help -- early on being a career homemaker, I needed to know how to interact with the media, how to approach dignitaries and heads of state and ministers. I had no idea. And because of Austin's amazing -- the circles that he created in his life and his personal charisma, we have had the amazing grace that every time we had a need, there was already someone ready to step forward and help us.

  • 11:42:32

    TICEWe have been supported by Austin's friends, by Georgetown University, by numerous journalist organizations, including Reporters Without Borders, Rory Peck Trust's...

  • 11:42:46

    REHMDebra, if I may interrupt, were you attempting to raise money?

  • 11:42:52

    TICEYou know, unfortunately we have never had any indication of what Austin's captors want for his return.

  • 11:43:06

    REHMSo there's never been a request for ransom? There's been no word that you have understood, either directly from them or through the federal government.

  • 11:43:17


  • 11:43:19

    REHMAnd you have no understanding as to why he was taken.

  • 11:43:25

    TICEExactly, it's been hugely frustrating.

  • 11:43:30

    REHMHer second question had to do with the changes in federal government policy.

  • 11:43:36

    TICEAnd I am just -- you know, the way I described this new policy was that the families were midwifing this new thing into being, and so you don't expect it to be fully developed. You don't expect it to be fully informed, right? But we do have this new thing that has incredible potential, and I will say that as a one-year-old, we are impressed with its development, and we do believe it has had a profoundly positive effect on how the United States government communicates within itself and with us.

  • 11:44:22

    REHMYochi, have you seen that, as well?

  • 11:44:25

    DREAZENI have. I'm working on a long story now about a heartbreaking case involving a woman named Caitlan Coleman, who was kidnapped by the Taliban while she was pregnant, gave birth to a child in Taliban captivity, got pregnant again, gave birth to a second child in Taliban captivity. So she, her two children and her husband are still held by the Taliban, they're known to still be alive. There's a recent hostage video involving her a few months ago, in which she said that basically the Taliban were now threatening the lives of her children.

  • 11:44:54

    DREAZENIt's a case that is heartbreaking that almost no one here knows about, it's very rarely discussed. She's been missing now almost four years, and her children, again, American citizens born in Taliban captivity. Her parents have never seen photos of their grandchildren, they've of course never met their grandchildren. It's completely heartbreaking.

  • 11:45:13

    DREAZENOne thing that I came across in reporting that story, and again this is unpleasant, but again it's true, there was a feeling among many in the military and among many in the government that civilians who went to warzones knowingly and got captured, it was their fault, and because it was their fault, the U.S. government and the U.S. military did not owe them what they owed someone who was deployed there, like Bowe Bergdahl.

  • 11:45:33

    DREAZENThis was expressed to me by multiple people, often profanely, in a sort of, they went, screw them, it's on them to have gone, we don't owe them anything. And there's a policy change, you know, that Debra has spoken to very eloquently, but there's also a cultural issue that needs to change. And if you have people in the military, in the government, who continue to see Americans who knowingly went to Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, whatever the reason, and got kidnapped, and thus see them as not worthy of much effort to bring back, that's a harder thing to change.

  • 11:46:01


  • 11:46:03

    JENKINSWell, I can't speak to the issue of attitudes. Clearly I think there is a -- historically there was a distinction made between those that the United States sent into combat zones versus those who in many cases, despite U.S. warnings that these were dangerous, dangerous areas, chose to go. Whether that distinction is appropriate or not can be a subject of a long debate, but in terms of official U.S. policy, that distinction, historically -- historically has been made.

  • 11:46:52

    JENKINSI'll come back to one point, though, that was made earlier about several hundred Americans being taken, being kidnapped annually. That's a fairly high number, and I suspect that that includes many individuals who are the victims of what are referred to sometimes as express kidnappings, that is where somebody will kidnap a visiting businessman, basically empty their wallet, take them to an ATM, empty their ATM, and then after several hours in captivity they are released.

  • 11:47:32

    JENKINSThe actual number who are kidnapped by criminal gangs and held at length for ransom or by terrorist organizations, fortunately, is much smaller.

  • 11:47:46

    REHMDebra, how do you feel when people make that distinction between someone like your son, Austin, who chose to go there to Syria, and those in the military who may be ordered to go into a danger zone? Might someone say, gosh, why did Austin do that, why did he take that chance?

  • 11:48:22

    TICEWell first of all, Austin took that chance because he has in his heart, if not me, then who. If I'm called, and I believe that I am capable, then how do I say no? Why would I choose the belly of the whale? Why do I not follow my call? And so when -- the job of journalist and the job that Austin took on was to ensure the fundamental human right to information, opinion and expression.

  • 11:49:06

    TICEAnd his captivity is representative of the growing complacency toward silencing of journalists. And that is a problem here, and it is a problem globally.

  • 11:49:26

    REHMNow Yochi, you have traveled abroad extensively, you've been embedded with the military, you've traveled on your own. I mean, to what extent do you totally understand and empathize with what Debra has just said and at the same time think about your own security, your own family, at this point in your life? I mean, it's different, isn't it?

  • 11:50:00

    DREAZENIt is. I have two small children, and I grew up without a father. So to me the deal I'd sort of made with my wife and almost to myself was at the point that I have children, I would not go again because the idea of, if something happened to me, of them growing up without me in the way that I grew up without my own father, was unbearable. In terms of understanding the lure or going, 100 percent. I mean, it's difficult, frankly, to sit in Washington as things are happening in Iraq and Syria and Yemen and not go. Just the draw of it is there.

  • 11:50:31

    DREAZENPart of it, I think to a point Debra made, there's an honesty to that kind of reporting that you don't have in almost any other form of journalism. Most forms of journalism, you ask a question, somebody answers the question, but there's a barrier. If you're in Iraq, if you're in Syria, if you're in Yemen, there's no barrier. You're not talking to someone, and that person is telling you what they think is happening. You're seeing it for yourself.

  • 11:50:51

    REHMAnd taking those photographs.

  • 11:50:52

    REHMAnd taking those photographs and telling those stories and actually being in a place where you could hear it and see it and smell it. And there's no form of journalism where you ask a question that rivals that in terms of power.

  • 11:51:02

    REHMLet's go to Gary in Ann Arbor, Michigan, you're on the air.

  • 11:51:07

    GARYHi, and thanks. You know, I've had some friends who were in the Peace Corps, and they said that there's this -- sort of a dangerous suspicion amongst a lot of locals that the -- some Peace Corps workers are really just government agents or spies or something. And I'm not at all suggesting that that's true of Austin, but what I am wondering is to what extent is that a real perception amongst people overseas, in places like Syria. To what extent is it based in real history, that governments in the past at least have used government aid workers, journalists and people like that as covers for spies, which creates a danger for the real journalists? And to what extent is it still going on, do government agents in the U.S. and other governments use journalists as covers for spies.

  • 11:51:59

    REHMDebra, you're smiling.

  • 11:52:02

    TICEWell, I'm just smiling because at the beginning of this undesired journey, when we met so many journalists, they said one of the lines they felt compelled to put on their business card is not a spy because if you're in a foreign country with a camera, then you're just assumed to be a spy. And I think it's interesting that Gary mentions Peace Corps because our youngest daughter is currently serving in the Peace Corps, and she also mentioned that.

  • 11:52:36

    TICEAnd I just want to say that whether it's historical, and whether you've heard anecdotal evidence of it, the government use of aid workers or journalists to gather information surreptitiously isn't abuse, and it is not common, and aid workers and journalists are very, very careful to hold very strong boundary on those issues.

  • 11:53:07

    REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Was there any connection between Austin and the U.S. government before he left Washington to go to Syria?

  • 11:53:27

    TICEI don't understand the question. What do you mean by connection exactly?

  • 11:53:35

    REHMDid he decide to go on his own, or was there someone who invited him to go to take photographs?

  • 11:53:47

    TICEAustin was determined to go, and he spent his spring semester of 2012 soliciting various news organizations to support him in going. And there were some organizations that strongly discouraged him, and he self-funded because he was called, and he was going. And so realizing that he was going, that is when many news organizations contracted with him as a freelancer, and McClatchy was one of the first. They've been one of our most steadfast reporters.

  • 11:54:30

    TICEYou may know that had front-page articles in the Washington Post. They have also been steadfastly supportive of us, of our efforts to bring Austin home.

  • 11:54:43

    REHMAnd so in this new policy, in a mixture of U.S. government and private-sector efforts, what you're saying is you've had assistance from them, as well.

  • 11:54:59

    TICEWe've been very fortunate in that way, Diane, incredibly blessed, yes.

  • 11:55:02

    REHMAnd how often does that happen, Yochi?

  • 11:55:07

    DREAZENI think there are a couple things, just to briefly disentangle. I mean one of them, to a point Debra made at the outset, when I was living in Iraq and also in Afghanistan, journalists considered whether to carry guns because it was so dangerous. So given the possibility of running into someone on a road who might do you harm, should you carry a weapon, some did, some didn't, I chose not to. For those who didn't, the feeling was if you are captured by someone who is searching through your car, and they find a camera or a tape recorder and a gun, the fear and the suspicion they already have that you're a spy in general, because you're an American there, then they find the camera, so they think all the more, then they find the gun, so now they're totally convinced that you're a spy.

  • 11:55:37

    DREAZENTo my mind the danger far outweighed the gain, but that was an open question in journalism, should you carry a weapon, should you not. You know, to the other point Debra made about contracting with a freelancer, that is an extraordinarily tough question because if you're a news organization, I think in some ways a threshold question is if you won't send a staffer of yours, can you in good conscience send a freelancer, or even if a freelancer goes on their own, can you in good conscience buy a piece, which thus encourages them to stay longer, perhaps to take greater risks because they know that they might be able to sell even a better story to a big organization.

  • 11:56:10

    DREAZENMy personal feeling now, as somebody who has the capacity to buy pieces, is that I will not do that, I will not send a person to a place that I myself would not go to. If I have staff, I will not send a person to a place that my own staff wouldn't go to. But I think it's a danger.

  • 11:56:24

    REHMBut suppose someone like Austin comes to you and says, look, I want to go, I am going to go, and will you support me by buying my pieces.

  • 11:56:39

    DREAZENFor me personally, the answer is no.

  • 11:56:42

    REHMHow do you feel about that, Debra?

  • 11:56:47

    TICEWell, it's a very sticky question.

  • 11:56:49


  • 11:56:50

    TICEAnd Yochi turned on the -- all the things that you have to think about, like how would you dare to buy the work of someone who is doing work that you wouldn't send your own people to do. You're saying it's too dangerous for my people, but you're disposable. So there's that message in that. The other part of it is if we don't have anyone offering information, how do we get information.

  • 11:57:17

    REHMDebra Tice, she is the mother of Austin Tice, former Marine and freelance journalist captured in Syria in 2012. He is still in captivity. And Debra, we will all hope that he comes home soon.

  • 11:57:40

    TICEThank you, Diane.

  • 11:57:40

    REHMYochi Dreazen, foreign editor for Vox, and Brian Michael Jenson, he is a terrorism expert. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

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