Austin Tice’s family is still waiting for answers 10 years after his disappearance
Ten years after American journalist Austin Tice disappeared in Syria, his family is still waiting for action from the U.S. government.
Tice, a freelance journalist for several news organizations including CBS News, The Washington Post and McClatchy, was kidnapped near Damascus on Aug. 14, 2012, while he was reporting on the Syrian civil war, making him one of the longest held American hostages.
A short video released weeks later on YouTube and the Facebook page of supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad showed a distressed Tice blindfolded with his apparent captors. It was the last time he was seen.
Though no one has ever claimed responsibility for his disappearance, Tice’s mother, Debra, has never doubted her son is still alive.
“I’ve never wavered. I’m not wavering now,” she told CBS News in an interview earlier this week. “There’s no reason not to believe that he’s waiting and hoping and dreaming and planning to walk free.”
As she’s done repeatedly for the last decade, she again called on the U.S. government to do more to bring her son — a Marine veteran whom she described as having “a great laugh” and a “big personality” — home.
“The United States government has worked very hard to convince me that they’re working on it,” she said. “My response is: Don’t tell me. Show me.”
Tice’s parents, Debra and Marc, met with President Biden at the White House in May after long pleading for a presidential meeting. Debra Tice said in that meeting Mr. Biden tasked his national security adviser Jake Sullivan and the National Security Council to meet with the Syrian government to “figure out what they want.”
“The president of the United States said get a meeting, listen, find out what they want, work with them. He laid it out,” Debra Tice told CBS News in an interview this week.
Two Trump administration officials traveled to Syria two years ago to try and negotiate Tice’s release, but the officials failed to secure his freedom, and the Syrian government has never publicly acknowledged holding him captive or knowing his whereabouts. At the time, Syrian officials told CBS News that the Syrian government said no discussion could take place about hostages as long as U.S. troops were in their country.
“I mean, you go in and buy a car, do you ever pay the sticker price?” Debra Tice said, explaining that she doesn’t understand why the U.S. hasn’t negotiated. “It’s so frustrating to me. It was frustrating to me when they left after the first meeting and never went back.” Debra Tice also said, “I know that the United States government has not reached out directly to the Syrian government to request a meeting.”
But the Biden administration says this is not the case. A senior administration official told CBS News the U.S. “has engaged extensively to try to get Austin home, including directly with Syrian officials and through third parties.”
“Unlike in other situations where Americans are detained abroad, for many months, the Syrian government has not agreed to senior-level meetings to discuss Austin’s case, nor has it ever acknowledged holding him,” the official said. “We will continue to pursue every avenue for securing Austin’s release.”
The official didn’t say whether the U.S. has tried to engage with the Syrian government about Tice since his parents met with Mr. Biden, but the president publicly called on Syria to come to the table in a statement Wednesday.
“We know with certainty that he has been held by the Syrian regime,” Mr. Biden said in a statement Wednesday. “We have repeatedly asked the government of Syria to work with us so that we can bring Austin home. On the tenth anniversary of his abduction, I am calling on Syria to end this and help us bring him home.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken also said in a statement Wednesday that Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens “will continue to engage with the Syrian government.”
The FBI renewed its call for information on Tice’s whereabouts and has offered a $1 million reward.
Debra Tice says she tries not to think about what life has been like for her son.
“The most important thing for us as a family is to hold on to the fact that we will never know him imprisoned. We will always know him as a free man,” she said. “I don’t think it’s productive to try to imagine something I cannot imagine.”
She’s had a lot of time to reflect on the barriers of U.S. bureaucracy that have left her family feeling helpless, as well as the regret that she didn’t immediately go to Damascus when Austin disappeared.
“I’ve had 10 years to think about missteps,” she said, “and it’s really painful.”