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US shouldn’t keep families of hostages in the dark

James Foley.AP/file 2011

James Foley, the journalist who was murdered by ISIS last August, left behind a legacy of courage and integrity, and his parents are determined to keep his memory alive through a foundation in his name. Foley always believed his country would come to his aid, but efforts to rescue him were unsuccessful. And because of the government’s no-negotiation policy, there was, tragically, no evident recourse for his family.

One of the goals of the James Foley Legacy Foundation is to improve the experience for other families caught in the middle of a similar tragedy. As more hostages are murdered, Foley’s parents, along with the American loved ones of other victims of terror, are pushing the government to handle hostage situations with more sensitivity and transparency. The White House knows there’s room for improvement — it’s in the middle of reviewing its hostage policy, which many see as too inflexible, confusing, and uncommunicative.

Diane Foley, James Foley’s mother, made plain the additional pain families suffer at the hands of government intelligence and law enforcement officials. Last month, in a room full of journalists, she spoke before the New England First Amendment Coalition as she and her husband, John, accepted the 2015 Freedom of Information award on behalf of their late son. “We truly, if I’m honest, struggled as families of American hostages because we were not allowed to know anything,” she said. “As far as the right to know, we were kept totally in the dark throughout his whole captivity, and it was a very daunting experience.”

One goal of the foundation is to have a point person — an accountable US official — for families, rather than an array of different people at various agencies. And some families say they are not only deprived of information, they are isolated from other families in similar situations.


The Foleys say they learned a lesson about keeping quiet, which they did at the advice of the FBI. Now, they say, they wouldn’t stay silent. “People who are trying to retrieve the captive are allowed to take their time,” John Foley said. “The captors are allowed to do whatever they wish.”

Perhaps the media could do more, too, to keep awareness alive about hostage situations. As the White House seems to be learning from victims’ families, silence is not an effective strategy.



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