US President Joe Biden reaffirmed his commitment to returning journalist Austin Tice home and implored the Syrian government to come to an agreement to secure his release 10 years after his abduction.
“We know with certainty that he has been held by the Syrian regime,” 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.”
The Tice family “deserves answers”, Biden said, reiterating that the return of US citizens “held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad” is his administration’s highest priority.
Last month Biden signed an executive order that allows the US government to sanction those involved in the detentions and for US officials to share information with the families about the status of the cases of their loved ones.
The 10-year anniversary of Tice’s captivity comes as US efforts to recover citizens imprisoned overseas are in the spotlight. US basketball star Brittney Griner and former US Marine Paul Whelan are both being held in Russia, and the Biden administration has stated that they are being “wrongfully detained”. The US has made a “serious offer” to Russia for a prisoner swap for their release, senior officials have said.
Tice travelled to Syria to cover the country’s ongoing conflict, and worked as a freelance photojournalist for Agence France-Presse, McClatchy news, The Washington Post, CBS and other news organisations before he was abducted in the capital city of Damascus in August 2012. Aside from a “proof of life video a few weeks later”, there has been no official information on whether he is alive or dead, his family has said.
Biden met with Tice’s parents Marc and Debra Tice in May, when he reiterated his commitment to bringing their son home.
In a statement released Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that every day without their son adds to the family’s “unfathomable ordeal” and that the administration would do “everything possible to see to it that Austin comes home”.
Such assurances have been offered before. Former US President Donald Trump and his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo likewise promised to bring Tice home, saying there was “no higher priority … than the recovery and return of Americans missing abroad”.
Trump wrote a letter to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in March 2020 asking Syria “to work with us to find and return Austin”, but the effort was not successful.
According to the press freedom group Reporters Without Borders, 512 media workers are currently imprisoned around the world, and 34 have been killed since the beginning of the year.