Five years after her son was first taken by ISIS in Syria, Diane Foley, the mother of slain freelance journalist James Foley, says she is holding out hope that justice will be served.
James Foley was kidnapped in northwestern Syria on November 22, 2012. Twenty-one months later he was beheaded by the so-called Islamic State. A video of the gruesome murder was spread across the world.
James was the oldest of John and Diane Foley’s five children. Diane says he grew up an avid reader and was curious about the world, especially other countries.
“He was a very good listener but he also was the kind of guy who was a lot of fun but cared about the underdog.” Diane Foley said.
Raised in New Hampshire, James Foley worked as a public school teacher with Teach for America before he began his career as a freelance war reporter in 2008. He worked in Iraq and Afghanistan before traveling to Libya to photograph and video the uprising against Moammar Gadhafi.
2012 was not the first time Foley was kidnapped. He was taken hostage in 2011 by loyalist forces and was held for 44 days before being released.
Diane Foley says budget cuts and dangers associated with covering war have caused an influx of independent journalists like her son. Freelance journalists often don’t have a large news organization to provide security services or crisis support.
After being released from captivity, James Foley decided to go back to Libya for a short time, before traveling to cover the Syrian civil war.
His mother says she didn't want him to go. However, she says her oldest son had become very passionate about what he was doing. He had become connected to a larger piece of the world.
“As an independent journalist it's very easy to get close to the people, because Jim and his colleagues would often stay with people in country,” Diane Foley said. “They really got to know the people very well. They became friends, really.”
On November 22, 2012, James Foley and another photographer were stopped by a group of armed men while traveling through the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib. Both journalists were taken hostage by the Islamic State.
Diane Foley says the United States’ policy of “no negotiations, no concessions” meant the task of getting her son back fell to her family. “Obviously we were totally inadequate,” she said.
After online correspondence with ISIS fell through, Diane Foley continued to lobby United States government officials as well as the officials of other countries who had better success in getting hostages returned.
Shesays they hit a wall. “We felt that the return of our American citizens was not a true national priority,” Diane Foley said.
On August 19, 2014, the Islamic State released a four-minute video showing James Foley’s beheading. The video showed Foley in an orange jumpsuit kneeling atop a sandy hill. A man dressed in black stands behind him as Foley reads a message, presumably written by his captors. The message condemned the United States and its military actions in the Middle East.
“I wish I had more time,” James Foley said. “I wish I could have the hope for freedom to see my family once again.”
In the wake of her son’s murder, Diane Foley helped form the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation. The organization’s mission is to “advocate for the safe return of all Americans detained abroad, to protect independent conflict journalists and to educate regarding these threats to our freedom.”
Diane Foley says she still wants the people who took her son five years ago to be held accountable.
Justice would be the finding and arrest, trial of these individuals,” she said. “Jim's captors not only terrorized Jim and three other Americans, but hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians brutally terrorized by them.”
Diane Foley says too many Americans are targeted and killed with impunity.
“This makes it easy for anyone who disagrees with what a journalist is doing to target them because if there's no one held responsible for those crimes, it continues unabated,” she said
According to NPR, the U.S. government is “reasonably certain” that the man who beheaded James Foley was killed in a drone strike in Syria in 2015.
Storme Jones: Before reporting on the Syrian Civil War, James joined other freelance journalists covering the Libyan uprising against Moammar Gadhafi. He was abducted by loyalists forces and held for 44 days. James spoke to Milwaukee Public Radio after his release. He said despite being captured, he still loved the work.
James Foley: “I definitely learned that awful things can happen if you don’t take precautions and that risk taking for the sake of risk taking is foolish. You're playing with your life and lives of others. But I am still excited to go into conflict zones and try to cover them."
Diane Foley: Jim was the oldest of our five children, an avid reader, he was very interested and curious about the world. Particularly interested in other countries and nationalities.
Jones: That’s James’ mother, Diane Foley.
Foley: He was a very good listener but he also was the kind of guy who was a lot of fun, but cared about the underdog. He was always concerned about the person that was put down a little or didn't have the same advantage as he did.
Jones: James was taken in Libya while he was working, but he decided he needed to go to Syria. Why was that?
Foley: Well, both his time in Libya and Syria was there because he was interested in covering the Arab Spring. At that time, because of the danger in that part of the world, there were fewer and fewer staff reporters there. So, there were huge influxes of independent journalists, like Jim. So he was very interested in finding out what was going on. It was history in the making, if you will. He was captured not that long after entering the country, but thankfully in that time the actual kidnapping was witnessed. So, we knew who had actually captured Jim. It made it easier, though still miraculous that he came home. But he did come home from that captivity.
Jones: The HBO film "Jim: The James Foley Story" really shows your family coming together and instantly starting this campaign for his release. What was it like when he said “I need to go to Syria?”
Foley: Obviously we didn't want him to, but Jim had become very passionate about what he was doing. He loved it. As an independent journalist it's very easy to get close to the people because Jim and his colleagues would often stay with people in country. So they really got to know the people very well. They became friends, really.
Jones: At one point in time Jim was being held with 18 other people when he was captured by ISIS. Some of those people were able to go back to their countries because their countries’ policies were different than the United States policies, still are different. How do you square that, knowing that some of those people were released?
Foley: Well obviously that's very difficult, Storme. That's very difficult. That is one of the reasons, aside from the journalists’ safety, that we formed the James Foley Legacy Foundation. Because we felt that the return of our American citizens was not a true national priority and because of our hostage policy of “no negotiations, no concessions,” it made it difficult. Our government was reluctant to engage with the captors at all. It fell to us as a family to do what we could do. And obviously we were totally inadequate.
Jones: It's been five years since your son was first taken by ISIS in 2012. What answers have you received about the people who took him and what is justice in your mind?
Foley: Justice would be the finding and arrest, trial of these individuals. Jim's captors not only terrorized Jim and three other Americans, but hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians have been brutally terrorized by them. Too many Americans are targeted and killed and no one's ever brought to trial. This makes it easy for anyone who disagrees with what a journalist is doing to target them, because if there's no one held responsible for those crimes, it continues unabated.
Jones: Diane Foley, the mother of freelance journalist James Foley, killed by ISIS in 2014. Thanks for being here.
Foley: My pleasure.