The torture of not knowing: Truth and justice for American hostage Kayla Mueller

Our daughter, Kayla Jean Mueller, would have turned 30 today. But instead of celebrating, we are mourning: this month marks five years since Kayla was abducted by ISIS while on a humanitarian mission in Syria. For a year and a half, she was tortured, held in solitary confinement, and then raped by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who took her as his personal slave.

For us, these five years have been a different kind of torture: the pain of not knowing Kayla’s fate. On Feb. 10, 2015, five days after a tweet by ISIS claimed that a coalition bomb had killed Kayla, President Obama announced her death. Yet the only proof we have is an email from her hostage-takers, claiming she’d received Islamic rites. Their “proof of death” photos were “scientifically inconclusive,” according to the forensic expert we consulted. Nevertheless, our government called off the rescue.

{mosads}Since the moment Kayla disappeared, we’ve never known the full story of what happened to our daughter. We do not know if she was actually killed in 2015, or if she is still alive. What we do know is this: three ISIS members who allegedly held her captive have been apprehended in Syria and Iraq. So far, none is being charged for what was done to Kayla.  


Umm Sayyaf, the wife of an ISIS emir, allegedly kept Kayla under lock and key at her home and personally presented her to al-Baghdadi to be raped. She was captured by U.S. forces in May 2015, but she was never brought to the United States to face trial in a federal court, where we could have learned more about Kayla’s captivity. Instead, Umm Sayyaf was transferred to the Iraqi government and reportedly imprisoned without any public trial.

We learned through our private lawyers at the Center for Justice and Accountability that the Iraqis never charged her for the abuses done to Kayla; instead, she was convicted of cooking meals and driving cars for ISIS. While U.S. prosecutors ultimately filed a complaint against Umm Sayyaf in February 2016 for material support of terrorism, the government has made no effort to bring her to trial.

Likewise, two suspected members of the “Beatles” — the ISIS cell responsible for torturing the hostages — were captured by U.S.-backed militias in Syria in January 2018. Eight months later, they have not been prosecuted. Will we ever learn what they know about Kayla? Will the evidence against them ever be revealed in open court?

It is time to end the torture of not knowing. Our requests are simple. Give us a full, written report on the government’s proof that Kayla is dead. Respond to our FOIA requests and release the documents. Allow our pastor and our lawyer to attend U.S. government briefings so that we have the spiritual and legal support we need. Tell us what debriefing of other hostages has revealed about Kayla. Bring Umm Sayyaf and the suspected “Beatles” members to trial for the abuse of our daughter and the other victims. An open, public trial is the only way for the truth to come out. Keeping them locked away indefinitely, behind closed doors, only perpetuates the terrible silence.

We are asking that our government apply the American principles of law, truth and justice that ISIS denied to Kayla and the other hostages. We weren’t able to end our daughter’s torture, but our government can end our torture of not knowing the truth.

Carl and Marsha Mueller of Prescott, Arizona, are the parents of Kayla Mueller, who was abducted and slain by ISIS during a humanitarian mission to Syria. The Mueller family created a humanitarian foundation, Kayla’s Hands, to honor their daughter.

Tags Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi ISIS Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant Kayla Jean Mueller Kayla Mueller Terrorism

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