Don’t forget Americans held hostage abroad
A warm congratulations to President-elect Joe Biden on his election. As he and his administration prepare to lead and serve the people of the United States of America, we implore them to make the return of Americans taken hostage abroad a top priority, both in words and swift action. The return of innocent Americans, whether held hostage by criminals or wrongfully detained by foreign governments, is a nonpartisan issue, rooted deeply as a principle of American citizenship.
Mr. Biden knows us. He and all of America felt the horror with us when journalist James Foley was kidnapped, brutally tortured and murdered by ISIS, and when Bob Levinson was taken hostage by the Iranian regime and imprisoned, with no contact with the outside world for 13 long years. Our families know President-elect Biden’s compassion from his time in Congress and as vice president. But we also believe he and the American public will agree that more could have been done to have brought Jim, Bob and too many others home alive. So much more work remains.
After Jim’s public beheading, the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation was founded to advocate for the return of all Americans held hostage abroad and to promote the safety of journalists worldwide through preventive safety education.
It will be critical to continue President Trump’s dedication and prioritization of the return of our citizens held abroad. It is essential to ensure continuity where possible, including a joint review with the outgoing administration of all active cases of Americans held hostage and wrongfully detained abroad. This would ensure that no momentum or information is lost.
We ask that the Biden administration build upon the improvements started through President Obama’s Presidential Policy Directive 30, which set up an interagency Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell, a Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs and a Hostage Response Group at the National Security Council. We ask that they be transparent with desperate American families seeking information about their loved ones kidnapped abroad, honest about what they can and cannot do, and that they treat all families with a loved one held abroad equally, regardless of what organization is holding them.
We also ask the administration to make swift appointments of key personnel in the positions of Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs, NSC Senior Director for Counterterrorism, and Director of the Hostage Recovery Fusion cell, and ensure the intelligence community has been asked to provide all the information needed to bring Americans home. Furthermore, the administration’s support and championing of the passage of the Robert Levinson Act by the U.S. Congress will help further improve the functioning of the U.S. government’s hostage recovery enterprise.
We ask that shrewd negotiation for the return of all our citizens be at the forefront of American foreign policy and that the administration collaborate on strategy with nongovernmental experts to bring Americans home.
We ask that any deals made with foreign entities put the recovery of Americans front and center, not as an afterthought.
Our national security depends on our ability to understand international threats, such as hostage taking, and to put the safe return of Americans at the top of the priority list.
We ask that President-elect Biden hold accountable any entity that captures and tortures our citizens as a critical deterrent to future hostage taking.
The Foley Foundation’s research estimates there are at least 42 publicly known cases of Americans held abroad in 11 countries, with hundreds of other unknown cases in need of your compassionate commitment. Americans currently held hostage abroad include Austin Tice, Majd Kamalmaz, Paul Overby, Mark Frerichs, Siamak and Baquer Namazi, Jeffery Woodke, Kai Li, Paul Whelan, Trevor Reed, Dr. Walid Fitaihi, Aziza Alyousef, Salah al-Haidar, Tomeu Vadell, Gustavo Cardenas, Jorge Toledo, Alirio Zambrano, Jose Luis Zambrano, as well as others whose families are not comfortable publicly sharing their names.
These Americans cannot be forgotten.
As President-elect Biden highlighted the plight of Americans held hostage in Iran and elsewhere over the course of his campaign, we beseech the Biden-Harris administration to commit to prioritizing the return of all Americans, whether they are held hostage by terrorists, militants or criminals, or wrongfully detained by foreign governments. These hostages could be anyone’s child, parent, friend or colleague. Desperate Americans and their families are counting on President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris and their entire administration. We look forward to continued success in bringing Americans home.
Diane Foley is the mother of American journalist James Foley, who was kidnapped and murdered by ISIS in Syria. She serves as president and founder of the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation.
Sarah (Levinson) Moriarty is the daughter of Robert “Bob” Levinson, the longest held hostage in American history.