Family of Kidnapped Journalist Urging Against Execution of Captured ISIS Militants

Feb 26, 2018

James Foley.
Credit AP Photo/ Nicole Tung,

Two Islamic State militants, who belonged to a terrorist cell that held and killed freelance journalist James Foley, were captured in January.

 Foley's mother Diane does not want the militants executed and is calling for them to be brought to the U.S. to stand criminal trial. Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with Foley about how she would like to see the two men brought to justice.

  (Editor's note: this transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.)

You co-wrote [an] editorial in The New York Times talking about the capture of these men. [You], your husband and [the] parents of the other Americans who were taken say that you believe they should be tried, but you don't believe in execution. I wonder if you could talk about that a little bit.

All of our children if you will, Jim and Steven [Sotloff] were conflict reporters, very interested in covering what was going on in Syria and the suffering of the people there, their yearn for freedom. And Kayla [Mueller] and Peter [Kassig] were aid workers. So all of them were very idealistic, young Americans who really believed in human rights and the Syrian people's struggle for freedom. So the last thing we want to do is to continue to promote this reign of hatred, if you will, that these violent jihadists have promoted. So we want to appeal to our best instincts as Americans to make sure that they have the opposite of what our kids experienced and in fact have a very fair, open public trial. And we don't want them to become martyrs, have any gratification of an instant death, if you will, or the violence of killing them, but rather give them the opportunity to spend the rest of their lives detained and contemplating. Who knows, maybe even rehabilitating their violent ideology?

You've often said that you feel that there was very little support from the U.S. government through all of your ordeal and Jim's ordeal of course. What do you want to see officials do in future hostage situations?

Well I feel Rick, there's already been significant improvement. In 2015, President Obama asked for a hostage review, which resulted in a presidential policy directive, which really changed the way our government deals with hostage cases. So our job as a foundation is to keep advocating for its continuance if you will. And I guess one of our concerns right now is there are thousands of Americans detained annually by foreign governments who don't appreciate our covering the events in their country, or are suspicious about why we're there. I'm talking about countries such as North Korea, Turkey, Syria or Iran. So there's always more work to do if you will. As a matter of fact, we're in the process of launching a research project with many the families of former hostages and detainees to make sure we're continually improving the way our government helped bring Americans home.

You have a unique perspective having been the parent of a foreign correspondent, a journalist who spent a lot of time in war torn regions. Can you make that kind of work any safer?

Oh absolutely, Rick. I think it's a moral imperative that we make it safer because journalism really keeps us free. We have started a safety program, the James Foley safety guide for schools with journalism to help young journalist students develop skills in digital safety, risk assessment [and] tools of the trade beyond the craft of being a journalist itself, but [also] how to keep themselves and their sources safe when they travel. We've helped develop a culture of safety alliance with many of the media companies and foreign editors to help promote safety and equity particularly for freelance, conflict journalists. Because today they're the most at risk, and often they are the ones closest to conflicts in the world. Because freelancers are out there without a security team, and there's more and more freelancers covering the news. So the Foley Foundation is very involved in creating this international culture of safety, but also in working with schools of journalism to embed some of the safety curriculum within their schools.