Austin Tice: missing journalist still in Syria

By Nicole DeSimone

Staff Writer

In 2012, Austin Tice, a thirty- year-old Georgetown law student and former Marine Corps lieuten- ant, traveled to Syria to work as a freelance journalist covering the devastating civil war that began in 2011.

Tice, who dreamed of becoming a foreign correspondent, had been following the news and expressed frustration with the gaps in information. Through- out the war, it has been difficult for organizations to report from Syria, as it is considered “the most dangerous place in the world…for journalists,” according to “Texas Monthly.” Tice decided to take ac- tion. As a former Marine deployed in Afghanistan, he felt he had an appropriate background for the task.

He left the United States for Turkey in May 2012 and snuck over the Syrian border. Once there, he began to document the experience of life in the civil war. By June 2012, he was writing stories and providing photographs for “Mc- Clatchy,” the “Washington Post,” “Al Jazeera English,” and “CBS News,” among other organizations.

Traveling southward toward Damascus, Tice continued to document the stories of the civilians trying to survive the war. Despite his bravery and adventurousness, he wrote on Twitter that what he was seeing in Syria was “terrifying.” On July 25, 2012, Tice posted

an extended message on Facebook in an attempt to explain to his wor- ried family and friends why he had chosen to undertake such a danger- ous task. He criticized Americans for becoming too “complacent,” materialistic, and spoiled. “No, I don’t have a deathwish—I have a life wish,” he wrote, “so I’m living, in a place, at a time and with a people where life means more than anywhere I’ve ever been—because every single day people here lay down their own for the sake of others.”

He managed to illegally cross into Damascus on July 30. He remained there for two weeks, documenting protests and interviewing civilians. He turned thirty-one on August 11. After a summer full of excitement, adventure, and fear, he decided he would depart for Beirut on August 14.

It was sometime between August 13 and August 14 that Tice disappeared. On August 13, news editors became unable to track his phone. He was not contacting anyone anymore and no one could reach him. Four days later, officials at the State Department determined that he was missing and began to search for information. They gathered sufficient evidence that Tice had been abducted and was being held hostage by the Syrian government.

On September 26, 2012, an unidentified person uploaded a video onto YouTube titled “Austin Tice still alive.” In the brief video, Tice, wearing a blindfold, is led out of a truck into a desertlike ter- rain by unidentified men carrying rifles. They proceeded to shove him up a small hill, force him onto his knees, and make him say the Bismillah.

Since then, his family has not seen any footage of Tice or had any communication with him.

 

The United States government continues to pursue the case. They believe he is still alive and in the hands of the Syrian government. Tice has been in captivity for four years and one month.

His parents, Marc and Debra Tice, have initiated a social media campaign to spread awareness of the story. They have a Twitter account, @FreeAustinTice, on which they encourage their followers to post pictures of themselves wearing blindfolds, just as Tice was in the YouTube video posted by his abductors.

The blindfolds symbolize the idea that everyone suffers when there is no freedom of press. The Tices have teamed up with “Reporters Without Borders,” a non- profit organization that advocates for international freedom of press, to create an online petition (https:// rsf.org/en/freeaustintice) asking President Obama to secure Tice’s freedom.

They also have a website, austinticefamily.com, on which they spread awareness and provide updates on the situation. This past summer, they met with President Obama to discuss the state of the search for Tice. They have asked the public to encourage the president, senators, and state representatives to help bring home Tice before the end of President Obama’s term.

In February 2013, Tice won the esteemed George Polk Award for War Reporting, but he has yet to find out.

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