Journalist Austin Tice Still Missing In Syria After More Than 1,000 Days
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
It's been nearly three years since freelance journalist Austin Tice went missing in Syria. He was seen once on a video soon after his disappearance in 2012. He was blindfolded, wearing torn clothing. He was being pushed up a rocky hill by masked men holding rifles. There has been no claim of responsibility, no demand for ransom. Austin Tice's family says they have recent, credible information that he is alive.
DEBRA TICE: We are told that he is well and safe.
BLOCK: That's Austin Tice's mother, Debra Tice. She's in Beirut pressing the Syrian government to work for her son's release.
TICE: We don't know exactly who's holding him. We don't know exactly where he is.
BLOCK: Now, early on, very soon after Austin disappeared, the State Department indicated that they believed that he was in Syrian government custody. Do you find that scenario plausible?
TICE: I think that they have backed down from that statement, and I think you should refer to the State Department for that answer.
BLOCK: Yeah. Well, I talked to a State Department official today, and he did say that the U.S. has periodic, direct contact - those are his words - with Syrian officials on issues including the case of your son. Have you heard anything from those meetings?
TICE: That's exactly all that we know, Melissa, is - we have the exact same information that you do. And for us, now that we have direct discussions, we're pressing in for constant discussions until we have our son home safely.
BLOCK: How would you describe your dealings with U.S. officials who are handling Austin's case? How much information are you given?
TICE: We are given as absolutely little information - we probably have somewhere near the same amount of information that you do, actually. And they've told us that they do have more information, but they won't share it with us.
BLOCK: And have they explained why?
TICE: Primarily because we're a security risk to our own child. That's pretty much the bottom line.
BLOCK: In other words, if they divulge things further, that it could further jeopardize Austin's case.
TICE: Well, I think in more specifically that we are not in a position to be trusted with information, which, you know, for me, is just maddening - that I was barely competent enough to raise an excellent scholar and an eagle scout and a captain in the Marine Corps and an award-winning journalist, but I can't really be counted on to keep him safe now.
BLOCK: The White House has said, Ms. Tice, that they're working tirelessly to secure Austin's release. Do you take them at their word on that - that they are working tirelessly?
TICE: Well, you know, since they don't keep us informed of their efforts, we have no idea exactly how easily they tire. And the only proof of effort is going to be his successful and safe release. So, you know, I think, Melissa, from this conversation you can probably deduce that the lack of information sharing is truly beyond frustrating.
BLOCK: I'm curious to hear from you why Austin decided to go to Syria. What did he tell you about why he did that?
TICE: Well, I don't know if you've heard the story, Melissa. He grew up listening to NPR. And when he was being interviewed to enter college when he was 15, the admissions counselor asked him if he'd ever thought of what he wanted to do. And he said, yes, I want to be a foreign correspondent for NPR. He's always been interested in the news in a very global context, and he just felt like it was his time to do this thing because of the situation in Syria. He was very frustrated when he would hear a story and say, but of course we can't verify this. So he decided that he had the capability to go into a conflict zone and really get the story.
BLOCK: Did he ask you before he went for your thoughts on that - if not, for your blessing, for your opinion?
TICE: Well, of course, you know, he was 30, so at that age, there's not really a matter of asking. And with Austin, there was never really a matter of asking, and, you know, he was raised to listen for his calling and to find his path. And it's just very challenging as parents when your child recognizes as their path something that gives you a knot in your stomach, but you can't be untrue to what you've taught them all their lives.
BLOCK: Well, Ms. Tice, thank you so much for talking with us. And all the best, of course, for your son's safe return home.
TICE: Thank you so much for having me, Melissa, and I'm really eager for Austin to be here speaking with you. May it be soon.
BLOCK: That's Debra Tice. Her son, Austin Tice, a freelance journalist, went missing in Syria nearly three years ago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.