Skip to content

Detainee reform would be fitting legacy, James Foley's mom says

ROCHESTER - Diane Foley, the mother of slain freelance journalist James Foley, said a fitting legacy for her son would be for the next elected Congress and president to embrace legislation that would help rescue other Americans detained by ISIS and other terrorist groups around the globe.

Last June, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved the Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act that the Foley family and those of three other families killed by ISIS terrorists have championed.

It would allow the U.S. president to impose sanctions against any person responsible or complicit in "hostage-taking or unlawful detention" of American citizens.

"All of us who have lost someone from the terrorism of ISIS think that it is the legacy for our kids if we can as a country show that we care for our individual citizens whether they are famous or not," Foley said during a telephone interview Friday.

"Hopefully in the future we can demonstrate with this legislation your country will have their backs and see their safe return as a priority."

The bill is named in honor of former FBI agent Robert Levinson, whose unlawful detention by the Iranian regime is recognized as the longest-held hostage in American history.

On Friday, Foley got to listen in on the detention hearing and arraignment of El Shafee el-Sheikh and Alexandra Kotey, the two suspected members of the "Beatles" ISIS wing accused in the torture and murder of James Foley and the three other American hostages in 2014.

Offers bipartisan praise for breakthrough

She praised President Donald Trump for signing an executive order to create in the State Department a special envoy for hostage affairs.

And she signaled out Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH., with leading a campaign to convince U.S. Attorney William Barr to change his mind last spring and take the death penalty off the table for Foley's captors, seen as pivotal to getting the British government to release the pair to the U.S. to stand trial.

"I was so hugely grateful for all your help," Foley told Shaheen during their joint interview Friday. "It is rather miraculous that it has happened."

Shaheen said the trial of the pair, continued until next Jan. 15, is a "huge step forward" in the campaign to bring to justice those who murdered Foley, Peter Kassig, Kayla Mueller, and Steven Sotloff.

Sotoff and Foley were journalists, Kassig and Mueller aid workers when all four were captured in the Aleppo region of Syria by ISIS terrorists and killed.

"It's so important to remember these four people we’re talking about, none of them were combatants serving in a conflict some may agree or disagree on whether it was just. They were all trying to do good, to report on the story so the rest of the world knew what was happening or providing humanitarian help," Shaheen said.

U.S. and British officials believe the pair played a role in 27 killings, which included some British humanitarian aid workers.

The four-member cell was dubbed "the Beatles" by their captives because of their English accents. U.S. officials say they tortured and killed victims, including by beheading, and ISIS released videos of the deaths for propaganda purposes.

Mohammed Emwazi, dubbed Jihadi John after he was seen carrying out beheadings on video, was killed by a CIA drone strike in 2015.

The fourth member of the cell, Aine Lesley Davis, is serving a related 7 1/2-year prison sentence in Turkey.

Bigger challenge ahead regarding other terrorists

As the only woman on the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees, Shaheen said the next administration has a huge task ahead in trying to see to account the "hundreds" of ISIS terrorists held in a detainee camp in Syria on the Iraqi border that Shaheen visited in 2018.

"The big issue out there that we have not made progress on is what is going to happen now with all these ISIS terrorists," Shaheen said. "We don’t have any accommodation on how to treat them."

The Iraqi government doesn’t want them, Syria is ill-equipped to administer fair justice and foreign nations where many of these terrorists were from don’t want them either, Shaheen said.

"The international community hasn’t been willing to take up this cause. In Congress, we have set up a coordinator to address all detainees and that hasn’t yet gotten off the ground in any significant way," she said.

Foley was delighted when a reporter informed her that a portrait honoring Mueller now hangs in the state capital building in Arizona, her home state. Mueller’s parents attended last week’s vice presidential debate as the guests of Vice President Mike Pence.

"She was such a brave young woman and so many opportunities for her to be saved, if you will, came and went," Foley said.

"They were not a priority and I hope and pray our government will have learned from that."

Memorial run/walk ahead next weekend

Shaheen she had only dreamed this day would come when she visited that camp.

"It is a huge step forward and speaks to the advocacy of you Diane, and your family that has brought us to this breakthrough," Shaheen said.

Foley said when she met with U.S. Attorney General William Barr last summer, she left convinced he’d never agree to take the death penalty off the table.

Instead, if convicted, the pair face up to life in prison for eight counts of felony hostage-taking that led to murder, conspiracy and other charges.

Next Saturday is the 6th annual Freedom Run where supporters virtually will get together to run or walk a 5K with donations in support of the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation.

"I’m so thankful to all the people of New Hampshire who have stepped forward to support this effort," Foley added.