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After the Obama administration bargained for Bowe Bergdahl’s life, the family of ISIS hostage James Foley begged the White House for the same treatment—only to be denied.
James Foley. Nicole Tung/freejamesfoley.org
Eli Lake reporting,
The parents of James Foley, the journalist ISIS beheaded in August, learned about the U.S. government’s attempt to rescue him about an hour before the rest of us did.
The grieving parents got word from President Obama himself.
“I told Obama that Jim worked hard to get him elected,” John Foley, James’s father, told The Daily Beast. “He believed till the end his country would come and get them.”
The president, according to John, responded, “Well I should tell you, we did try to save him.” Then Obama stunned John and his wife Diane, informing them of the failed special operations rescue mission from early July.
In the call, Obama explained that this information about the rescue mission was classified. But not for long, it would seem. Foley added, “An hour later he went and told the world.”
White House spokesmen have said that there was never any intention to share with the public details of the failed rescue mission in Syria. Word of the mission began to leak out on August 20, a day after James Foley was beheaded in a gruesome and slickly produced internet video narrated by a man with a thick British accent. White House officials briefed reporters that afternoon on the failed mission.
For the Foleys, it was a tragic ending to an awful ordeal. Since their son first went missing right before Thanksgiving in 2012, Diane Foley, in particular, began a mission to find any way she could to try to get her son back alive. She pressed the White House, the FBI and the State Department for any information she could find on James. Often, she and John would tell the FBI about what they learned from other European hostages who were released this year by ISIS. The response the Foleys received was, for the most part, beyond disappointing—little more than a “pat on the head,” John said.
Two months after the murder of James Foley, his parents are still frustrated with how they were treated by the White House—even as the Foley family works to establish a legacy fund for their son.
In an interview with The Daily Beast, John Foley explained that the President seemed upset during their phone call. Diane was unimpressed with Obama’s empathy. “In between golf games mind you,” she said. “He did stop to call us in the middle of his vacation,” she continued. “In the United Kingdom, the prime minister came home from his vacation.”
In September, the Foleys began to talk to the media about their frustrations with the Obama administration. At the time they said the White House threatened them with prosecution if they tried to raise private funds to purchase their son’s freedom. On Thursday they went into more detail.
They discussed a moment in May, right after the White House announced a prisoner exchange that released Army Private Bowe Bergdahl. Diane Foley said she and other families of ISIS hostages thought there was hope the Obama administration would reverse its longstanding policy against paying ransom or negotiating with ISIS.
But only a few days after Bergdahl’s release, the Foleys and other families of the hostages were on the phone with a senior White House official who informed them there was no chance at all for negotiations with ISIS. “It was out of the question,” Diane Foley remembers the official saying. (The Daily Beast is declining to name the official at the request of the White House).
John Foley remembered the White House official going even further than that, saying there was no chance third parties would pay ransom or trade hostages with ISIS either. “’We will not ask any of our allies to do something we ourselves wouldn’t do like pay ransom, or trade hostages,’” Foley recalled the official as saying.
Bernadette Meehan, the spokeswoman for the National Security Council, declined Thursday to discuss the details of the communications with the Foley family. She did, however, defend the policy of not negotiating with ISIS.
“The United States has a long-standing policy that we do not offer concessions to hostage takers because doing so would only put more Americans at risk of being taken captive,” she said. “Sergeant Bergdahl was not a hostage—he is a member of the U.S. military who was detained during the course of an armed conflict. His return was consistent with the longstanding practice of prisoner exchanges in war and, as such, is different from policy and practice relating to civilians held hostage.”
While Meehan speaks for the White House, other parts of Obama’s government have pressed to change the U.S. policy of not paying ransoms to terrorists. Foreign Policy magazine’s Shane Harris reported this month that the White House and the State Department remain opposed to paying ransoms to terrorist groups, while the FBI and the Justice Department have asked for more flexibility.
Diane Foley detected a difference in tone and emphasis on ransom payments from the FBI, which “was very willing to walk us right up to that point,” she said. “They made it clear that an exchange of funds may be necessary, but they themselves could not do that.”
For the most part the Foleys had high praise for the FBI. Diane Foley said that the bureau gave them advice on how to craft a response to an email they received from ISIS at the end of 2013. “The FBI told us to write back a letter humanizing Jim,” she said. “They would look them over and tweak a word or two.”
As the summer dragged on, the Foleys began to seek out their own ways to get their son back. Towards the end of Foley’s captivity, John and Diane Foley began a pledge drive to raise money for a possible ransom, even though they say the White House informed them that any efforts to pay a ransom to ISIS would violate U.S. law.
“We had a million dollars in pledges at the end,” Diane Foley said. “Our hands were tied, we could not make it obvious, it had to be done under the guidance of pro bono attorneys… We didn’t want the money, we didn’t want to handle it, so we sought pledges. We didn’t want the money unless we needed it.”
European governments, for their part, have long agreed to pay groups like ISIS ransom money. And that has yielded tangible results. Foley was held in Syria at the same location as several European hostages. But the Europeans had been freed in the weeks before Obama ordered the rescue mission into Syria, the Foleys said.
In the end, the Foleys say they hope other families of hostages will be able to learn and benefit from their experience. They were in Washington this week to receive an award given posthumously to their son on behalf of the Oxi Day Foundation, a Greek American organization that celebrates Greek resistance to the Nazis.
“The enemy is ISIS, not our government,” Diane Foley said. “All we are saying is that our government can do better for our citizens. We hope the James Foley foundation can foster dialogue for a more consistent policy on this.”
Neil Buckley reporting,
Russian president Vladimir Putin on Friday accused the US of undermining the post-Cold War world order, warning that without efforts to establish a new system of global governance the world could collapse into anarchy and chaos.
In one of his most anti-US speeches in 15 years as Russia’s most powerful politician, Mr Putin insisted allegations that its annexation of Crimea showed that it was trying to rebuild the Soviet empire were “groundless”. Russia had no intention of encroaching on the sovereignty of its neighbours, he insisted.
Instead, the Russian leader blamed the US for triggering both Crimea’s breakaway from Ukraine and thousands of deaths in the war in the east of the country, by backing what Mr Putin called an armed coup against former president Viktor Yanukovich in February.
“We didn’t start this,” Mr Putin said. Citing a string of US-led military interventions from Kosovo to Libya, he insisted the US had declared itself victor when the Cold War ended and “decided to … reshape the world to suit their own needs and interests”.
“This is the way the nouveaux riches behave when they suddenly end up with a great fortune – in this case, in the shape of world leadership and domination. Instead of managing their wealth wisely … I think they have committed many follies,” he told a conference of foreign academics and journalists at an Olympic ski venue near Sochi.
The speech was one of Mr Putin’s most important foreign policy statements since he surprised the west in Munich in 2007 by accusing the US of “overstepping its boundaries in every way” and creating new dividing lines in Europe.
Some commentators speculated that it reflected Moscow’s fury after US President Barack Obama recently ranked Russia alongside the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as Isis, and the Ebola virus among the top three global threats. But his tone surprised even supporters.
“Very tough about the US, first time so [tough],” tweeted Margarita Simonyan, editor in chief of the ardently pro-Kremlin RT television channel. “Our answer to B Obama.”
Mr Putin signalled he believed the US and Russia should draw a line under recent events and sit down with other big economies to redesign the system of global governance along “multipolar” lines.
While he conceded this could be a lengthy and gruelling task, Mr Putin warned the alternative could be serious conflicts involving major countries. He also evoked the danger of a new Cold War-type stand-off, saying existing arms control treaties risked being violated.
Any effort to bring the two countries together for talks, however, could be complicated by the west’s insistence that Russia’s annexation of Crimea is an illegal occupation, and by Moscow’s anger over resulting EU and US sanctions.
Mr Putin said the sanctions undermined world trade rules and globalisation, but said Russia was a strong country that could weather the measures, and would not “beg” to get them lifted.
The Russian president suggested the UN could be “adapted to new realities”, while regional “pillars” of a new system, such as Russia’s own planned Eurasian Union of ex-Soviet states, could help enhance security.
But he insisted such moves were only necessary since the US had ridden roughshod over existing rules – for example when it invaded Iraq without UN Security Council backing.
“If the existing system of international relations, international law and the checks and balances … got in the way of [US] aims, this system was declared worthless, outdated and in need of immediate demolition,” he said.
The strength of Mr Putin’s language also took US listeners aback. Addressing a question to the president after his speech, Toby Gati, a former White House official under President Bill Clinton, said she “did not recognise” as her own country the one the Russian president claimed to be describing.
Prime minister Stephen Harper with wife Laureen at the National War Memorial Credits: REUTERS/Chris Wattie
Some will argue the two ISIS-inspired terrorist attacks on our country this week demonstrate why Canada should have refused to join the 60-nation coalition to defeat it.
In fact, these assaults on our democracy in Ottawa and Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, south of Montreal, demonstrate why we had to act.
There are times in a nation’s life when it’s important to be on the right side of history — even knowing that doing so will cost it blood and treasure.
This is one of those times, and in two World Wars, the Korean War, in peacekeeping and in Afghanistan, Canada has always answered that call, as we are answering it now.
There are those will will say Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, 24, and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, 53, would be alive today, and that Canadians would be safer, had the government of Stephen Harper kept Canada out of the coalition against ISIS.
In that case, so the logic goes, an ISIS leader would not have included Canada in the list of countries it urged its followers to attack, and two homegrown Canadian terrorists would not have heeded that call in assaults that reached into the heart of our democracy on Parliament Hill.
That logic is flawed because it assumes ISIS — an army of fanatical Islamist terrorists — only attacks military targets, when in reality it beheads humanitarian workers, forces women into slavery and tortures children.
By its own actions, ISIS demonstrates it cannot be reasoned with; that it does not behave rationally; that it does not make distinctions of “guilt” and “innocence” among those it considers infidels.
ISIS’ creed is that all who do not bow before its medieval theology — including Muslims — must be destroyed.
Throughout our history, Canadians have never bowed to tyranny.
Throughout our history, there have been soldiers like Nathan Cirillo and Patrice Vincent, willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to keep us, and people they do not know half a world away, safe.
People like Sergeant-at-arms Kevin Vickers, the hero of Wednesday’s attack on Parliament, who was back on the job Thursday in the House of Commons.
They are the reason Canada will remain strong, free and ready to battle evil in our own country, and anywhere in the world.
Police vehicles are parked next to debris in the Anbar province town of Hit, October 6, 2014. (File Photo: Reuters)
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group gained ground west of Baghdad Thursday, further reducing the government’s already-shaky hold on Anbar province, officials said.
“The Albu Nimr area fell completely into the hand of (IS) members,” Ghazi Najras, an Anbar MP, said in reference to the tract on the Euphrates River and east of the town of Heet, which fell last week.
Clashes began early Thursday and lasted until about 10:00 am (0700 GMT), police Colonel Shaban al-Obaidi said.
The militants then detained more than 60 people, including security forces members, the officer said.
ISIS, which spearheaded a sweeping offensive in June that overran much of Iraq’s Sunni Arab heartland, has executed hundreds of captured security forces members.
Albu Nimr is the latest in a string of places in Anbar to fall in recent weeks. The series of setbacks has prompted warnings from some officials that the entire province, which borders Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Baghdad province, could fall completely.
Some officials and Sunni tribal leaders in areas most affected by the unrest have argued the world should step up its involvement from air strikes against ISIS to a ground intervention in Iraq.
But Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi has repeatedly said he opposes foreign ground troops fighting in Iraq.
Kobani, Syria, on Oct. 22. Credit Lefteris Pitarakis/Associated Press
If Kobani survives, it will have defied the odds. This embattled city on Syria’s northern border with Turkey has been on the verge of falling for weeks in the face of a brutal siege by the Islamic State militants. But the Syrian Kurds who call Kobani home continue to fight hard, and on Sunday the United States made airdrops of weapons and other supplies to bolster them.
The town, once dismissed as inconsequential by American commanders, has become not only a focus of the American operation against the Islamic State, known as ISIS, but also a test of the administration’s strategy, which is based on airstrikes on ISIS-controlled areas in Syria and reliance on local ground forces to defeat the militants. A major problem is that the local ground forces are either unorganized, politically divided or, as in the case of the Kobani Kurds, in danger of being outgunned.
A setback in Kobani would show the fragility of the American plan and hand the Islamic State an important victory. Given Kobani’s location next to Turkey, the town’s fall would put the Islamic State in a position to cross the border and directly threaten a NATO ally, a move that could force the alliance to come to Turkey’s defense.
The big missing piece in the American operation is Turkey, whose reluctance to assist Kobani’s Kurds highlights the enduring weaknesses in America’s strategy. The decision to resupply the Kurds was a desperation move; the Kurds were at risk and Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has refused to help despite repeated entreaties from Washington.
Only on Monday, after the American airdrop, did Turkey say it would allow Iraqi Kurdish forces, the pesh merga militia, to cross Turkey into Kobani. So far, however, no reinforcements of forces have reached Kobani by way of Turkey and Mr. Erdogan made it clear on Thursday that he is only prepared to let 200 pesh merga travel through his country — hardly enough when the Islamic State reportedly has about 1,000 militants in the area. .
Turkey has been a troublesome NATO ally in the best of times. Its insistence that Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, is a bigger threat than the Islamic State and its complicated relationships with various Kurdish groups have made matters worse. Turkey has long enabled the Islamic State, whose original objective was to overthrow the Assad regime, by permitting militants, weapons and money to cross its border into Syria.
Now that the United States is leading the fight against the Islamic State, Turkey says it will work with the Americans. Yet it balks at helping Kurdish fighters in Kobani because it fears this would also strengthen the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (or P.K.K.) inside Turkey. The P.K.K. has been fighting a bitter, separatist war against the Turkish government for three decades, though recently the two sides have engaged in peace talks. It is hard to see what Mr. Erdogan gains by angering the Americans or by angering the Kurds in Iraq, the one Kurdish group with which Turkey has had good relations. Its refusal to assist also jeopardizes the nascent peace talks with the P.K.K.
There were many unknowns when President Obama began a premature and ill-advised mission into Syria. The failure to secure the full cooperation of an important ally leaves the success of the fight against the Islamic State increasingly open to question.