The parents of Austin Tice, a journalist from Houston who was taken captive in Syria nearly five years ago, appeared on the Today Show with Matt Lauer Wednesday morning to discuss their son, who has recently been back in the headlines.
Marc and Debra Tice said that they know that their son is alive and being held somewhere in Syria, though his captors have never made contact with them. “More than anything else we’d like to reach out to whoever is holding Austin so that we can begin whatever kind of dialogue is necessary to bring him home,” Marc Tice said.
Since their son’s disappearance, the Tices have been appealing to the public and officials for any information about his whereabouts. Debra Tice went so far as to move to Damascus for a stretch to seek answers. “In Damascus I did the same thing that I do here in the United States capital: I tried to meet with anyone I could meet with, raise awareness about my son, ask anyone for information to reach out to me,” she told Lauer. “I felt completely safe when I was in Damascus.”
The couple’s appearance on the morning show follows a recent report from the New York Times’ Adam Goldman that CIA Director Mike Pompeo had established a back channel with the Syrian government to discuss bringing Austin home. The dialogue began in a February phone conversation Pompeo had with Ali Mamlouk, the head of Syria’s National Security Bureau intelligence service. As Goldman wrote:
It is not clear what exactly the two men said, but the United States later suggested to Mr. Mamlouk that freeing Mr. Tice would go a long way as the administration shaped its broader Syria policy, according to the former officials.
It seemed like the best chance yet to bring Mr. Tice home. Administration officials began trying to figure out how the Syrians might explain his lengthy disappearance. After the Americans received proof of life, the Syrians would announce they had found Mr. Tice, crafting a narrative to explain his abduction. Mr. Tice would be put on trial for violating the country’s immigration laws and then pardoned by Mr. Assad. After Mr. Tice landed on American soil, Mr. Trump would call Mr. Assad.
But those efforts faltered in April when the U.S. responded to a deadly nerve gas attack in Khan Shaykhun by launching 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian air base, the Times reported. Tensions between the two countries have risen again in recent days after the White House announced Monday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could be planning another chemical weapons attack.
In his story, Goldman wrote that when intelligence officials briefed chief presidential advisor Steve Bannon about Austin Tice’s situation that “Mr. Bannon was dismissive of Mr. Tice, raising questions about why he had gone to Syria in the first place, former officials said.” Lauer alluded to such criticisms on the Today Show. “From time to time you will hear someone say about Austin, ‘he was going to a very dangerous place against the warnings of the U.S. State Department, there as consequences for that.’ How do you react to people when you hear that?”
Marc Tice responded with an emotional appeal. “He was a journalist, and he was going there so all the rest of us could see the story, hear the story, and know what was going on,” he said. “Just like any American, our government has a responsibility…to take care of their citizens and we just think that anyone else would like the same for their child.”
Lester Holt also conducted an interview with the Tices that will appear on NBC Nightly News Wednesday evening.
August 12 will mark five years since Austin Tice was kidnapped while attempting to travel from the suburbs of Damascus to the Lebanese border. My profile about him and his time in Syria ran in the October 2015 issue of Texas Monthly.