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A mother demands better advocacy for U.S. hostages

Efforts to find and bring home Austin Rice, a freelance journalist who was kidnapped two and a half years ago, have not been fruitful. Tice’s parents are pushing for a new government entity that would be responsible for American hostages. Judy Woodruff speaks with his mother, Debra Tice, about her family’s fight to bring Austin and other hostages home.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And with me now is Debra Tice. She is Austin's mother.

    Welcome. We appreciate you joining us.

  • DEBRA TICE:

    Thank you. Thank you so much for asking me to come.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, as we have reported today, the Islamic State claiming that the American aid worker, the woman, is dead as a result of an airstrike. Like these other reports, this has to be so hard for you and your family.

  • DEBRA TICE:

    It's — when we think about her family, it's almost more than we can bear. It's just almost unbearable.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And you have gotten to know them?

  • DEBRA TICE:

    Well, we don't know them as well as some of the other families, but we do know — we have had contact with them. And, of course, we share this burden.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Austin has been missing now for two-and-a-half years. What keeps you and your family going? What are you hearing from the government? What are you hearing from any sources you have that he's there and he can come home?

  • DEBRA TICE:

    Well, we do get periodic words of encouragement, you know, that we need to be patient, that he's alive, he's relatively well taken care of.

    And, so, we have this steadfast hope that he is coming home. We expect that this campaign is going to raise a lot of support, and those are the things…

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    To get attention…

  • DEBRA TICE:

    Right. Right.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    … for Austin's situation.

  • DEBRA TICE:

    And people joining hands with us and saying, we want him home, too.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Who do you believe is holding Austin?

  • DEBRA TICE:

    We do not know who is holding him.

    You know, of course, it's a great relief to us to know that Da'esh is not holding him.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    That's Islamic State.

  • DEBRA TICE:

    Right.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And you're convinced, pretty convinced of that?

  • DEBRA TICE:

    Absolutely, and Nusra. And the Syrian government denies holding him. So we can't be really sure who is holding him.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And you were telling me that you and your husband have talked to a representative of the Syrian government. You have met with them in Lebanon.

  • DEBRA TICE:

    Yes.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    What do they say to you? Because the U.S. government obviously isn't talking.

  • DEBRA TICE:

    Well, they tell us that they will put all their resources as well toward finding our son and returning him to us. So, you know, we hold them to that. They have told us they will do that.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, where do the assurances come from that Austin is alive and being well taken care of?

  • DEBRA TICE:

    We cannot ever trace them back. They are credible and they are referred credibly, but we can never channel them back.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    What more do you want the U.S. government to do? You and your husband have been somewhat critical of the fact that the government hasn't been more organized, they haven't been more helpful. What do you want them to do that they're not doing?

  • DEBRA TICE:

    Well, we want all of the information that our government has about our son, we want them to share.

    We don't think anyone should know more about our son than we do. And that's been a point of frustration that's ongoing. You know, I believe in diplomacy. I believe in diplomacy. And, for me, that means talking, and I just — as a mother of seven children, I don't think, when you're angry with someone, the first thing you should do is cut off communication, because then you have cut yourself off from a resolution as well.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So you want more information from them. You want them to be talking to the Syrians.

  • DEBRA TICE:

    Yes, of course.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    What about — there's obviously been discussion about whether money should change hands, whether whoever's holding Austin should get — be rewarded.

  • DEBRA TICE:

    Well, we haven't had that discussion because it hasn't — we haven't even had the chance to get to that place.

    So there are ways to figure things out, and we think that we should be the best and the brightest at figuring it out, and responding appropriately and getting our people home.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The other evening at the Newseum, I was there. The assistant secretary of state, Douglas Frantz, was acknowledging the government has made mistakes and saying, we are going to try to make this better. We're coming up with a new policy.

    How confident are you that the new policy will be better?

  • DEBRA TICE:

    I expect it to be better. I expect that we will be able to hold them accountable.

    I think that the American people should be interested in holding them accountable and that we can come up with something better. It won't be perfect, but it will be the beginning of something much better. I'm confident in that.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Is there one part or one piece of that new policy, new strategy that you think would make a big difference?

  • DEBRA TICE:

    Yes.

    They're talking about having a single point person who is a — is focused entirely on the hostage and that unique situation, and that that person will look at American resources and assign them appropriately for the benefit of the hostage. And I think that will be a fundamentally great improvement.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And — but that's not being done now?

  • DEBRA TICE:

    Oh, nothing like that is being done now, not at all.

    There is — you have 17 different government agencies. None of them have a defined position. There's all kinds of jockeying for ascendancy and a lack of communication. It's just chaos in a can.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But you see improvement maybe coming?

  • DEBRA TICE:

    Yes. There is a truly dedicated effort to getting this policy right.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Do you believe Austin will come home?

  • DEBRA TICE:

    Absolutely. I think we're just waiting. We're doing all that we can to make that moment our very next moment, but I have no doubt that he will be home.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, Debra Tice, I know that everyone who's listening absolutely is with you on that.

  • DEBRA TICE:

    Thank you. Thank you, Judy.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Thank you very much.

  • DEBRA TICE:

    I really appreciate you having me. Thank you.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Thank you.

    The campaign Debra Tice just mentioned is to raise awareness about her son and the threat to free journalism. You can visit the Web site at FreeAustinTice.rsf.org.

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