Bound by Hope – Hostage Aid Conversation with Debra Tice, Mother of Austin Tice, Forcibly Disappeared in Syria

In a May 2024 interview, Debra Tice discusses her 12 year ordeal in trying to bring her son Austin home after he was stopped at a checkpoint in Syria and forcibly disappeared since 2012. Debra discusses her frustration at the lack of progress in securing Austin’s freedom and the reluctance of the U.S. government to engage directly with Syria. With the current situation in the Middle East and the presence of U.S. officials there, Debra believes that they can take advantage of that and engage more robustly with the Syrian government to try and get Austin back home.

How are you coping with Austin’s prolonged absence and how do you remain hopeful?

I cope with Austin’s prolonged absence by focusing on his return; also by doing everything I am capable of doing to accelerate his return.

I remain hopeful by faith and through prayer. It is comforting to me that I have never had a doubt that we will see him walk free.

How do you deal with & overcome the frustration when things don’t seem to move forward?

HA! I have far too much experience with this. Frankly, “when things don’t seem to move forward” most likely things are not moving forward.

Usually, first I feel, acknowledge, and voice my frustration; I try to identify the obstacle; then I try to move the obstacle and/or brainstorm for a way around it.

What are the toughest parts & main challenges of trying to get Austin home?

It breaks my heart to know that the Syrian government is eager to engage and negotiate with the United States.

From the earliest knowledge of Austin’s detention, the State Department and other United States Government entities have refused to engage with the Syrian Arab Republic Government.

In September, 2020, when the SPEHA and NSC finally did go to Damascus for a meeting about Austin’s release, they were offered a proof of life – on conditions (I do not know the details). The US Government has never shared this information with me. 

The occasional meetings in Oman with the Sryians, which have occurred sporadically, are pop in/pop out meetings with no sincerity – no follow-up, no determination. Just a  charade which provides a story when they are asked for a briefing.

Another main challenge is the lobbying of the Syrian Opposition Coalition which, since 2011, relentlessly insists that there be no engagement or reconciliation with the Syrian Arab Republic Government, regardless that, in May 2023, SARG was returned to the Arab League; a recognition that the region considers the conflict over.

If I were to list every time I have faced tough parts and challenges, this would be a 4,300 page response.

Are you getting the support you need from organizations, media, and others? How could they help more?

I am getting the support I need to continue working for Austin’s release.

The media could have a more investigative approach to Austin’s story; they could ask more questions and insist on answers – they could dig around for sources other than government “spokespersons”.

The United States Government could easily help more: the State Department and National Security Council could take advantage of all the time they are spending in the Middle East and engage more robustly and genuinely with the Syrian Arab Republic Government. 

Is there any recent news about Austin’s case? 

Early this year, the news that a proof of life had been ignored by SPEHA and NSC in September 2020.

Also, there have been widely spaced meetings with the Syrian Government, hosted by Oman, which have been described by the Syrian president, as a charade.

Do you think the government is making progress on his case and doing all that it can to bring Austin home?

Possibly, reluctantly making progress, but absolutely not doing all our government is capable of doing, diplomatically,  to bring Austin home. 

Is there anything else you’d like to share or talk about?

I am sincerely grateful for the people who work and/or have worked in the United States Government – in the State Department, the White House,  and the FBI – who have worked very hard to advocate for a dedicated effort to secure Austin’s release and bring him safely home. Unfortunately, these were not the decision makers. These people could not overcome the “gate keepers” of the Oval Office. Their hearts are also breaking to see our government so nonchalantly leave Austin Tice behind.

Best, Debra
30 May 2024