U.S. Has Enhanced Support for Families of Hostages Held Abroad, but Improvements Still Are Needed, Report by James W. Foley Legacy Foundation Finds

New America Teams with Foley Foundation on Report’s Release

WASHINGTON, DC – The families of Americans taken hostage or unjustly detained abroad say the U.S. government’s relatively new hostage policy is of great value as they grapple with one of the most challenging experiences a family can face, according to the findings of a new study released today.

The research, conducted by the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, is the first non-governmental assessment of hostage policies, put in place in 2015, that created the first point of contact within the government for families with loved ones being held abroad.

The report is being published in partnership with New America, a nonpartisan public policy think tank. A panel discussion at New America with hostage experts is scheduled today to go along with the release.

Families interviewed for the report describe the policy as “very helpful, consistent and absolutely essential in coordinating efforts” on behalf of U.S. hostages.  But they also recommend a number of improvements that still need to be made.

The signing by President Obama of Executive Order 13698 and Presidential Policy Directive 30 (PPD-30) on June 24, 2015, created, among other things, an interagency Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell housed at the FBI and the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs. Before 2015, U.S. policies were classified, questions went unanswered, and the profusion of agencies that handled different hostage issues left families feeling desperate, frustrated and angry as they tried to figure out where to turn for information and action.

The report is based on interviews with 27 former American hostages, detainees and their family members and representatives. The foundation is named for conflict journalist James Foley, who was held hostage in Syria and executed by ISIS in 2014. It advocates for the safe return of all Americans held hostage abroad and promotes the safety of journalists, like James, who operate in dangerous conflict areas around the world.

“Having a son or daughter, husband or mother taken hostage or detained in a foreign land is one of the most frightening experiences imaginable,” said Diane Foley, mother of James and founder and president of the foundation. “What do the hostage takers want – money, prestige, disruption, political leverage? Who are the perpetrators? Are they terrorists or authoritarian states? Can they be contacted and reasoned with? Is there a way to get the hostage out alive?”    

“Until the creation of the fusion cell and the naming of a presidential envoy for hostage affairs, there was nowhere in the government that families could turn to help answer these questions,” she said.

Among the report’s findings:

●        The U.S. government has been more helpful in managing hostage cases and families feel that their loved ones are a greater priority of the government.

●        Former hostages and their families are treated with more empathy and compassion and generally feel better understood and supported by the government.

●        General understanding of  the U.S. government’s laws and policies related to hostage incidents has improved.

●        There has been an increase in government coordination in intelligence sharing and communication, and in the government’s ability to disclose candid assessments and plans regarding recovery efforts for U.S. hostages.

●        Information shared at government briefings is communicated clearly, and the frequency and accuracy of government briefings have increased.

●        Correspondence between the government and hostage families has improved.

However, the study revealed several areas where significant improvements still need to be made:

●        There is still a need for more honesty and transparency from government officials.

●        Confusion remains over roles within U.S. government agencies.

●        There is still confusion on the U.S. policy toward private ransoms and negotiations with organizations designated as terrorist groups by the U.S. government.

●        Captors of their loved ones should be prosecuted and brought to justice in the United States for the crimes they committed.

●        Over time, there has been a gradual decrease in the presence of officials from the Department of Defense assigned to the Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell.

●        Hostage families need robust assistance to address ruined credit and other day-to-day financial challenges.

●        Hostages need continued mental and physical health support upon their return.

●        Americans unjustly detained and their families do not receive the same level of support as hostage families, since mechanisms and resources required to fully support these individuals do not currently exist.

Participants in the panel discussion are Diane Foley; Cynthia Loertscher, the report’s author; Luke Hartig, former senior director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council and a New America Fellow; and Rob Saale, former director of the Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell and founder and CEO of Star Consulting and Investigations LLC. The session will be moderated by Peter Bergen, vice president, New America.

To read the full report, click HERE.

For more information, contact:
Margaux Ewen, 917-213-3028

Crimes against Americans abroad: Who's being held accountable?

When Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian was released from Iran after 544 days imprisoned there, U.S. Diplomat Brett McGurk was in Geneva to meet his plane. Both men will discuss the question that came later: How do we hold the right people accountable for crimes against Americans unjustly detained abroad?

On April 2, the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation will host a distinguished panel uniquely qualified to explore that difficult dilemma. The program features the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation’s president and founder Diane Foley, the 2019 James W. Foley Freedom Award honorees, and Karim Khan, Special Advisor and Head of the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for ISIS Crimes. The panel will be moderated by Wall Street Journal national security correspondent Nancy Youssef and feature Foley Freedom Award honorees:

  • Jason Rezaian, Washington Post journalist

  • Brett McGurk, former presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS

  • Dr. Terrence Rynne, founder of the Center for Peacemaking at Marquette University

The program, co-sponsored by the National Press Club Journalism Institute, will be on April 2 from 10:30 am-noon in the Club’s Conference Rooms and will explore:

  • What does the path to meaningful justice look like for Americans whose family members were murdered by ISIS?

  • What should the US government be doing to help families in their pursuit of justice?

  • What can be done to prevent unjust detention, murder and other crimes against Americans working abroad?

That evening, the Foley Foundation will honor Brett McGurk with the Hostage Advocacy award, Jason Rezaian with the Press Freedom award and Dr. Terrence Rynne with the Humanitarian award. Tickets to the Awards dinner can be purchased here, along with table sponsorship.

The James W. Foley Legacy Foundation advocates for the safe return of all Americans detained abroad and protects independent journalists to report safely from conflict zones. The Foundation was created in 2014 after James Foley, the family’s oldest son, was held hostage and later beheaded by ISIS while working as a freelance conflict journalist in Syria.

The National Press Club Journalism Institute promotes an engaged global citizenry through an independent and free press, and equips journalists with skills and standards to inform the public in ways that inspire civic engagement. As the non-profit affiliate of the National Press Club, the Institute serves as a beacon for journalism in the public interest.

Registration for the panel discussion is free but required to attend.

Contact Julie Moos with any questions at jmoos@press.org.

James W. Foley Legacy Foundation Hires Washington-Based Executive Director to Increase Attention on Hostage, Journalist Safety Issues

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The James W. Foley Legacy Foundation announced today that it has named Margaux Ewen as its new executive director based in Washington with the goal of encouraging attention to its key issues of advocating for the safe return of Americans held hostage abroad and promoting safety for freelance journalists.

Ewen has been with Reporters Without Borders (RSF) for nearly four years, most recently as its North America director. A lawyer with degrees from the Sorbonne in Paris and the George Washington University Law School, Ewen also has worked at the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative and interned at the Court of Justice for the European Union.

Since its founding in 2014, the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation has been based in New Hampshire, home of the Foley family. It was created after James Foley, the family's oldest son, was held hostage and later beheaded by ISIS while working as a freelance conflict journalist in Syria.

"Our goal is to make the safe return of all Americans kidnapped or unjustly detained abroad a national priority." said Diane Foley, mother of James and founder and president of the foundation. "Having a presence in Washington will enable us to better advocate for hostage families with our government and other experts.

"Margaux's experience with RSF gives her an excellent press freedom background that will aid our mission to protect freelance conflict journalists. We are very pleased to have her on board," Diane Foley said.

"I am truly honored to join the foundation and help carry out its crucial mission of bringing home all Americans unjustly detained or held hostage abroad," said Ewen. "American families, as well as freelance journalists who face growing risks in the field, need our advocacy now more than ever."

By opening a permanent Washington office, the foundation hopes to grow its advocacy activities with both the executive branch and Congress as it continues to promote efforts to bring hostages home safely. It also is working with academic institutions to encourage the use of a safety curriculum it has developed to encourage safe practices among journalists who work in dangerous areas.

The James W. Foley Legacy Foundation has annually held the James W. Foley Freedom Awards fundraiser in Washington, DC to bring government officials, journalists, and hostage families together and to recognize those extraordinary individuals who demonstrate moral courage in government hostage affairs, journalism and humanity. The 2019 awardees are American diplomat Brett McGurk, who will receive the Hostage Advocacy award, Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, the Press Freedom award and Dr. Terrence Rynne, founder of the Marquette University Center for Peacemaking, the Humanitarian award.

The 2019 Foley Freedom Awards dinner will be held on April 2 at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. Christiane Amanpour of CNN and PBS will be the keynote speaker. Tickets may be purchased here.



Margaux Ewen


About James W. Foley Legacy Foundation 

James W Foley was an independent American conflict journalist who worked extensively across the middle east. He was taken hostage by ISIS in Syria in 2012, and was killed in 2014. His impact on colleagues and friends has been highlighted in the documentary film "Jim: The James Foley Story".

The James W. Foley Legacy Foundation is a registered nonprofit foundation, that supports work in three key areas that were important to Jim's life: American hostage freedom, protection of independent conflict journalists, and education of the public and university students regarding these silent crises.

For more information about the foundation, or to learn how you can make an impact, please visit www.jamesfoleyfoundation.org or contact Amy Coyne.

James W. Foley Legacy Foundation to Honor American Diplomat Brett McGurk, Journalist Jason Rezaian and Humanitarian Dr. Terrence Rynne at Awards Event


Annual Dinner to be Held April 2 at Washington's National Press Club with Christiane Amanpour as Keynote Speaker

DOVER, N.H. - The James W. Foley Legacy Foundation today announced the honorees for the 2019 James W. Foley Freedom Awards to be hosted in Washington, DC, on April 2, 2019. 

American diplomat Brett McGurk will receive the 2019 Hostage Freedom Award for his work in negotiations that led to the release of several Americans held captive in Iran, including journalist Jason Rezaian.

Rezaian, who was unjustly detained in Iran during his tenure as the Tehran bureau chief for The Washington Post, will receive the 2019 World Press Freedom Award.

Dr. Terrence Rynne, founder of the Marquette University Center for Peacemaking, will receive the 2019 Humanitarian Award for his work in conflict resolution and peacemaking.

Christiane Amanpour, chief international anchor of CNN's global affairs program "Amanpour," and host of "Amanpour and Company" on PBS will be the keynote speaker at the dinner. Amanpour continues to be a leading activist for press freedom & safety. 

"It is our honor to recognize the moral courage and individual contributions of Brett McGurk, Jason Rezaian and Dr. Terrence Rynne in prioritizing the importance of every American unjustly detained abroad and press freedom in the U.S. and around the world," said Diane Foley, president of the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation.

Foley noted that McGurk was the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition Against ISIS and lead negotiator with Iran over a 14-month period from 2014 to 2016 that led to the return home of Rezaian, Amir Hekmati and Saeed Abedini. His public service career has spanned the George W. Bush, Obama and Trump administrations.

"We are grateful for Mr. McGurk's dedication to American hostage recovery and the containment of ISIS in the Middle East," Foley said.

Rezaian was selected for his courageous work as a journalist in Iran and his advocacy for the release of American hostages who remain held in Iran and throughout the world.

"Jason Rezaian epitomizes the truth-seeking courage and passion of our talented journalists who champion those without a voice," Foley said.

Dr. Rynne established the Center for Peacemaking at Marquette University to improve the quality of life and reduce crime in Milwaukee's inner city, teach conflict resolution in local schools, encourage research efforts by faculty and students and develop strategies for peacemaking.

"Dr. Rynne's dedication to peace exemplifies the power of one person to do good in our troubled world and inspire others," Foley said.

To learn more about the 2019 James W. Foley Freedom Awards, to become a table sponsor or purchase tickets, please visit www.jamesfoleyfoundation.org. You may also contact Amy Coyne, Director of Corporate & Community Relations, at amy.coyne@jamesfoleyfoundation.org

Open Letter by Six Families of Dual and Foreign Nationals Imprisoned in Iran

Open Letter by Six Families of Dual and Foreign Nationals Imprisoned in Iran

An Open Letter to World Leaders, Rights Organizations and Media Outlets: a copy of this letter is being sent on December 2 to government officials within the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Austria, Lebanon, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Oman, the President of the European Commission, the European Union (EU) High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, members of the European Parliament, the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances, and members of the UN Security Council.