The Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad denied claims by President Joe Biden that it was holding American journalist Austin Tice captive ten years after his disappearance in Syria in August 2012.
Commemorating the tenth year of Tice’s alleged captivity, the White House issued a statement last week that it was “certain” the journalist and former Marine was being “held by the Government of Syria.”
However, Syria’s Foreign Ministry contested the White House’s allegation, claiming that it had not kidnapped Tice and was not “holding any American citizen on its territories.”
“The U.S. issued last week misleading and illogical statements by the American president and secretary of state that included baseless allegations against Syria,” the foreign ministry’s statement read, adding that the White House had falsely accused it of “kidnapp[ing] or detain[ing] American citizens” without cause.
U.S. officials have previously indicated that they had negotiated with Damascus for Tice’s return. However, these efforts have made little headway, and the Syrian government has repeatedly claimed that it does not have him.
“We have repeatedly asked the government of Syria to work with us so that we can bring Austin home,” President Joe Biden announced in a statement last week, coinciding with the tenth anniversary of the journalist’s kidnapping. State Department spokesman Ned Price also emphasized that the government had “engaged extensively [and] directly with Syrian officials and through third parties” to secure Tice’s release. Although Price noted that Syria had “never acknowledged holding him,” he claimed that the State Department would “not … be deterred in our efforts.”
“We are going to pursue every avenue for securing Austin’s safe return,” he added.
Tice was last seen on August 14, 2012, at a checkpoint in an area in western Damascus with ongoing clashes between the Syrian government and rebel groups. Although no footage has since been made public of the journalist, Tice’s family claimed they had later received a 43-second video showing him “being held by unidentified armed men,” according to Human Rights Watch. HRW added that if any party to the Syrian conflict had captured Tice and held him incommunicado, it would amount to an “enforced disappearance,” a war crime under international law.
At least 300 journalists have been killed in Syria since the beginning of its civil war, according to Reporters Without Borders—both at the hands of the Syrian government and anti-Assad rebels.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.