But perhaps the trial’s most important legacy was recentering the victims in the public record. The jury heard stories of extraordinary bravery, perhaps none more than Steven Sotloff, who was singled out for special attention because the captors suspected he was Jewish. Although Steven often wore extra layers of clothing to soften the blows during his regular beatings, he never admitted to his faith. The victims were journalists and aid workers, all of whom traveled to Syria to help those suffering, or at least to tell their stories. They should never have been belligerents in this war, but remembering them for the sacrifices they made is critical. Renewed efforts must now be made to bring home other victims—like journalist and Georgetown University law student Austin Tice.
Nothing will ever bring back those we have lost, nor will anything fill the holes forever stabbed into the hearts of the families. But maybe, just maybe, the trial in Alexandria will bring some closure, and some comfort in the knowledge that each of the torturers will pay for the pain they caused with their lives and freedoms. And, maybe, it might provide some long-awaited proof that America does, after all, look after its own—always.
“It's been a long cold lonely winter,” George Harrison, of the original Beatles, sang all those years ago. “It feels like years since it's been here. Here comes the Sun.”
Bruce Hoffman is a professor at Georgetown University and the Shelby Cullom & Kathryn W. Davis senior fellow for counterterrorism and homeland security at the Council on Foreign Relations. Hoffman served as an expert witness called by the government in the El Shafee Elsheikh trial.
Jacob Ware is a research associate for counterterrorism at the Council on Foreign Relations and an adjunct professor in Georgetown’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service.