On December 6th, 2019, Ms. Diane Foley, Founder and President of the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, came to IWP to speak on issues regarding current U.S. hostage policies. Ms. Foley spoke from a personal place, having lost her son, freelance conflict journalist James “Jim” W. Foley, after he was taken hostage in Syria in 2012 and executed by ISIS in 2014. The event was held in honor of Pearl Harbor Day and was sponsored by IWP’s Student Veterans Association.
Ms. Foley began her lecture by commenting on the importance of moral courage in all facets of life, quoting IWP’s mission statement of creating “moral leaders with a dedication to the pursuit of truth.” In both the cases of her son’s tragic murder and the devastation of Pearl Harbor, Ms. Foley noted that “an enemy found a vulnerable target and a way to inflict horrific pain on our country and our nation.” She then went on to say that how the United States responds to such attacks is critical, citing some of the United States’ past methods of handling attacks that have taken place on U.S. soil. Ms. Foley then briefly discussed Jim’s passions growing up, including reading and tutoring inner-city children. After studying issues regarding democracy and individual freedom, along with already having three younger siblings in the U.S. military, Jim found his passion for conflict reporting.
Despite Ms. Foley having three children already in the military, she admitted that she was ignorant of the higher risks involved in being a freelance reporter in Middle Eastern conflict zones. There were countless dangers associated with the job, but Jim felt compelled to tell the story of the Arab struggle for freedom and to be a voice for the voiceless. Jim occasionally ventured to Syria to report on the spread of the Arab Spring, having told his mother that he had found his true passion.
In November of 2012, Ms. Foley and her husband John received a call informing them that Jim had been kidnapped at gunpoint in Syria. After receiving the call, Ms. Foley was unsure of where she could turn to for support. The FBI urged the Foleys not to speak about Jim’s capture, but after months of no news, they chose to turn to the media for help. Ms. Foley also began to take frequent trips to Washington, D.C. to state her case and hopefully find some answers. After several meetings with the FBI, the State Department, multiple ambassadors, and the White House, Ms. Foley felt that she was continuously going in circles with no solutions in sight. All parties involved were stating that finding Jim was their highest priority, but no party was actually taking it upon themselves to find him.
In November of 2013, the family received an email from the captors providing Jim’s proof of life. However, the captors included several demands in exchange for keeping him and the other journalists alive. Since the FBI was not allowed to engage with captors, Ms. Foley and her family had to be the ones to attempt to negotiate. By February of 2014, several hostages from other Western countries were beginning to be released, giving new hope to the Foley family. Yet, it was soon realized that the governments of these other countries had actually been negotiating with the captors for the release of their hostages. Due to the United States’ reluctance to negotiate with terrorists, Ms. Foley realized that the American hostages never had a real chance of coming home.
After Jim’s brutal and public execution, Ms. Foley felt a great deal of anger, both at ISIS and the United States government for its inaction. Yet, after taking a step back, Ms. Foley began to understand all the lives that Jim had touched and the moral courage he had. The Foleys also felt that Jim’s mission of fighting for a free press and democracy was now their mission to carry on. Within three weeks of Jim’s murder, Ms. Foley had established the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation to advocate for the freedom of all Americans taken hostage abroad and for journalist safety worldwide. Ms. Foley’s work opened the door for the White House to undertake a full government and non-government review of how the United States handles hostage situations. The review revealed that there was serious disorganization and lack of coordination throughout the entire system, which, in the case of Ms. Foley, had resulted in the death of her son.
The tireless work of Ms. Foley led to unprecedented changes in the White House, with President Obama introducing a Presidential Policy Directive advocating for hostage safety. At the close of her lecture, Ms. Foley argued that the United States government should always make the return of innocent American hostages a national priority. The James W. Foley Legacy Foundation also aims to teach a preventative safety curriculum to journalists traveling abroad. Ms. Foley believes that honoring the memory of her son means inspiring future leaders to be adults of moral courage and compassion, which she will continuously do through the work of the foundation and her personal advocacy of hostage rights.
On January 24th, IWP students came together for a movie night to watch the documentary about Jim Foley’s life, Jim: The James Foley Story.