The parents of Jim Foley speak to reporters during a press conference at their home in Rochester, N.H., on August 20, 2014.

The parents of Jim Foley speak to reporters during a press conference at their home in Rochester, N.H., on August 20, 2014. Jim Cole/AP

Does the US Need a Task Force To Negotiate With Terrorists?

Diane and John Foley want to start a conversation on the U.S. policy that they say led to their son's execution by ISIS. By Matt Vasilogambros

James Foley's life might have been saved if the United States changed its policy on negotiating with terrorists, his parents are now saying.

Diane and John Foley have already launched a foundation to honor their late son, a photojournalist who was beheaded by the Islamic State terrorist group in August. But now they want to use this foundation, a 501(c)(3), as a platform to start a conversation about changing the United States' non-negotiation policy for kidnapping victims, or at least making it more consistent so that the Americans and British aren't the ones who end up unrecovered.

"We fear that there are going to be more kidnappings in the future—humanitarian workers, journalists, tourists in parts of the world that are dangerous," Diane Foley told reporters on Thursday evening. "We really feel that American citizens need to be protected in this way and helped."

The Foleys announced this new position at the annual Washington Oxi Day Foundation celebration, an event honoring the service of Greece during World War II. The organization gives awards to individuals who fight for democracy and freedom; it has previously honored Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. James Foley was given the award posthumously on Thursday.

After receiving the award in James's place, John Foley spoke fondly of his son, "Jimmy," and how much he missed him. But he thinks the situation could have ended differently. His son and other people executed by the Islamic State might have had a way to freedom, he told the crowd at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington.

"These were truly wonderful human beings," John Foley said. "And the world is going to miss them. I think we really need to have a serious discussion to review these policies. Are they the right path in this point of time? This issue of kidnapping is not going to go away. I would hate to see other young men and women sacrificed arbitrarily based on a policy."

While he said his son might be home if the U.S. had a similar negotiating position as some European countries, he does recognize the outcome might have been the same.

"It may have never been ISIS's desire to release the Americans," he said. "Their hate is so deep that it just may have wanted to terrorize and taunt us. So, I can't say for sure. But without the effort, without the willingness to negotiate, we really don't know."

Now the Foleys want to stimulate better dialogue between the federal government and the families of kidnapping victims through the foundation. The U.S. may need a special task force that specifically deals with this issue, they say.

The Foleys were clearly frustrated with how the U.S. government treated them during the whole process—from their son's abduction to his execution. They were left out of the loop, they say.

"Along the way, we would have appreciated more in-depth communication with respect to his status," John Foley said. "We were told for a year and a half that Jim's situation was a high priority, that everything possible was being done, but they couldn't tell us anything because it was all classified."

He continued, "I don't think that we as intelligent adults couldn't have handled some of that information. Not that it would have changed the outcome, but it would have helped some of the anxiety, the angst that we were feeling as we went down the road, because we had nothing to hold our hat on. We had to trust, and we did, and we did, and we did. But after a year, we were no further along."

The Foleys haven't outright criticized the government yet for the handling of the case. With this new announcement, they will likely continue in the public spotlight as the Islamic State threatens to capture more journalists.

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