WASHINGTON — A bipartisan congressional coalition called on President Joe Biden to use his “full capabilities” to secure the release of journalist Austin Tice, who disappeared while reporting in Syria, and said they would fully support his efforts.
Tice, a freelance journalist working for McClatchy and other news organizations, was detained nine years ago at a checkpoint in a Damascus suburb. Biden administration officials have told McClatchy they believe he is still alive.
“We are calling on you at the outset of your administration to use your full capabilities to secure Austin’s long overdue release,” said a letter to Biden signed by 80 senators and representatives.
“We trust that will include appropriately following up on efforts by previous administrations, as well as talks initiated by the Syrians,” the letter dated Monday said. “Across multiple administrations, Congress has stood united in supporting action to free Austin Tice.”
The members of Congress said, “We commit to supporting you using every constructive tool in your power to secure Austin’s safe return.”
“Bringing home Americans held in captivity abroad is one of the administration’s highest priorities,” a White House National Security Council spokesperson said. “State partners with the interagency Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell, the operation center for the recovery of all U.S. hostages overseas. Together, we are working daily to bring home Austin and all U.S. citizens held in captivity overseas.”
The signatures were led by Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, Texas Republicans who have been trying for years to get Tice freed. Both have spoken on the Senate floor urging for the release of Tice, who is a Texas native.
The letter was similar to one sent two years ago to then-President Donald Trump, organized by Cornyn and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and signed by 173 members of Congress. Murray is also at the top of the letter sent to Biden.
The congressional letter praised Biden for retaining Roger Carstens, special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, who was appointed by Trump last year.
“As demonstrated by your decision to retain Ambassador Roger Carstens as the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, securing the release of Americans held captive overseas is a vital and non-partisan mission,” the letter said.
“The recent release of others in Syria, including one American, give Marc and Debra (Tice) confidence that their son’s release can also be secured,” the letter said.
Carstens was involved in direct talks with Syrian government officials last year. Those talks collapsed after the Syrians refused to provide any knowledge of Tice’s whereabouts, officials said.
Tice was a student at Georgetown Law School in 2012 when he traveled to Syria as a freelance journalist. In August, he was south of Damascus, writing his last pieces and planning to leave for Lebanon.
He got into a car in Darayya, a Damascus suburb, and was detained at a checkpoint. Five weeks later, a video was released showing him held by unidentified armed men.
The congressional letter praised intelligence officials from the Obama and Trump administrations for assuring the Tice family that their son remains alive.
“Every day Austin is held captive causes immeasurable pain for the Tice family and the countless Americans across the country committed to the mission of freeing him,” the letter said.
Story by David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau. Francesca Chambers contributed to this report.