(CNN) — The mother of James Foley — an American journalist beheaded by ISIS militants — said she is “embarrassed and appalled” by how the U.S. government dealt with her son’s case, telling CNN that officials even suggested family members could be charged if they raised ransom to free him.
“I think our efforts to get Jim freed were an annoyance” to the U.S. government, Diane Foley told CNN’s Anderson Cooper in an interview that aired Thursday. “It didn’t seem to be in (U.S.) strategic interest, if you will.”
Officials told Foley family members “not go to the media,” and that the “government would not exchange prisoners,” or carry out “military action” to try to rescue her son, according to Diane Foley.
“Jim was killed in the most horrific way. He was sacrificed because of just a lack of coordination, lack of communication, lack of prioritization,” Diane Foley said. “As a family, we had to find our way through this on our own.”
She added that the family was told many times that raising ransom “was illegal (and) we might be prosecuted.”
“We were just told to trust that he would be freed somehow, miraculously,” Foley’s mother told CNN. “And he wasn’t, was he?”
In fact, video posted online on August 19 showed James Foley kneeling next to a man dressed in black, with Foley reading a presumably scripted message that his “real killer” is America, then being summarily executed.
ISIS — the Islamist extremist group that’s taken over large swaths of Syria and Iraq in its quest to create a far-reaching caliphate under its strict version of Sharia law — took credit for Foley’s beheading, saying it was in response to U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and threatening more killings.
‘Our government needs to be … willing to negotiate’
More than three weeks later, U.S. President Barack Obama named Foley as he outlined his strategy for fighting ISIS and described the terrorist group’s brutality.
“They enslave, rape, and force women into marriage. They threatened a religious minority with genocide. In acts of barbarism, they took the lives of two American journalists — Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff,” Obama said in a televised address Wednesday night.
As she watched the speech, Diane Foley said one thing was going through her mind.
“This whole strategy to eliminate ISIS and the terror threat is important, obviously, so perhaps part of the strategic way of doing that is to bomb them, and to engage in force. But that only caused Jim’s death,” she said. “I guess all I’m trying to say is that our government needs to be shrewder, smarter, willing to negotiate with these people who hate us, so that we can find better ways to rid ourselves of terror.”
‘He was compelled to bear witness’
After her son’s death, Diane Foley wrote on the Free James Foley Facebook page that “we have never been prouder of our son Jim. He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people.”
Sometimes, she said Thursday, it was tough for his family to deal with his decisions to report in dangerous parts of the world.
“At times, even his siblings were angered that he would return after his captivity in Libya. I mean, it was hard as a family to understand, because Jim was so loved … and we were selfish. We wanted him with us. We wanted him safe,” she said. “But Jim was not. Jim was selfless, and he had the courage and the compassion. … He was compelled to bear witness.”
To this end, his family launched a foundation — the James W. Foley Legacy Fund — aimed at helping families of American hostages, supporting U.S. journalists in war zones and helping urban youth in educational endeavors.
The organization is one way the Foley family is trying to honor James’ past and do something positive in the future. But none of it takes away Diane Foley’s disappointment that more wasn’t done — especially by the U.S. government — to secure his release, somehow, since his November 22, 2012, disappearance in northwest Syria. At the time he was working for U.S.-based online news outlet GlobalPost.
“Jim would have been saddened” by the U.S. government’s efforts in the years after his abduction, his mother told CNN. “Jim believed, till the end, that his country would come to (his) aid.”
A failed rescue operation
Upon hearing these comments, U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice — after praising the Foley family for doing “an amazing job … to try to bring Jim home safely” — said she “and others in the U.S. government worked very hard with Diane Foley and her family to try to be supportive, to try to provide what information we could.”
Rice also pointed out “hundreds of American personnel” were involved in a “very daring and very well-executed rescue operation” to free Foley and other captives, after getting what they hoped was “actionable intelligence” about the location of the hostages. Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby has said elite U.S. commandos undertook this mission this summer inside Syria.
“Unfortunately, they were no longer there,” Rice, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told CNN. “But I think that effort … underscores the importance that we attach to doing everything that we possibly can to bring Americans in captivity back home.”
Diane Foley, though, said the rescue operation came “very late.”
“Their location was known for more than a year,” she said.
During her son’s time in captivity, she said, it often seemed the family knew more about his whereabouts than the authorities.
“I did all I could,” she said. “I was unable to do enough.”
Lessons for the future
Now, Diane Foley says she thinks Washington should change its approach to cases like that of her son and Steven Sotloff, another American journalist beheaded by ISIS weeks after James Foley.
“I pray that our government will be willing to learn from the mistakes that were made,” she told CNN, “and to acknowledge that there are better ways for American citizens to be treated.”
There should be international dialogue about how to handle hostages of terrorist groups, she said.
“The risk is becoming higher and higher,” she said, “and I really feel that our country let Jim down.”