March 16, 2022

Diane Foley, Founder and President of the James W Foley Legacy Foundation | Pod Hostage Diplomacy

Diane Foley, Founder and President of the James W Foley Legacy Foundation | Pod Hostage Diplomacy

Diane Foley is the mother of five children, including American freelance conflict journalist, James W Foley. Jim was kidnapped in Syria on 22 November 2012 and he was murdered on 19 August 2014. Diane founded the James W Foley Legacy Foundation (JWFLF) in September 2014 less than a month after his public execution to ensure Americans held hostage and wrongfully detained overseas as well as their families are made a priority by the US government and given all the support they need. Diane is currently the President of the Foundation.

This week, we have the honour of speaking to Diane Foley herself. She talks about her son, James and the JWFLF. We discuss the different types of hostage-taking, the difference between ‘hostage’ and ‘wrongful detainee’ classifications, the US Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs office, American hostage Robert Levinson, the Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act, support for the families, ensuring there is a punishment for hostage-taking e.g. sanctions, US government stance on not-negotiating with hostage-takers, the case for negotiating as well as the Declaration Against Arbitrary Detention in State-to-State Relations launched by Canada. 

We also discuss what businesses with operations and employees around the world, academic institutions, journalists, news organisations as well as the public can all do to help.

If you prefer, you can watch the video version of this interview on YouTube

For more information on Diane Foley and the James W Foley Legacy Foundation, please check out the following:

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Diane Foley, President & Founder of the James W Foley Legacy Foundation | Pod Hostage Diplomacy


Daren Nair, Diane Foley


Daren Nair  00:05

Welcome to Pod Hostage Diplomacy. We work to free hostages and the unjustly detained around the world. Together with their families, we share their stories every week, and let you know how you can help bring them home. I'm Daren Nair, and I've had the honour of campaigning with many of these families for years. These are some of the most courageous and resilient people among us. People who have never given up hope, people who will never stop working to reunite their families. And we will be right there by their side until their loved ones are back home. Thank you for joining us. And now, let's meet this week's guest. Welcome to Pod Hostage Diplomacy. Diane Foley is the mother of five children, including American freelance conflict journalist, James W. Foley. She founded the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation in September 2014, less than a month after his public execution. Diane is currently the president of the foundation. Since 2014, she has led the foundation's efforts to fund the start of Hostage US and the International Alliance for a Culture of Safety, ACOS. In 2015, she actively participated in the National Counterterrorism Center hostage review, which culminated in the Presidential Policy Directive 30. This directive reorganised US efforts on behalf of Americans taken hostage abroad into an interagency Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell, the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, and the White House Hostage Response Group. Previously, Diane worked as a community health nurse and then as a family nurse practitioner for 18 years. She received both her undergraduate and masters degrees from the University of New Hampshire in Durham, New Hampshire. I've interviewed the families of eight Americans currently held hostage or wrongfully imprisoned overseas. And they all say the same thing. The James W. Foley Legacy Foundation does amazing work and has been very helpful to their families. Today, we have the honour of speaking to Diane herself. Diane, there are no words to express how sorry we are for what happened to your son, James. We are also truly grateful for all the amazing work you have done and continue to do in his name. Thank you for taking the time to speak to us today.


Diane Foley  02:29

Well, I'm honoured to do that. And any good we're doing is Jim's legacy. He had a lot of good he was planning to do in the world. He was the oldest of our five children and an avid reader, a curious young man, loved life, had a lot of friends. I think it was really when as he went off to university and was exposed to poverty in our own inner cities in the United States that he started to really develop a real concern and care for the underdog, for folks that hadn't had a middle class upbringing like he had. And it took him a while to find journalism. He started out as a teacher in Teach for America and which gave him even more desire to cover stories of people whose stories really aren't heard, whose voices are never heard. And that really eventually led him to the conflict journalism, which he became very passionate about, Daren.


Daren Nair  03:39

I can only imagine how great a person he was by the type of work you've been doing, and by how you talk about him. Now, can you talk to us about why you founded the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation?


Diane Foley  03:54

Sure. I was angry, Daren, obviously, appalled and upset that his jihadist captors would so cruelly murder him. But I was also appalled at the way our government had handled the situation. I really felt as Americans, we could do better, much better. I knew there were people who cared within the government. But the reality of it was that we were really not helped by our government. In many ways, we were lied to and led astray. And Jim was never... his return was never a priority. So, I really felt the need to at least try, with many of the good people I've met along the way, to make a difference for other families in this situation.


Daren Nair  04:58

Can you talk to us about what the foundation does?


Diane Foley  05:01

The James Foley Legacy Foundation was established to advocate for the return of Americans held hostage abroad and to promote journalists' safety worldwide. So, our advocacy includes research. A lot of times, we feel our foreign policy, particularly as it relates to Americans in these desperate situations, has not always been supported with evidence that it works. And so, important... important part of our work has been doing an annual review, confidential review, with families who are going through this ordeal, to see how they are being helped by our government and nonprofits. And what the gaps are, what ways we can improve, and bring their loved ones home. The other piece of our... of our mission has to do more with preventative safety. And, for the last few years, it's been primarily focused on journalism, though we're hoping to adapt some of it to any traveller, because I think anyone travelling today in the world needs to be risk averse and aware of the dangers of travelling internationally.


Daren Nair  06:22

I absolutely agree with you, Diane. I recorded an interview with Michael Scott Moore. He's a German American journalist that was investigating kidnappings in Somalia. And he himself was taken hostage by Somali pirates and held for 977 days. He did put measures in place to treat the risks or mitigate as much risk as possible. He did have a security detail. But I think on the day that he was captured, his security fell apart, and he was there as a journalist. So, it's great work that you do. Very important. Thank you for that.


Diane Foley  06:56

We're just beginning, Daren. There's so much more to do, truly, It's a difficult problem.


Daren Nair  07:03

Absolutely. Now, can you talk to us about the current active cases that you're working on? Because I know I've interviewed about eight families. Many of them are working with you as well. So can you just give us a brief overview of the current active cases?


Diane Foley  07:17

Sure. First of all, I want to clarify that we don't operationalize the return of... how I wish we could, but we don't. What we do is we listen to the families and try to help them find partners to help them bring their people home. Sometimes what people need is more access to government officials that we know and that sort of thing. So, we try to help them get that access. Sometimes they need third party experts who, like the Richardson Center, or I know other folks like the Soufan Group, or Eric Levenson, David Bradley, has helped various groups who actually can help operationalize in a non-government way to help people come home. But some people need media help that they choose to want to make their situation more public, because they're not getting heard in the way they... they need to. So, we try to listen to where they are, and fill in the gaps and collaborate with any partners we can find to help these families. The reason we started Hostage US was because many families have private, very significant financial needs when their loved one who might be the provider for the family is taken hostage. They might have other legal or even psychiatric problems from all the trauma of all of this. So, we... we just try to find other people who care and to collaborate between government and non-government and help the family get the support they need.


Daren Nair  09:21

Thank you for that. Now, these days when you mentioned hostage-taking, people tend to think about hostage-taking by terrorist groups. But it's not just by terrorist groups. Hostage-taking takes place involving, I mean the hostage-takers can be criminals, like the Somali pirates. They can be terrorists like ISIS or Al Qaeda. And they can be state actors like Iran, China, Venezuela, Russia. Now, can you just elaborate further on the difference between these hostage cases and what kind of approaches, in your experience, our governments should take and what is a difference in approach that you take when helping these families? 


Diane Foley  10:05

Well, the difference really is who the captor is. And you... you explained it really quite well. Our government divides them in two different buckets, if you will, the first one being, they call hostage, meaning a person who's taken by a criminal gang, pirate or other type of criminal. Whereas the... the state actors are when people are taken hostage by a government, a functioning government that wrongfully detains a person. Often that government may put out all kinds of bogus claims or... and that's what makes it difficult to often discern if that person is, in fact, has, in fact, caused... been... caused a crime in that country or if it truly is a wrongful detainee. But the approaches are very different, actually. PPD 30 was directed towards hostage cases. So, it's a more simplified approach to still a difficult problem. And even PPD 30 really didn't totally address the problem with ransom, which is often part of the problem with hostage cases. So, that remains problematic. But to be honest, wrongful detainees are infinitely more complex, because they, the state actors, often want very much to interfere with our foreign policy. So, they often use these innocent people, be they businessmen, journalists, tourists, educators, all sorts, aid workers, pastors, and they use the detention of that person to try to interfere with what our government feels is in the best interests of our own foreign policy. So, to be honest, PPD 30, I think in many ways, it needs to have an all of government hostage review. I think there's a lot that needs to be improved on the current hostage enterprise. The good thing was that part of it is law. So, we actually have a hostage enterprise. Previous to 2015, we did not. When Jim was kidnapped and murdered, along with five other Americans in 2014/15, there was no such thing. It was totally up to the president whether help was given or not. But now, we do have a hostage enterprise structure. But it was set up primarily for hostages. And we really need... it needs to be reviewed to help with the infinitely more complex situations that wrongful detainees present.


Daren Nair  13:10

I agree with you. Most of the individuals I've interviewed, their loved ones have been classified as wrongful detainees by the US Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs office. And I think the only family that I've interviewed so far that were classified as a hostage was Majd Kamalmaz. The Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell is currently working with their family as well. So, I've spoken to many families about this. When you're classified as a wrongful detainee, you have access, as I said, to the US Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs office. But if you're classified as a hostage, you still have access to the office, as well as additional tools within the government such as the Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell. Now, many of the families of these wrongful detainees say that they should have access to these tools, too, because they need as much support as they can get. This classification, do you feel that it is still valid or needs to change?


Diane Foley  14:13

I think the the classification is valid. I think the problem is the Levinson Act, which sought to make it into law and include wrongful detainees just needs amend... amendments. For one thing, it is not very action-oriented. It is not fully funded. Families of wrongful detainees do not have any funding to help provide basic necessities to their loved ones in prisons, often. In certain countries, the country won't pay to feed the prisoners. That... it's on the family. And so families are trying to do this on their own as well as families having... having the resources to advocate by coming to Washington. And then the final area of funding that is missing is there's no post-captivity funding to help wrongful detainees at all. In one case, a poor person was charged for their flight home, so, after all these years in captivity. So, there's no post-captivity funding for any medical, psychiatric care they might need. And... and then the other problem is there... only sanctions have been listed as a tool to be used for the resolving of these difficult cases, when, in fact, we need many more tools, much more creativity, because the... the captors truly use these people to interfere with our foreign policy. So, we need to get... have more available for people to negotiate freedom for these people.


Daren Nair  16:04

You started talking about what the US government needs to do better, the areas that need improvement. Can you elaborate further on this? Because you've mentioned sanctions, right? And you said that's one tool. They need to have more tools in place. But there are many things that the government, the US government, can do better, and as approach to negotiating with hostage-takers and the US government's stance on not negotiating. Even though, to be honest, not negotiating doesn't really mean not negotiating, because in cases related to state actors like Iran, even though the US government says "we don't negotiate," and the British government follows the US and says the exact same thing, the US has used Switzerland as an intermediary in several cases. I know the Swiss were involved in the release of American and US Navy veteran, Michael White, and in other American prisoners as well. So...


Diane Foley  17:06

But you're right, Daren. You're absolutely right. Our current policy doesn't really make sense. It isn't always evidence based. And that's partly we... why we seek to do research and encourage others to really see if our policy is bringing people home. Is our policy, in fact, protecting our citizens or doing the opposite? I mean, when you consider when Jim, Peter Kassig, Steven Sotloff, and Kayla Mueller were all in captivity together in Syria, they were with other western allies of ours. And all of them were negotiated out by France, Spain, Italy. Even Denmark allowed their family and supported Daniel Rye's family in securing his freedom. But the British and the Americans were all killed and left to die because of our policy. Well, our policy certainly didn't save their lives. And this is what we're tending to see, Daren, is that and... and that's what we're fighting for is for more of an evidence based approach to how we handle these cases. It is difficult, though. I want to... I don't want to make it sound like our government's trying not to help, because I do feel steps have gone forward. I mean, we've improved in some ways. At least we have someone responsible for the issue. I think the problem is they don't have enough clout, if you will, to actually execute on their strategies that it has. It gets teed up to the executive branch, and then the executive branch has so many competing issues related to the country this person might be held in that it's often relegated to the bottom of the pile. And so we have a lot of work ahead of us, Daren, and it isn't only the government who can do this. Some cases are best served by third party groups. The Richardson Center has in fact brought home many of our people, often in... in collaboration with our government, as has the Soufan Group. So often there's the need of more agility of a non-government partner. So, the Foley Foundation is all about encouraging that kind of collaboration and partnership and seeking ways to figure this out, to get it done to bring people home. But it's difficult. It is not easy for any of our countries to deal with.


Daren Nair  19:54

No, I understand the complexity here. So, I work in security, and I have an appreciation for the position taken by security professionals or defence professionals, or people working in law enforcement. So, their stance is we do not negotiate with terrorists, because if we are seen to give a concession, then it's going to be open season on any American anywhere around the world. Now, I understand that principle. And the UK government say the same thing. Right now, British citizen, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, has been wrongfully in prison, or held hostage in Iran, for almost six years now. And it's believed that she's being held, as well as other British nationals, to force the British government to pay a 40-year-old debt, worth 400 million pounds. Now, this is an outstanding debt that needs to be paid. International courts have ruled that Britain needs to pay this debt. And they haven't, for whatever reasons. They've been citing US sanctions. But what the Iranians have done... done is take these innocent people hostage and use them as leverage to force the British government to pay this debt. Now, I'm sure they've done that with American citizens as well and citizens of other countries. The thing is, I saw a Member of Parliament saying exactly what I just said that if... if we are seen to give in to Iran, then it's going to be open season on any British citizen anywhere around the world. Anytime a foreign government has an issue with our foreign policy, they're just going to kidnap one of our citizens. And that's the stance. I understand that. But at the same point, other governments, like you said, France, Spain, have been able to secure the release of their citizens, because they say, ultimately, our ultimate priority is our citizens. We will then deal with the consequence and disincentivizing this, or punishing the hostage-takers after we bring our citizens home. So, I can appreciate the French government stance, the Spanish government stance, but as you said, is there any... I know you are collecting data. But at this very moment, is there any data to support what these security and defence professionals are saying that if we are seen to give in, it will be open season on American citizens or British citizens around the world?


Diane Foley  22:25

No, there's not. That's the problem. There is not. Currently, our citizens tend to fare worse than others, the British, Americans, folks, because our government tends to put the policy before the return of our citizen, unfortunately. And there's a lot of reasons for that. The captors love it, because they're just interfering in any way they can, and they love to, as in the situation with with Nazanin. It's a very tragic situation. However, I feel very strongly that governments must find ways to talk to captors of our citizens. Now negotiate... does negotiate mean...? If we refuse to even talk to captors, there's no way anyone is going to come home. And that's what happened with Jim and all the others in that horrible time in 2014/15. So, I feel it is essential that we talk to people. I... I applaud our trying to work with the government of Iran. I think we have to talk to each other and figure, be creative, be shrewd about what we will... will give in exchange for the fact that, yes, we prioritise the return of our people, but we're not going to totally bend to every one of their demands. So, that's part of the art and difficulty of diplomacy. But to me, if you never even engage, then those people are lost. Because I feel that it's essential to engage with people who do this to our people, otherwise, there's no hope for their return. And I feel very strongly about that. And that is why part of our work is to continue to gather research, to show, in fact, that this does not protect our people. But, in fact, has our people have to experience worse outcomes from kidnapping.


Daren Nair  24:45

I agree with you. I think Jason Rezaian said this on an interview somewhere, I forget, but what he said was these hostages and wrongful detainees can't be, I mean, they can't just... You can't prioritise trade or doing business with other countries and look at these individuals as just the cost of doing business. Right? Because obviously, he's been in that position. And I understand. And I can... I can see what it's like. I mean, if I put myself in the shoes of a government official trying to secure some huge historic deal, like the JCPOA to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, or whatever huge trade deal with another country, or any... any kind of deal, and then you weigh that and the consequence to millions of people. And then, on the other hand, you have the small number of innocent individuals held captive. And I obviously agree they have to be brought home. Their lives matter. But there are many people just look... look at this in terms of numbers and don't see the humans.


Diane Foley  26:01

Absolutely, Daren, that's part of the problem. However, I feel our country has a moral duty to protect their citizens. And that's what this is. This is about what a government does for its people, where our government for the people by the people. And so when one of our citizens or US nationals is wrongfully detained or held hostage, I feel their return should be a national priority. Now, that's just my opinion. But that is what we strive to do through the Foley Foundation. I feel policy should not come before our people.


Daren Nair  26:44

No, I agree with you, too. And I'm sure the families agree with you as well. What was I going to say? You mentioned sanctions, right? Again, so, I work in security. We write laws; we write policies. There are rules. And if you want people to comply with these rules, there must be an enforcement clause. There has to be a consequence if they don't follow the rules. So obviously... I've interviewed the family of Trevor Reed and the family of Paul Whelan, both American citizens and former US Marines, currently wrongfully imprisoned in Russia. Paul has been held for over three years. Trevor has been held for over two years. And as Russia has invaded Ukraine, it's... and the US is going to put sanctions in place. At least, it's going to make it harder to negotiate the release. Now, I remember a few weeks ago, if not a month ago, there was this meeting between Secretary Blinken, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov. And before that meeting got away, before they decided to all sit down, Secretary Blinken says do the right thing. Free Trevor Reed and Paul Whelan. Let them come home. Russian Minister Lavrov didn't really... just didn't really say anything, just went and took a seat. So, my point is, we've seen many statements from the US government. Spokesperson for the US State Department, Ned Price, has released many statements. You can see that on the Twitter feed. But what happens if other countries don't comply? Or don't listen? There has to be a consequence. I mean, we... there's a reason why we have laws, we have police, they enforce the law. And I understand the United States can't act as the world's police. But if you want people to follow the rules, there must be a consequence if they don't. And I'm sure there has to be a rule somewhere that says you cannot take innocent people hostage. You can't wrongfully detain them for years, and use them as pawns to extract concessions from their home country. What is... what is the consequence?


Diane Foley  29:04

Well, that is... that is... that is the problem. One of the... I guess what I was trying to say with that is that sanctions can be a very important tool. But the problem is a lot of actors, state actors, who take our people are already sanctioned for other reasons. So, often, as in the case of Putin, I mean, you know, Russia or Venezuela or Iran. A lot of these countries are already sanctioned rather heavily. So, we need... Yes, sanctions can be helpful, but if they're already sanctioned, they don't have much incentive to let our people go. So, we have... that's what I meant by needing other creative ideas of listening to what the other countries might need, might want, might... ways that we can negotiate with them. Like, who knows, earlier in the pandemic, perhaps some... We could have shared some vaccine or... or found some other ways that the country might have a need for certain things that... that might have been of interest to those countries. That's what I'm talking about, Daren. I just feel that we need a plethora of ideas and creative means of motivating one another to let people go. That's what I was trying to say. It can't just be only the sanctions, and currently in the Levinson Act, that is the only tool they put there for us to use, besides not letting people into our country and... and the use of visa restrictions, of course. But... and I applaud that... that... that... that is in there. It's just that I think we need additional tools allowed. 


Daren Nair  31:00

So, I mentioned... Yeah, so I mentioned PPD 30 at the beginning. The Levinson Act is a newer... newer and better version of this. For our listeners who aren't aware of the Levinson Act, and also Robert Levinson, can you just give them an overview?


Diane Foley  31:17

Sure. Sure. Robert Levinson was a very dedicated public servant, he had worked in FBI, CIA, all of his career, literally. And he was in Iran, actually off on some island of Kish in off Iran doing work. And he disappeared. He was taken hostage there. A number of years... He was held hostage, forgive me, I don't have the number. But it was more than 10 years, maybe perhaps 13-15 years. It was a very long time. Our government really tried to do what they could to find him and to bring him home. But he died in captivity. And he has a very amazing family. And though that family really helped develop the Levinson Hostage-taking and Accountability Act, which enshrined the Presidential Policy Directive 30 into law. And it did give us criteria so that our State Department would be charged with looking at the detention of any American around the world. And there were certain criteria that would allow us to call that a wrongful detention, and then transfer that case to the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs. So that is beginning to be implemented. But, like any law, there are many hiccups and many, you know, struggles, and so we're currently in the process of... Consular Affairs is not used to this extra burden, frankly, of having to do this. And the other thing that's complicated is that legal permanent residents are not normally served by Consular Affairs. Consular Affairs normally just takes care of US citizens. But the Levinson Act covers legal, permanent residents as well as US citizens. So, we're working on a lot of this. Some of it is education of our good consular people so that they understand who is eligible for this. And also helping them to expedite, make decisions quickly. Because often the best time to get someone freed is early in their captivity, before that person is identified as a US citizen and a country chooses to really hold on to them. So, we still have a lot of problems in helping that to be a speedy enough process. But we're very heartened by the bipartisan passage of the Levinson Act is... was a huge step forward. Now we're just working on trying to get it funded, implemented and active. So, that's where we are with that. Now. Does that help, Daren?


Daren Nair  34:28

Definitely helps. And I spoken to one family that have a loved one wrongfully imprisoned overseas, and they were directed... so, they're an American citizen. They were directed to the Bureau of Consular Affairs. And they kept on saying, "my son is wrongfully imprisoned." And what they decided to do is they took the Levinson Act, they went through the criteria for different bullet points, and they took these news articles and statements from politicians and provided that as supporting evidence to meet the criteria for each point, then submitted this to the SPEHA office, the office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, to say, "please treat my son as someone who is wrongfully imprisoned." And then Ambassador Carstens. Ambassador Roger Carstens, who is the current US Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, responded saying, "yes, I agree. Your son is wrongfully imprisoned." And they changed the classification. The US government started putting out statements saying this individual has been wrongfully imprisoned. And it matters to the family. When the US government is on your side and agrees... and agrees that your son is innocent, agrees that they are wrongfully detained and publicly calls out the government to release them, publicly says that they are wrongfully in prison because, at the beginning, when they are wrongfully in prison, they don't have... just have to prove to their... I mean, they don't have to secure the release from this foreign country. They have to prove to everyone they know that "my son or my daughter, my mother, my father, my brother, or my sister is innocent," even to their own... even to the US government. They need to prove that they are innocent. I interviewed Joey and Paula Reed, Trevor's family. When it happened, they had to prove... I mean, Trevor is an honourable man. He's a decorated former US Marine. They had to prove to Americans that he was innocent. And that's why they paid... They invested so much in the legal process. They wanted to show everyone they knew that their son was innocent.


Diane Foley  36:50

Well, you're making a very good point, Daren. And I think the reality is, we have to realise one of the reasons for this is that thousands of Americans are detained every year, right? And Americans do... are not perfect. So, people do commit crimes and cause problems in other countries. But that definitely makes it harder, because then, you're right, families have to make the case. And one of the problems with the Levinson Act, we found, is that there's not a clear process of how a family might go about that. Some families are more savvy than others. And that is another one of the things we've tried to do is to help families and urge our government to make a clearer process available for families, so that they can present their case, if you will, of why they think their loved one is in fact wrongfully detained. And that's been one of the problems that we're working on that, a lot of times, we've had, we currently still have, families that are still being held in Consular Affairs and not given the extra help that the Special Envoy can give. Because the Special Envoy has a staff of 26. So, they have... they have the ability to really work on more hostage diplomacy, and really tee up strategies to bring that person home. Whereas Consular Affairs does not have the resources to do that. So, it's... it's more than just our government believing in them. But it's also in getting the... all the resources of the Fusion Cell and Special Envoy to come to bear to bring that person home. So, it is a huge deal. And we're trying to work on expediting that process. Because it's been lagging. It's really taking too long. And we get impatient with it because, meanwhile, people's lives are in the balance.


Daren Nair  39:04

Absolutely. I interviewed Elizabeth Whelan, sister of Paul Whelan, the American held in Russia, and she was quite upset because it took them quite a while to get that wrongful detainee or wrongfully imprisoned designation. And I think, with the Russian government putting up propaganda on their state television saying that he was being held for espionage, I think a lot of damage was done in the meantime.


Diane Foley  39:31

But that's common, Daren. That's very common, that particularly with the state actors, that's the... one of the first things they do is build a rumour mill about a lot of disinformation that validates their reason for imprisoning a person. So, it's very difficult.


Daren Nair  39:48

Now, as I mentioned, it's not just Americans being held hostage or wrongfully imprisoned overseas. There are citizens from all around the world. So, Canada, I believe it was in response to Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor being held in China, came up with the Declaration on Arbitrary Detention, which has been signed by multiple countries. Right? And people have seen this and said it's a good first step. But it doesn't really have much teeth. And the hostage-takers, as in the states that take citizens hostage or wrongfully imprison them, did not... didn't... obviously didn't sign up to this declaration. What are your thoughts on this?


Diane Foley  40:30

What was the last part, Daren, about who didn't sign up for it? I'm sorry.


Daren Nair  40:34

So... so, obviously, it was in response to China, taking Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor hostage, wrongfully imprisoning them. But my point is, many countries have signed up to this declaration, except the ones that are actually at fault of taking innocent people from around the world hostage.


Diane Foley  40:55

I still think this is a huge step forward, though, Daren, because I... I wouldn't expect act... state actors that kidnap people for their own agenda are going to want to work against that, because it's so helpful to them. But I do think countries who... coming together can be stronger together. I guess a lot of times, I feel like when Jim was held in 2014, he was with eighteen other western allies. They were all allies of ours. If we had worked together to strategize how to negotiate with the captors, there may have been a much better result. But instead, each country, unfortunately, did it their own way. And that... that's where we had the fragmented result. So, I applaud the Canadian leadership in this regard. As a matter of fact, we're talking to them tomorrow, because they're planning to do more things in terms of our working on communication, so that we can build a better coalition and better collaborative communication. Because I just think there's power in numbers, and we need to come together to help one another with this escalating problem, really, Daren. So I applaud their work. I think it's wonderful.


Daren Nair  42:31

I agree. I think, at least it's the first good step. It's good to name the problem. Now, you mentioned many people have been wrongfully imprisoned, taken hostage. They are business people, academics, journalists. So, there are many US businesses with operations and employees around the world. What can they do to protect their employees? Or what should they be doing?


Diane Foley  42:55

Well, you know, I think you're making an excellent point, Daren. I do think and that's something I think we need to tap more, as a non-governmental group, that we need to tap some of these international country... er, companies, who do travel worldwide and have very important work in Russia, China, all these countries that are holding our people. I think those companies usually work, have a security detail, and work very hard to protect their employees. But I don't think they necessarily contribute much on the bigger scale of things. And sometimes they'll default in the case of like, Citgo. You know, the Citgo 6. I mean that... I don't... I'm not privy to all the details, but those US nationals were lured to a business meeting in Caracas, where they were kidnapped. So, in those kinds of cases, I think it's immoral for those... those companies not to be at the forefront of bringing those people home. I feel the onus is on them to do that. However, a lot of times, they don't do that, as we know. We've seen that happen again and again. Many companies do take it seriously and offer all kinds of insurance for their... and security details for their people. Others don't. And I think you're making a very good point. They could be helping more with the bigger problem.


Daren Nair  44:43

Absolutely. So, I've interviewed at least two... families of... two members, three members of the Citgo 6. There's a lot more that Citgo can do. Now, academics, so many academics have been taken in other countries. I campaigned and spoke to Matthew Hedges, who is a British citizen. He was wrongfully detained in Dubai, in the UAE, for over six months. And he is still dealing with that trauma years after his release. Now, I spoke to him a year after he was released, and he said universities need to do more to warn academics travelling overseas, doing research overseas. So, there are many academics. There are academics being held in Iran, like Fariba Adelkah. I interviewed the support committee campaigning for her release, and they said academic freedom is under threat all around the world. Scholars At Risk will surely be able to confirm that. So, should... given that American universities, academic institutions, are world famous, . obviously, they're going to have researchers travelling the world. Should these institutions, universities, be doing more to warn their staff? The researchers?


Diane Foley  46:10

Absolutely. I mean, I think there have been several cases. One of the most poignant ones was the case of Xiyue Wang, who was a Princeton graduate student and researcher, who was sent to Iran, you know, a student visa all legally arranged. The university paved the way for his work. And he ended up being really abandoned in captivity there for five, I believe it was five years, three to five years, a very long traumatising time. And, you know, I'm sure Princeton tried to help in their way, but they did not... they were not their biggest advocate, and this family has suffered immeasurably from all of that. It's been a very, very tragic journey for that family. So, I totally agree, whenever be it companies, or universities or whoever is sponsoring people to do dangerous work abroad, they need to have the backs of these people. But I also think that the countries do, and that's where I think it comes back to the... our US government's responsibility. If one of our people has a US passport, they..., they... we should have their backs in these situations. But I agree that businesses, universities, certainly can help with that effort.


Daren Nair  47:53

I agree. Now, the next one is the point that you obviously know very well, journalists. A lot of bad things going on in the world. There are a lot of dangerous places. And if we want to be able to help, if you want to fix these problems, we first need to know about them. Someone needs to report about these injustices, which means there's going to be a brave journalist travelling to these locations. Now, that's obviously... there's a lot of risk involved there. What can journalists and news media do better? I mean, I know you provide free training, I believe, to these organisations.


Diane Foley  48:33

Well, what we do... That is an excellent question. And to be honest, the big groups like say, Reuters, or CNN or several... their staff, journalists usually go with a security team and entourage to protect them. Because they have to, because of the danger. But what we saw happen in 2014, and 2015, is the fact that freelance journalists like our son, James, had his security training and all that on his own time. He made sure he was prepared, but he had no security detail, no extra protection that these bigger news groups can do. And that is why, in 2015, we were the founding members of the Alliance for a Culture of Safety. And that is an international group, a small group, but it's different in that it has press freedom and nonprofits like our own, also media companies, big media companies like BBC, CNN, etc, as well as freelance journalists. And it's... so, it's a coalition to help provide safety training for freelancers and to provide what... what we can as a community in terms of security information and guidance to these freelancers. But it doesn't solve the problem totally. But at least it's an entity that is now opening the door so that freelancers can get state of the art training. What the Foley Foundation does, our piece, is that we provide a free curricula for undergraduate and graduate students, any... for any student who aspires to be a journalist or international traveller, if you will, because what our curriculum is about... it's about identifying risk and mitigating it, having a plan in place so... and how you're going to do what you plan to do. And so, that's our piece that we employ it, here in the United States primarily.


Daren Nair  50:56

Well, thank you for doing that. Now, what can the American public do to help? And it doesn't just have... it doesn't just have to be the American public. What can members of the public in the United States and around the world do to help?


Diane Foley  51:09

Well, thank you for that question. Daren. I myself, before this happened to Jim, was totally clueless. I had no idea really how dangerous it could be to travel internationally. And I think the first thing the public needs to know is that they have to be aware of the dangers of travelling internationally. And yet, we need to travel internationally. We can never be understanding or peaceful world if we don't travel and learn from one another and grow together. But we also have to be shrewd about how it's undertaken, and not to take undue risks, and to take whatever, do whatever safety training or protection steps are needed. So, the awareness is the first step. The second step is certainly to help us to... help us with this, our cause, to bring wrongfully detained and our hostages home. Because this is a silent crisis that is often put at the bottom of the list of our country's priorities, frankly, because of horrific things constantly happening in the world like this... this horrible invasion of Ukraine. I mean, that is... is just so horrible. And unfortunately, there's always huge things happening in the world. And therefore, this silent, quiet, tragic crisis of people being taken and held captive, wrongfully detained, continues around the world. And I... we would employ any help and understanding around this problem, because it is an exacerbating one.


Daren Nair  53:11

Absolutely. Now, how can people keep up to date with what the James W Foley Legacy Foundation is doing?


Diane Foley  53:18

Well, we would love anyone to go to our website at We have two major events we do annually. We... we do a Freedom Awards, usually in the spring in Washington, DC. And that is for our hostage families to have an opportunity to come together with both journalists and government officials to interact and to raise the level of this issue so that we can bring people home. At that... at that event, we do honour people who have helped with hostage advocacy, press freedom and humanitarian work around the world. And actually, this year, we're launching a new award, the Levinson. Excellence in Government Award, and we're actually giving it to the sponsors of the Levinson Act this year. Because that was not easy to get that through in a bipartisan way. So, we're very grateful for that. Another way is we have a freedom run every fall, every October, which is when Jim was born. And this is a kind of gathering of individuals, virtual or in person, all over the world. We have had runs throughout the United States, Paris, London, Tokyo. We've had them all over the world, literally, as some people will just do it all on their own. And we send them a T-shirt and they can stand for freedom. And we would love anybody to engage in that because it's a way to share the problem and to stand for freedom and doing the right thing in the world. So, I would really welcome anyone to do any of that. And they can follow what we do on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. And we do also have a film for anyone interested in how the Foley Foundation started. It's called "Jim, the James Foley Story." And that is available everywhere: Netflix, Prime Video, YouTube. And I would encourage you to educate yourself about this problem, and so appreciate it, really.


Daren Nair  55:43

Diane, we're almost at the end of our interview. Is there anything else you'd like to mention?


Diane Foley  55:47

Well, I guess the only thing I would mention, Daren, is that Jim aspired to be a man of moral courage. And that's why we take that tagline as our motto. And I would ask all of you listening and... to aspire to be a person of moral courage, to do a bit of good in your own right, to have the courage to do the next right thing. Because our world needs you. And I thank you, Daren, for taking the time and your moral compass guiding you to start this podcast to help the world become more aware of this tragic problem. Thank you so very much for your time.


Daren Nair  56:36

You're very welcome, Diane. It's an honour to help. And, as I said at the beginning of the interview, and I'll say it again, thank you for all that you do. 


Diane Foley  56:44

Thank you. 


Daren Nair  56:44

And thank you again for joining us today.


Diane Foley  56:46

My pleasure. My honour. Thank you.


Daren Nair  56:55

Thank you for listening to this week's episode of Pod Hostage Diplomacy. We're not just a podcast, we're a community. If you're on Twitter, and would like to post a message of solidarity to the families or have any questions for us, please tweet it using the hashtag, #PodHostageDiplomacy, and we will get back to you. If you like what we're trying to do, please do consider supporting the show financially. You can do this using the support the show link in the description of this podcast episode. We're grateful for any contributions no matter how small. Thanks again for listening. And we'll be back next week. Take care.