Choose your victims well

The Deputy Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists remembers James Foley.

He was already well known to CPJ staff, who along with many other groups and individuals had advocated for his release when he was captured by pro-Qadaffi forces in Libya in 2011 and held for six weeks.

Foley had been with three other journalists when they came under fire near Brega. One, Anton Hammerl, a freelance South African photographer, was killed.

Captivity in Libya, and the death of a colleague who was working on a shoestring budget, seem to have intensified Foley’s passion to help fellow journalists, particularly those risking their lives in conflict zones without the training, equipment, and finances afforded by major news organizations.

In addition to the normal band of war-hardened reporters, the Libya conflict attracted many less experienced freelancers and newcomers. Journalists had to help one another. Even so, some were unlucky. Acclaimed freelance photographer Tim Hetherington bled to death after taking shrapnel in the leg in Misrata; none of his colleagues knew how to save him. This prompted his friend Sebastian Junger to set up an organization to teach reporters basic first aid–Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues, or RISC.

James Foley attended the first-ever RISC course at the Bronx Documentary Center in April 2012. During that course, we sponsored the screening of a filmtitled “Bearing Witness” about five intrepid women journalists, including another victim of the Syrian war, Marie Colvin. When we spoke after the screening I wanted to hear about his experience, but Foley would have none of it. He wanted to talk about raising money for Anton Hammerl’s family. And he did more than talk.

He also helped to raise a bunch of money for Hammerl’s children.

Foley said he kept returning to the frontlines to follow Colvin’s exhortation to bear witness, but he went beyond observing. He helped. After documenting the toll taken on civilians, particularly children, by the fighting in Aleppo in a piecefor GlobalPost, Foley launched a campaign to raise money for the hospital he had filmed.

That’s the kind of person Islamic State thinks it good to murder by cutting off his head with a knife.

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