One by one, our children — James Foley of New Hampshire, Steven Sotloff of Florida, Peter Kassig of Indiana and Kayla Mueller of Arizona — were taken from us by the hateful criminals of the Islamic State.
Finally, the time for justice has come. Two Islamic State fighters, Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh — part of a cell of British jihadists who tortured and killed our children in Syria — have been captured. We are deeply grateful to President Trump and the men and women of the F.B.I., the United States military and our allies in the Syrian Democratic Forces who apprehended these men in January.
The question now is what will happen to these deluded sadists, who remain in the custody of the Syrian Kurdish fighters who captured them. The F.B.I. has had access to interrogate them. The British government long ago rescinded their citizenship and seems to want nothing further to do with them. They should be brought to America to face our justice system.
We want the world to know that we agree with the longstanding British government position that it would be a mistake to send killers like these to the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, or to seek the death penalty in court. Either path would make them martyrs in the eyes of their fanatic, misled comrades in arms — the worst outcome.
Instead, they should be tried in our fair and open legal system, or in a court of international justice, and then spend the rest of their lives in prison. That is what our children would have wanted.
Mr. Kotey and Mr. Elsheikh captured our children in 2012 and 2013. They had recruited others to promote their twisted view of the world, and tormented their captives simply for being Americans. Just as the Sept. 11 attacks was a horrific assault on our country, the public beheadings of Jim, Steven and Peter were a deliberate, defiant assault on all of us; so was the torture by other fanatics that Kayla endured before her death.
The Islamic State wants to intimidate us and lure us into a similar hatred of them. But we must be true to our children’s commitment to humanity.
Jim, Steven, Peter and Kayla were like so many of your own sons and daughters. They were four unique, passionate young Americans. They cared about others, which led them to Syria, for different purposes. Jim and Steven were courageous conflict journalists, daring to bear witness to the Syrian thirst for freedom and the threat of violent jihad; Peter and Kayla were committed, compassionate humanitarians who responded to Syria’s suffering. All risked their lives pursuing a greater good, as our military does, and as many other journalists and humanitarians do.
We hope a trial of these two dangerous men would lead to the capture of others, equally culpable, who seek to hide amid frightened refugees, and to an end to the impunity that allowed the Islamic State to spread. When such hate-filled perpetrators are captured, brought to a public trial and held accountable for their evil deeds, we hope their contagious hatred will begin to abate. It is a necessary first step.
As the heartbroken parents of Jim, Steven, Peter and Kayla, we beseech our government to insist that Mr. Kotey and Mr. Elsheikh receive a fair and public trial either in the federal criminal courts of the United States or the International Criminal Court in The Hague. When crimes like these are made public, victims like us can be heard and begin to heal. The accused will hear how their crimes have destroyed others, and perhaps even begin to repent. And we can hope that justice will put an end to such crimes against humanity.
These men should face justice in a public courtroom because they are criminals, not soldiers. They imprisoned unarmed civilians, then sadistically abused and murdered them. They are cowards, not warriors. The Islamic State is a delusional and exploitative cult, not a state.
Our first choice would be to try them in a federal criminal court, where they belong because their victims were Americans. Force them to be judged by a jury of our compatriots. Give them the fair trial that makes our nation great. Let that show the world how wrong the Islamic State is about America. That would be the best way to honor our children.
As parents who have lost children to violence, we also ask for life imprisonment for these men. Execution could be misconstrued as martyrdom, perpetuating violence and diminishing America’s stature as a defender of human rights.
If, as a nation, we truly believe “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” then let us be above the brutality and hatred of the Islamic State.
In remembrance of our brave Jim, Steven, Peter and Kayla, let us treat their captors with the justice and humanity we would have wanted for our children and for ourselves.
Let us remember that real greatness lies in the moral courage to do what is right and just, even in the face of the opposite.
Diane and John Foley, the parents of James Foley; Marsha and Carl Mueller, the parents of Kayla Mueller; Shirley and Arthur Sotloff, the parents of Steven Sotloff; and Paula and Ed Kassig, the parents of Peter Kassig.