During the nearly two years that journalist James Foley was held hostage in Syria, before he was killed by the Islamic State this week, Phil Balboni worked hard to get him released.
Balboni is the co-founder and CEO of the online international news company GlobalPost, which Foley was freelancing for at the time of his capture, in November 2012. Foley also was freelancing for GlobalPost when he was captured in Libya by dictator Moammar Gadhafi's forces, in 2011, and held for 44 days.
The video of Foley's beheading, which was posted Tuesday on YouTube, shows another U.S. journalist being held hostage, Steven Sotloff, who was freelancing for Time magazine. The militant in the video who carries out the beheading threatens that Sotloff might be next, depending on what President Obama does.
Phil Balboni talks with Fresh Air's Terry Gross about James Foley's captivity and what Balboni tried to do to secure his release.
On deciding whether to pay a ransom
It's very easy to have these theoretical policies about not paying a ransom until you're faced with the real life-and-death situation. Personally — and I know I speak for the Foleys as well — we would've paid a ransom. We were working very hard to raise the money. We had extensive conversations about this with branches of the United States government, with legal counsel. We were well schooled in the law and what was permissible for the family to do. So I had no problem with it. I can understand, giving money to these evil people is a very hard thing to do. I would judge no one who felt that it was entirely improper. But speaking for myself and for John and Diane Foley, we were prepared to do it if we could raise the money.
On communication with Foley's captors
The original demand from the captors was November of 2013. At that moment we'd never had a communication from Jim, and we'd never had an official "proof of life," as it's called. During that communication with the kidnappers, they offered us the opportunity to get proof of life, and the Foleys drafted a series of questions that only Jim could answer. They were extremely difficult — obscure family events that only Jim could know. When those proof-of-life questions came back answered correctly, perfectly, it was a hair-raising moment for all of us because we knew definitively, with certainty, that we were dealing with the people who were holding Jim.
On learning of Foley's kidnapping
I have such a clear mental picture of this. I was sitting in my home in Cambridge, Mass., it was Saturday morning following the Thanksgiving holiday, and I got an email on my Blackberry from a freelance journalist who was a friend of Jim's who was on the Turkish-Syria border saying that she feared that Jim had gone missing.
It was kind of déjà vu for me because I had the same experience when Jim was abducted by Col. [Moammar] Gadhafi's fighters in Libya during the civil war there in the spring of 2011. I immediately called one of the senior people at an international security firm that specializes in kidnap and ransom cases whom I'd worked with in Libya in 2011, and I hired him to work on the case, and from that day, literally, every single day for almost two years we have worked on Jim's case.
We've had, at one time, as many as three or four people in the field in Turkey, sometimes in Syria itself, in Lebanon and other places gathering information. We didn't know where Jim was. We didn't know who took him. We knew nothing. And it took an immensely long time to find out where he was. And, as so often is the case, it was luck that brought the first word that Jim was alive and where he was being held. And it came from a young Belgian, who had gone to pursue jihad in Syria and had been brought home by his very brave father. And he had befriended Jim and had been held in captivity with Jim in northern Syria. And that was the first we had detailed information and knew that Jim was alive and that he was being held by a jihadist group.
On how he will remember Foley
When I see Jim in my mind's eye, which I will for the rest of my life, at his final moment, showing such incredible courage, never flinching just before his executioner put the knife into his throat, that needs to be honored, and we are proud of what we do. Sure, we'd all like more resources to do it with — hopefully as we grow stronger we will — but the importance of the mission, I think, is what Jim's life is all about. He loved telling these stories, and he was drawn to conflict. It's where he really came alive.
On what other hostages, who have been released, have said about Foley
It was universal among all of the released hostages that we talked to that Jim was their favorite, the person whose spirits — no matter what punishment was inflicted on him, and he was regularly singled out for very harsh treatment; I won't go into the details, but he was regularly subject to abuse — but he always kept their spirits up. He always kept them believing that they would get out, and he tried to be a spokesperson with the captors for the other hostages and to keep their morale up. It was so wonderful to hear that and to know that Jim was strong and that he could bring that strength to others.
French jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty played the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1967, which led to his getting an American record contract, and playing with George Duke, Frank Zappa, and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Then he started his own jazz-rock fusion bands. Fresh Air critic Kevin Whitehead says before Ponty came to the States, he already had his concept.
Here & Now resident chef Kathy Gunst joins hosts Jeremy Hobson and Meghna Chakrabarti with the summer’s bounties from her garden — tomatoes of all shapes and sizes. She has all sorts of ideas for how to cook with them, and shares these recipes:
- Herbed Ricotta Toasts with Slow-Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
- Garden Salsa
- Island Tomato, Basil & Grilled Bread Panzanella
- Mary Ann Esposito's "Tomato Sandwich My Way"
Related Segments & Recipes
- Grilling Pizza With Kathy Gunst (with video)
- Canning Recipes & End-of-the-Season Roasted Tomato Sauce (with video)
- Tomato Vegetable Gazpacho
- Tomato-Zucchini-Goat Cheese Crostata
See more cooking segments and recipes from Kathy Gunst here.
Herbed Ricotta Toasts with Slow-Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
Kathy's Note: This is like the most delicious open-faced grilled cheese and tomato sandwich imaginable. You can slow roast the tomatoes and mix the ricotta beforehand and then assemble just minutes before you want to serve the toasts. These grilled toasts are delicious for breakfast, lunch or dinner—or as a first course with sparkling wine.
Cherry tomatoes are particularly abundant this season. They are naturally sweet as candy. I love slow roasting them in a low oven with olive oil, garlic and fresh herbs. You can also serve with crusty bread, on top of pasta, grilled fish, chicken or meat, or as a room temperature topping for pizza or an accompaniment to cheese.
The Slow-Roasted Tomatoes
3 cups cherry tomatoes, yellow and red and orange varieties if you can find them
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 thin slices of crusty baguette, about 1/2-inch thick
About 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
Make the tomatoes: Preheat the oven to 225 degrees.
Place the tomatoes, oil, garlic, basil, thyme, salt and pepper in a large ovenproof skillet or gratin dish. Gently toss to coat all the tomatoes with the oil, garlic and herbs. Roast on the middle shelf for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the tomatoes are beginning to burst and are very softened. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Make the ricotta blend: in a small bowl gently mix the ricotta, thyme, basil, chives, salt, pepper. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Assemble: preheat the broiler.
Place the toasts on a cookie or baking sheet. Brush lightly with half the oil. Broil for 2 minutes, or until just golden brown and toasted. Flip the bread over and brush with the remaining oil. Divide the ricotta mixture on top and arrange several roasted tomatoes and a little drizzle of the juices from the bottom of the dish on top. Broil for about 1 to 2 minutes, or until the cheese just begins to bubble. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Kathy's Note: This is tomato, pepper, onion, and cilantro season so that makes it's time to make the salsa. Serve with chips, vegetables or spoon onto tacos, burgers, and salads.
12 cherry tomatoes, cut in half or quarters, depending on the size
2 large ripe tomatoes, cubed
1 sweet green, red or yellow pepper, cut into cubes
1 small red or white onion, finely chopped
2 scallions, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped, optional
1 jalapeño, cut in half, seeded, and finely chopped*
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
Juice from 1 large lime
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
*Remove seeds if you don't want a spicy salsa or add a few for a moderately spicy salsa and keep them all for a hot hot salsa
Island Tomato, Basil & Grilled Bread Panzanella
Kathy's Note: This recipe comes from Susie Middleton, a farmer on Martha's Vineyard and author of Fresh From the Farm. See her original recipe here.
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing the bread
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons good-quality sherry or red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
3 tablespoons chopped, drained sun-dried tomatoes
1 teaspoon minced fresh capers
Fresh ground black pepper
1/2 small red onion, julienned
8 1-inch-thick slices ciabatta or other airy artisan bread
2 1/4 pounds ripe, juicy beefsteak tomatoes, cored and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1/2 cup (lightly packed) small whole fresh basil leaves or large leaves, torn into pieces
In a large bowl, combine the 4 tablespoons olive oil, the vinegar, the garlic, the sun-dried tomatoes, and the capers. Add a few big pinches of salt and several grinds of pepper and stir well. Add the red onions and stir again.
Heat a gas grill to medium or a broiler to high. Brush the bread generously with olive oil on both sides and sprinkle with salt.
Just before grilling or toasting your bread, go ahead and add the tomatoes to the oil mixture and toss gently. (If the tomatoes are very ripe, you don't want to let them sit in the dressing for much longer than 10 minutes.)
Put the bread slices directly on the grill grate or a few inches under the broiler element and cook until a light golden brown on the first side, about 1 minute. Flip and cook for 1 minute more until the other side is golden. Transfer the bread to a cutting board and cut into 3/4-inch cubes.
Add the bread cubes and half of the basil to the bowl of tomatoes and toss gently until well-combined. Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes, tossing once or twice, to let the bread absorb some of the tomato juices. Taste for salt and pepper and add more if you like.
Transfer the salad to a serving bowl and garnish with the remaining basil.
Mary Ann Esposito's "Tomato Sandwich My Way"
Kathy's Note: This is a recipe from Mary Ann Esposito, host of the popular television show "Ciao Italia.”
Mary Ann’s Note: Here is my favorite tomato “sandwich,” which I make in a bread pan to serve eight. The recipe could not be simpler to make and it is a refreshing lunch on a hot summer's day. Granted I only do this when my beefsteak tomatoes are ripe for the picking. The recipe is versatile too because you could add layers of mozzarella cheese to make it a “caprese” or how about some crisp bacon strips for an added crunch. Use a combination of tomatoes like yellow, green zebra and red if you like. It's a winner no matter what.
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup white balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 tablespoon finely minced oregano or 1 teaspoon dried
1 large clove garlic, finely minced
Fresh whole basil leaves, stemmed, washed, and dried and left whole
5 lengthwise 1/4 -inch-thick bread slices cut from a 1-pound-4-ounce loaf white bread
1 large (about 4 ounces) red beefsteak tomato, cut into thin rounds
1 large (about 4 ounces) yellow beefsteak tomato, cut into thin rounds
To make the dressing, combine all the ingredients in a jar, shake well and set aside. The dressing can be made several days ahead and stored in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before using.
To prepare the filling and assemble the salad, make a design with a few of the basil leaves in the bottom of the mold. Save the rest to place between the layers.
Trim the bread slices to fit neatly in the bread pan (about 7 1/2 x 4 inches if using the called-for bread pan). Place one of the bread slices over the basil in the bottom of the bread pan. Brush the bread with some of the dressing. Make a layer of red tomato slices over the bread. Cut up a few slices to fill in any gaps along the sides. Brush the tomatoes with a little of the dressing. Place a layer of basil leaves over the tomatoes and brush them with a little of the dressing. Lay a second bread slice over the basil leaves and repeat brushing with the dressing. Add a layer of the yellow tomatoes, filling in any gaps with pieces of cut tomatoes and brush them with the dressing. Add another layer of basil leaves and brush with a little of the dressing. Continue to make three more layers in the same manner, ending with a bread layer. Brush the top of the bread with any remaining dressing.
Cover the pan tightly with a piece of plastic wrap and bring the overhanging edges over the top. Press on the loaf with your hand to make sure the loaf is compacted and even with the top edges of the pan. Refrigerate the loaf for several hours.
Unwrap the top of the loaf and place a platter over the top and invert the loaf onto the platter. Remove the plastic wrap and discard it. Use a tomato knife to cut the loaf into slices. Serve immediately.
Tip: A tomato knife has a serrated blade that cuts tomatoes without tearing them. Tomato knives are available from kitchen and cutlery stores.
This recipe is from CIAO ITALIA – BRINGING ITALY HOME by Mary Ann Esposito, published by St. Martin’s Press.
- Kathy Gunst, resident chef for Here & Now and author of cookbooks including "Notes from a Maine Kitchen." She tweets @mainecook.
The U.S. Army has been an all-volunteer force for more than 40 years because there is no military draft anymore. That means the service has to attract young men and women to sign up.
And according to the Army’s numbers they’re pretty good at it. The Army has met or exceeded its recruiting goals for each of the last nine years.
But the man who runs the Army recruiting operation, Major General Allen Batschelet, tells Here & Now’s Meghna Chakrabarti that finding qualified candidates in the 17 to 24 age group can be difficult.
“Today about 15 percent are disqualified for obesity, and we think by 2020 that number could go to 50 percent,” he said.
About 70 percent of Americans ages 17 to 24 are not qualified to join the Army. In addition to fitness, the Army also screens for academic qualifications and criminal background.
“The factors that we use to measure and evaluate people to join the Army, increasingly they’re not able to meet those requirements, and it’s very troubling, and the trends are not in a good direction — especially in regards to fitness,” Batschelet said. “Young people are showing up at our doors increasingly unfit or obese and it’s a real problem.”
- Allen W. Batschelet, major general in the U.S. Army, in charge of Army Recruiting Command at Fort Knox. He tweets @USAREC_CG.