Pinecrest

Sotloff family tell CBS’ ‘60 Minutes’ that the government failed their son

Shirley and Arthur Sotloff of Pinecrest discuss their son Steven, a freelance journalist who was held hostage and murdered on video by the Islamic State in September 2014, on CBS4’s “60 Minutes” on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017.
Shirley and Arthur Sotloff of Pinecrest discuss their son Steven, a freelance journalist who was held hostage and murdered on video by the Islamic State in September 2014, on CBS4’s “60 Minutes” on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017. CBS

In Arthur and Shirley Sotloff’s first major television interview since their son Steven Sotloff was murdered by the Islamic State in September 2014, the Sotloffs expressed their disapproval of the United States’ policy of not paying ransom in hostage situations.

“How do you let an American go like that,” Shirley Sotloff said on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” which aired Sunday night. “Just let them be killed and murdered? Every human is valuable. Everybody has a family, and they want them to come home.”

The 15-minute interview, which was recorded at the couple’s Pinecrest home in December, also included interviews with Lisa Monaco, President Barack Obama’s assistant on counterterrorism.

Reporter Leslie Stahl began the segment with a brief introduction of Steven Sotloff, a freelance journalist covering the Middle East who was held hostage and beheaded. His brutal murder on Sept. 2, 2014, was captured on video by the Islamic State and shared over the internet.

“The videos went viral and catapulted Isis onto the world stage,” Stahl said. “For the parents of one of those Americans, Art and Shirley Sotloff, the murder of their 31-year-old son Steven was shattering because of the brutality of his execution. And because they think he could’ve been saved if not for what even the White House now admits was its own ineffectiveness in dealing with the crisis. But what really sealed their son’s fate, the Sotloffs believe, is the government’s policy against paying ransom.”

Arthur Sotloff said he heard from his son just before he crossed the border into Syria. It was four months later that he learned his son had later been taken hostage with demands for a ransom.

“They thought the U.S. government would help them, but they were bewildered and then infuriated when they say they met a stone wall: the U.S. policy forbidding the paying of ransom,” Stahl said.

Arthur Sotloff said he and his wife tried to raise money to pay for their son’s release but were told they weren’t allowed. He and other families of hostages met with officials on the National Security Council for answers.

“All of us were saying, ‘Well, why can’t we try to save our kids?’ ” he said. “And they said ‘because it’s against the law. We do not negotiate with terrorists.’ They said you could be prosecuted, and also your donors could be prosecuted.”

Monaco defended the no-ransom policy but said the government failed these parents.

“We have Americans who were brutally killed,” Monaco told Stahl. “On the one hand, if you don’t pay a ransom, you are putting an innocent life at risk. On the other hand, if you do, you’re fueling the very activity that’s put them at risk in the first place.”

At the end of the segment Stahl spoke about the 2Lives Foundation that the Sotloffs created in their son’s memory. The foundation offers scholarships for budding journalists and funds training for freelance journalists going into war zones.

Before the program aired, Arthur Sotloff — who along with his wife previously spoke to the Miami Herald in an exclusive on the first anniversary of their son’s death in September 2015 — said that it was time to speak out on a national level about what they went through.

“I want everyone to know who my son was and what he gave up,” Arthur Sotloff said on Friday. “Also, the unwillingness of the U.S. government to address it or try to save our kids.”

Carli Teproff: 305-376-3587, @CTeproff

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