Before they were beheaded on camera, ISIS hostages were forced to endure months of psychological and physical torture, the New York Times reveals in a horrifying in-depth piece. By interviewing five former hostages, witnesses, and, crucially, a 19-year-old former member of ISIS who spent three weeks in the same cell as James Foley, the Times is able to give the most in-depth account yet of life inside an ISIS prison cell. And it’s terrifying. The American and British hostages were singled out for the worst abuse, in part because their governments were the least willing to negotiate and because of a general anger toward their countries. Out of all of them, Foley seems to have undergone the worst treatment, including several instances of waterboarding.
Foley suffered the worst treatment even though he had converted to Islam and, according to fellow captives, seemed rather sincere in his new religion. Foley was hardly unique—most Western hostages converted to Islam at some point during their captivity. But Foley seemed “captivated by Islam,” according to the witness accounts that note how he was engrossed in the Quran. But as negotiations dragged on and the captors realized they were getting nowhere with Washington and London, conditions seemed to grow more dire by the day, torture increase and prisoners turned on each other. Still, Foley somehow seems to have managed to keep others entertained, proposing games they could play. He also shared his meager rations and even offered another prisoner his only blanket in the middle of winter.