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(NEWSER)– When James Foley was forced to his knees in the sands outside Raqqa, stared straight into a camera, and met his unimaginably horrifying and public death at the hands of the Islamic State, the world recoiled at the brutality. But Foley's execution—and those that followed—was the culmination of months and years of torture, starvation, and psychological abuse endured by those held hostage by the group that eventually became ISIS, reports the New York Times today in a deep dive that sources former hostages, hostages' families, locals who saw hostages, a former member of ISIS, and more. Highlights from the tale of "excruciating suffering:"

  • The three Americans and three British hostages bore the brunt of the worst abuse, and Foley bore the worst of the worst, including repeated waterboarding and mock executions. "It’s part of the DNA of this group to hate America," one insider tells the Times. "But they also realized that the United States and Britain were the least likely to pay (ransoms)."
  • Prisoners actually hoped that when one of their number was taken away for interrogation, he or she returned bloody—an indication there hadn't been waterboarding involved. "It was when there was no blood," says one, "that we knew he had suffered something even worse."

Photo: Getty Images

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