Marc and Debra Tice, the parents of Austin Tice, hold up photos of him. (Bilal Hussein/Associated Press)

JOURNALISTS DO not go to war to fight. They go to witness and report. They endure the same terrifying fears and dangers that confront soldiers, but their purpose is to observe and send the story home to millions of citizens who are far removed from the horrors. Austin Tice, a former Marine captain, had known battlefields as a soldier, but he returned to them as a freelance reporter. Some of his work appeared in The Post and also was published by McClatchy newspapers. He was kidnapped in Syria five years ago, and it is time for him to be released.

Mr. Tice, who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan, enrolled at Georgetown Law School after his service. But the pull of journalism was strong, and he left law school after his second year to find some larger meaning covering Syria’s deepening civil war. In a Facebook post published just weeks before he disappeared, Mr. Tice left little doubt about his motives. He was disenchanted with American complacency, he wrote, and found it uplifting to be covering people who woke up every day “fighting for their freedom.” His editors recalled that Mr. Tice, “equipped with cameras, an exquisite writing talent and an instinct for finding his way to the center of things,” slipped over the Turkish border into Syria in May 2012. He was often on the front lines of the conflict, traveling with the rebels fighting the Syrian regime, but he was curious about everything and not indifferent to the dangers posed by what he called “a brutal and still uncertain civil war.” His father, Marc Tice, recalled a few years ago, “It always drove Austin crazy when they’d say on the news, this couldn’t be confirmed because it is too difficult to report. He thought, ‘I’ve got the ability to do this. I can get in there and get these stories.’ ”

Mr. Tice will be 36 years old on Friday. His parents have said they believe he is alive. Information is scarce on who may be his captors; the Syrian government has denied holding him. The New York Times reported June 23 that CIA Director Mike Pompeo had opened a back channel to the Syrian government, hoping to secure his release, but the operation fizzled out. Austin’s mother, Debra Tice, told reporters in Beirut recently, “We are willing to cooperate with any government or group in order for our son to return home. Our message has been the same for five years. We are just asking whoever is holding Austin: What is going to be required to resolve this issue and bring Austin safely home?”

Mr. Tice was not a combatant. To those who imprisoned him, we repeat: He is a journalist who went only to record and report on the plight of people in a wretched war. His ambitions were noble, and he has already paid a very steep price for his courage and determination. It is long past time to set Mr. Tice free.