VICE (2013) s06e15 Episode Script

After the Fall

1 SHANE SMITH: This week on Vice: life after ISIS in Syria.
(MAN SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE) (CLATTERING) ISOBEL YEUNG: This is the center of the city where you can see just enormous levels of destruction.
I mean, almost every single building is crumbled.
Do you denounce the fact that there were countless executions and beheadings taking place under the Islamic State? Anything from God's law, I support, a hundred percent.
(THEME MUSIC PLAYING) (CROWD SHOUTING) They're saying that right now, it's time for change.
(SHOUTING) Since the defeat of ISIS in Syria, the war-ravaged nation remains a violent battleground.
The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces hold much of northern Syria, while the forces loyal to Bashar Al-Assad, backed by Iran and Russia, pledge to retake the entire country.
And while that proxy power struggle rages, there's little help for civilians who have endured terrible hardships.
So we sent Isobel Yeung to Raqqa, the former capital of the Islamic State, to see how everyday Syrians are rebuilding their shattered lives.
(MEN SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE) Why is no one else clearing these buildings? I mean, there's no organizations that they've asked to come here? (DE-MINER SPEAKS) (MAN SPEAKS) How dangerous is this work? (MAN SPEAKS) ISOBEL: Eight months after the liberation of Raqqa, thousands of unexploded land mines still lie scattered across the city, planted by fleeing ISIS members, effectively boobytrapping the streets, businesses, and even homes of those civilians left behind.
Residents say that aid organizations are taking too long to clear them, leading some to risk it all by taking matters into their own hands.
(DE-MINER SPEAKS) This is your neighborhood? Have people died in this area from mine explosions? (MAN SPEAKS) What do you think of this chap who's just gone up there? Do you think he is brave? - Do you think he is crazy? - Man: Yes.
There you are.
- ISOBEL: Yay! - (APPLAUSE) (EXCITED CHATTERING) My palms are sweaty.
How are you not scared? My heart was going like this the whole time you were up there.
(DE-MINER SPEAKS) (GUNS FIRING) ISOBEL: This was Raqqa up until just eight months ago.
The city shot to international infamy when it was declared capital of the Islamic State in 2014.
Raqqa soon became one of the most fear-ridden places on Earth with the religious police oppressing civilians, barbaric methods of torture, mass public executions, and enforced recruitment into the caliphate.
But last June, the battle to retake Raqqa from ISIS began, led by the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, and supported by air strikes from a US-led military coalition.
For four months, missiles rained on Raqqa eventually driving out and defeating the caliphate.
The SDF took control of the city.
But it was a brutal victory that left 80% of the city uninhabitable.
This is the center of the city, where you can see just enormous levels of destruction.
I mean, almost every single building is crumbled and falling in on itself.
At the same time, you can see people starting to move back.
I mean, some of these shops have already opened pretty optimistically, and people are starting to rebuild their lives.
So this family are just moving back into a neighborhood that has completely changed.
How long have you been gone for? (MOHAMMAD MUSTAFA SPEAKS) Why did you leave? So, this family are just moving into a rented home, because their own home is right here, and it's completely destroyed.
and some of the family members are just stood crying in front of it.
(SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE) (TALIB ABO AYASH SPEAKS) ISOBEL: Do you think that there's a good future for young Raqqa people? TALIB: Mmm ISOBEL: The battle to defeat ISIS is a global one.
Those like 19-year-old Talib have been left struggling to deal with what remains and questioning who will help them rebuild their lives.
But for many that we met, physical destruction was the least of their concerns.
One of the biggest grievances of so many people that we've spoken to here in Raqqa is that they're still missing family members who were taken by ISIS, and they haven't been able to locate their whereabouts ever since.
We're just about to meet one of those cases.
- (MONA SPEAKS FOREIGN LANGUAGE) What happened to Mohammad, your husband, and your son? (IMAN SPEAKS) Who came to this house to arrest him? (IMAN SPEAKS) When ISIS came to your house, what charges did they arrest him with? (IMAN SPEAKS) (MONA SPEAKS) ISOBEL: He's very handsome.
(MONA SPEAKS) How can you recognize him? He's so far back.
(MONA SPEAKS) ISOBEL: This is his son? (MONA SPEAKS) (CRYING) ISOBEL: Iman shows us what's left of the home she used to share with Mohammad.
(MONA SPEAKS) ISOBEL: What happened here? - (MONA SPEAKS) - (IMAN SPEAKS) So, if Mohammad ever does make it back, how do you think he's gonna feel coming home to this? That really puts things in perspective.
ISOBEL: Mona is one of thousands of people here searching for any sign of their missing loved ones.
But as the months roll on, the chances of finding anyone alive here are dwindling.
Unknown numbers of bodies lie rotting under piles of rubble.
Others are being dug up from mass graves across the city.
(YASER SPEAKS) (INDISTINCT CHATTERING) ISOBEL: How many bodies have you uncovered from these mass graves so far around Raqqa? (YASER SPEAKS) ISOBEL: Are you able to do any forensics testing on them? (YASER SPEAKS) (MAN SPEAKS) (INDISTINCT CHATTERING) ISOBEL: So, this is a woman? (YASER SPEAKS) ISOBEL: It seems like an impossible task to hope to identify any of these bodies, really.
(YASER SPEAKS) ISOBEL: Are most of these bodies that you're finding killed by the air strikes or killed by ISIS? (YASER SPEAKS) ISOBEL: How often are family members coming here and actually recognizing these bodies? ISOBEL: With no forensic tools and little international backing, a very small percentage of recovered bodies are ever reunited with family members.
The remaining bodies are simply reburied at other cemeteries.
(WAAD ABDULLAH SPEAKS) Did you find her today? Who do you blame for your sister's death? ISOBEL: But this woman's surviving sister isn't so forgiving towards the coalition and their air strikes.
(WOMAN SHOUTING) ISOBEL: These grievances were something we heard over and over.
Last month, Amnesty International released a damning report accusing the coalition, particularly US forces, of "disproportionate and indiscriminate "air strikes and artillery attacks during the battle of Raqqa.
" The monitoring group Airwars estimates these strikes killed at least 1,500 civilians.
But the US military only claims responsibility for less than 500 civilian deaths across Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq, and Syria combined last year.
When asked about this discrepancy, a spokesman for the DOD told Vice that the coalition "relies on information gathered from media and social media reports, information we receive from organizations like Airwars and Human Rights Watch, as well as operational logs to determine if the reported instance of civilian casualty is credible.
" He also told us " it is a tragedy that any civilian was a part of this war to rid ISIS from the world.
" And pointed out that "The coalition takes full responsibility for any action harming civilians during operations, but, let us not forget the tens of thousands of iraqis and syrians including women and children that ISIS killed, and the reason for all of this military action is ISIS.
Yet they do acknowledge they don't know the true toll.
How do we know how many civilians were killed? I'm just being honest no one will ever know.
Anyone who claims they will know is lying, and there's no possible way.
ISOBEL: The battle to rid Syria of the final remnants of ISIS is continuing in the northern-most part of the country.
Meanwhile, thousands of fighters have been captured and they're now in SDF custody.
Among them, hundreds of foreigners, the most notorious Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, half of the four-person British ISIS cell known as "the Beatles.
" Kotey and Elsheikh are in a secretly-located jail in Northern Syria.
With the British government refusing to take them back, they're now stuck in a political limbo.
Alexanda, the State Department has stated that you likely engaged in the group's executions and exceptionally cruel torture methods including electric shock and waterboarding.
El Shafee, they said about you that you earned a reputation for waterboarding, mock executions, and crucifixions while serving as an ISIS jailer.
(LAUGHS) ISOBEL: Do you deny that? Of course I deny that.
(MUMBLES) - What does that mean? - (LAUGHS) Known for crucifixions? Just explain that to me.
ISOBEL: What was your role in the Islamic State? That is something that can be discussed in a legal platform not here.
I mean, there are thousands of families who are desperately searching for any signs of their loved ones who were taken by the Islamic State.
Do you have any regrets over the level of executions, torture, and beheadings that took place there? The Islamic State police force or the judicial system are not exactly the most transparent in terms of what happens to the person after arrest.
And do you denounce that now? Denounce what? God's law? ISOBEL: Do you denounce the fact that there were countless executions and beheadings taking place under the Islamic State? I support Islamic Law, fully.
Anything from God's law, I support it a hundred percent.
What I experienced in the Islamic State wasn't what is widely broadcasted in Western media.
I shared good moments, and and I met some of the best people that I might ever meet while I was there.
You can understand, though, how upsetting that must be for people who have had so much hurt inflicted on them.
by the Islamic State, and then to see you sitting here talking about a lack of remorse and talking about the good times you had there.
ALEXANDA: What concerns me, what I care about is the bodies that are still lying underneath the rubble from the coalition air raids.
Well, I mean, arguably, that was a reaction to what was going on by the Islamic State in Raqqa.
Yeah, but it came at a hefty price.
People don't lose sleep about that right? People are not up at night, wondering, "Is there more civilians being killed in Syria? Has the death toll risen?" I mean, Trump orders these strikes, and the only thing that keeps him up is to make some mundane tweet at 1:00 in the morning, right? Do you think that those air strikes have helped the cause of the Islamic State? Of course.
This is something that they themselves they know.
ISOBEL: With thousands of ISIS fighters now imprisoned in a non-sovereign Kurdish state, the stability of Northern Syria hinges on American support.
What do you think is at stake for you guys and for the situation at-large if the US does leave this region? The fact that this is a volatile region, you know, leaves so many possibilities, and these prisons could be attacked by Islamic state forces to free prisoners, which wouldn't be a good look for America.
We spent the last day with a woman called Mona, whose son was arrested by the Islamic State on suspicion of collaborating with the coalition.
Um, I actually want to show you a picture of him, because I don't know if you recognize him or not.
This man.
- No.
- No? ISOBEL: What do you think happened to Mohammad? What do you think happened to these thousands of people who were kidnapped by the Islamic State? I would imagine if that was proven that he was collaborating with the coalition, I would imagine he would've been executed.
ISOBEL: Back in Raqqa, Mona hasn't given up hope that her son Mohammad is still alive.
Today, she's meeting with a top military police commander in the hopes he may have some answers.
(AHMED SPEAKS) (AHMED SPEAKS) (AHMED SPEAKS) - (MONA CRYING) - (AHMED SPEAKS) (AHMED SPEAKS) So you're saying that Mona's son is most likely dead.
(AHMED SPEAKS) ISOBEL: For the last six months, Mona has been traveling around the region to ask authorities about her missing son.
But her loneliest mission, and maybe her last hope, is literally scouring the walls of Raqqa's most infamous ISIS prisons, hoping she may find a message from her son somewhere inside.
(WHISPERING) It's just so indescribably heart-breaking to watch Mona go from room to room of one of hundreds of prisons, just searching for any clues.
It feels like searching for a needle in a haystack.
This hasn't been cleared of mines.
(MONA SPEAKS) What does it say? (MONA SPEAKS) ISOBEL: While the war in Syria has left many with wounds that will never heal, above the very same jail where Mona was searching, some in Raqqa are trying to reclaim a semblance of normal life, like Talib, who's now playing football above the very place where he, too, was once an ISIS prisoner.