Transcript: Sexual Violence Under ISIS Control

Transcript for Thursday, September 25, 2014: "Sexual Violence Under ISIS Control"

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TOM ASHBROOK: FromWBUR Boston, and NPR, I'm Tom Ashcroft and this is On Point. There is a lot that's disturbing about ISIS, or the Islamic state. Up there with the  beheadings and crucifixion and the mass killings, is this wave — maybe a campaign — of sexual assault. The views of women kidnapped raped and forced into what's called marriage. Enslaved. Communities left terrified and ashamed. Stories are coming out from survivors. They are terrible. Not to be ignored. This hour On point. ISIS, the Islamic state and sexual warfare. You can join us on air or online wherethis conversation is always on. Is this sexual violence in the name of God? Join us any time at or on Twitter and Facebook @OnPointRadio. Later this hour we will hear the much-shared UN speech recently given by young actress Emma Watson on feminism and gender equality. But first: ISIS and sexual assault. A warning here. what we will discuss this hour, and what we'll hear in some of the audio clips, is disturbing. So send the children away. President Obama made mention of this. It was tucked into his tough speech at the UN yesterday,calling for the world to fight against ISIS, listing some of the atrocities committed by the group and saying no God condones this terror.

(AUDIO CLIP: PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA): This group has terrorized all. Who they come across in Iraq and Syria --mothers, sisters, daughters — have been subjected to rape as a weapon of war. Innocent children have been gunned down. Bodies have been dumped in mass graves. Religious minorities have been starved to death. In the most horrific crimes imaginable, innocent human beings have been beheaded with videos of the atrocities distributed to shock the conscience of the world.

TOM ASHBROOK: And there the president charging — subjected to rape as a weapon of war. The BBC has done some powerful reporting on this. Yolande Knell spoke to a young, unmarried woman who escaped from ISIS during airstrikes, after she says, being beaten and starved and held in the kind of rape house. She spoke also to the girl's aunt who fears for her two missing daughters.

(AUDIO CLIP: BBC REPORTER) They sell girls as young as nine, she says. Some men bought many at once. Two of my friends hanged themselves from the ceiling fans and one slit her wrists, rather than be sold for sex. And that's too much for her aunt to bear. Her other two daughters are still missing. They took all our girls. It's all we care about. The world must help us.

TOM ASHBROOK: Heart-rending reporting there, from women whose families or who themselves have been hit by what appears to be a kind of campaign of sexual violence. Violence mainly against women, though not only against women. Yolande Knell, the BBC reporter, Middle East correspondent who brought that to us was scheduled to be with us. There's so much going on there. She's just, we've just lost her at the last minute here. AndI 'm sorry for that. But we will look at the reporting she's been doing there. Joining us now from Washington is Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson Center. In 2007 she was held in solitary confinement in Tehran for 105 days by the Iranian government. Her recent essay in The Wall Street Journal was headlined, "ISIS Cruelty Toward Women Gets Scant Attention." Now it's been brought, Haleh. Welcome back to On Point. Great to have you here. And thank you.


TOM ASHBROOK: Hi. Thank you very much for joining us. And with us from Seattle is Nada Bakos, ISIS expert, former CIA analyst and targeting officer in Iraq. She spearheaded the hunt for Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, former leader of Al-Qaida in Iraq and was deeply involved in tracking down Osama bin Laden. She's been reported to be one of the models for the tenacious CIA terrorist hunter portrayed in the movie version of the capture of Bin Laden, "Zero Dark Thirty." Nada Bakos, welcome to On Point thank you very much for being here.

NADA BAKOS: Thank you Tom.

TOM ASHBROOK: Nada. What do we know about what's going on here? In wartime, all kinds of reports come out. We know there's a propaganda battle underway, so we want to be careful here. And yet, this BBC reporting was just breathtaking. And there are many reports from the Yazidi, from Syria, from Iraq and beyond. What is the array of offenses that appear to be going on here and how well documented are they?

NADA BAKOS: Well, like you heard in the BBC report, I think those are the most important stories. when we hear from
survivors and from family members that have had loved ones abducted. But there are allegations that there are women and girls who were abducted by ISIS fighters and girls in their teens and in their twenties, as well as boys. We know that they've been taken, and the men of the family also. And quite often they are executed. But there is still these these girls and women and some boys are sold into sexual slavery, or they have forced marriages. And they're, they're perpetrated. I meant, hey're victims.They're, there sexualized violence is, it has become on an industrial level that ISIS has been enacting.

TOM ASBHROOK: Yolande Knell's reporting quotes these young women saying at first I was taken to a big house in Mosul. It was full of women. They locked all the windows and doors and surrounded it with guards every day or two men would come and take us, make us take off our headscarves so they could choose which of us they wanted. Women were dragged out of the house by their hair. Haleh, are you looking at these reports? And what of the verifiabilty, their accuracy?

HALEH ESFANDIRAI: Look. I don't have any doubt that every report we have been getting on women being mistreated in this barbaric way they say is true. Because no woman in the Middle East or anywhere in the world would talk about being raped, or being taken into slavery. I mean, this is nothing to be proud of. On the contrary, in the Middle East, this is, you bring shame on yourself, and on your family. And we have had incidents where women have, young girls even, have committed suicide after being raped, a number of times. So I believe that the majority of these reports that we get to see and read are true.

TOM ASHBROOK: The BBC. reporting that, you know, women are close and that she was moved from place to
place, she saw her friends being violently beaten and raped forced to part with their children. One little son at gunpoint. She was left alone for a while because she was pregnant but things just got worse. And here's a little bit more of that reporting. Odleh, talking with Yolande Knell of the BBC, saying she was taken from her village, held captive with other women and girls for more than a month.

(AUDIO CLIP: BBC): Every day or two men would come in and make us take off our headscarves so they could choose which of us they wanted. Many were raped. They were dragged out of the house by their hair. She says we don't know what became of them.

TOM ASHBROOK: Nada Bakos, what is going on here? War is famously, infamously a field in which sexual abuse atrocities happen. It's a terrible fact. It's a reason not to go to war. But do we see something beyond the terribly, unfortunately and often seen, the prevalence of sexual violence in war here?

NADA BAKOS: In my opinion,  yes absolutely. The sexual violence has reached a  level wherethey're just ripping through the fabric of the society in the communities in Iraq and in Syria. And this is, this is intentional. It's a strategy on their part. You know there is.There's shame, as we discussed.There's shame involved with this for the victims. And when that, when they conduct these types of acts, that family is completely eroded in. All of these women who who have been taken, you know, no one knows where they are and where they're being held. They're constantly being moved. This is intentional. And when they marry these women off, these girls, often to members of ISIS , that also embeds ISIS within that neighborhood and that, that community even more and then measures them which gives them even more control.

TOM ASHBROOK: Haleh, what does marriage mean in this case? We heard them talking about girls as young as nine and sometimes in multiples being married.What's the meaning of the word marriage?  Here, is it another word for enslavement?

HALEH ESFANDIRAI: Here, it is another word for enslavement. First of all, you know the age of marriage in. Islam is puberty. And they believe, their interpretation is that girls reach puberty at the age of nine. So therefore they don't, I mean, marrying a girl of nine is nothing unusual. It's not practiced, but it can happen. This is one thing. And secondly, I mean,it's having a kind of sexual intercourse with young girls. And yes, they get embedded occasionally in society, but these fighters keep moving on and leaving behind these young girls who are ostracized by their families precisely because they were raped and married these guys and we don't know who they are and then were left behind when the fighter moved to another city. And also you know in Islam, marriage needs a consent of the woman. So be it a little girl of nine or fifteen or seventeen. And these things don't exist anymore. On the one hand. these fighters and ISIS talks about a more pure version of Islam. On the other hand they, deny every Islamic teaching that Muslim women have been brought up with.

TOM ASHBROOK: I'm Tom Ashbrook, this is On Point. We're talking this hour about a very real war on women running through the onslaught of ISIS, the Islamic State. Rape houses and terror under a banner that flies in the name of God. Haleh Esfandiari is with us from Washington, director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center. Nada Bakos is here from Seattle, Washington. ISIS expert, former CIA analyst who spearheaded the hunt for Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi. Yolande Knell of the BBC has reported powerfully on this was to be with us today but called away for her reporting at the last minute.Here's some of her report for the BBC, for BBC News, from this is from northern Iraq on members ofIraq's Yazidi minority who have been taken by ISIS.

(AUDIO CLIP FROM THE BBC): Suffering and alone. Tens of thousands from Iraq's Yazidi minority are homeless. They know the full horrors of Islamic state, after fighters forced them off their land last month. But  the worst fate
was those who fell into IS  hands.

TOM ASHBROOK:  And what's happenning then, here's more from the BBC Yolande Knell.

(AUDIO CLIP FROM THE BBC):  Islamic state fighters are trading in people. Young girls are treated as spoils of war, and scattered across the region. Families here worry that if they're not found soon, they may never see them again.

TOM ASHBROOK: And here another earlier this month from EuroNews. They talk to a 14-year old Yazidi girl. who recounted beingkidnapped in Iraq by the Islamic State. Sold, held for nearly a month before escaping, interpreted here by EuroNews.

(AUDIO CLIP FROM EUR NEWS): My friend and I was sold to two sheikhs from Falujah. They were as old as my father.
They treated us badly. They beat us. We escaped when the lock failed to hold and we fled to Baghdad.

TOM ASHBROOK: Nada Bakos, what do you see here? Is this bad fighters, acting, you know, independently or are acting goons acting in the face of opportunity? Is this a strategy?

NADA BAKOS: In this case I think it is a strategy. I don't think this is independent fighters acting on their own. And in the case of these Yazidis, it looks more like ethnic cleansing. I mean they've done, ISIS has done all they can to destroy that culture and that civilization. So from that perspective, they treated that group in that community a little differently than they have perhaps the rest of Iraq and Syria.

TOM ASHBROOK:. Haleh, how do you look at this? Is this sanctioned? Is this, are these, an outlaw ISIS fighters?

HALEH ESFANDIRAI: I think it's a strategy. I think when they recruit these fighters, they are promised they can have access to the women they take, after they take the towns and the cities.That has been a pattern that started in Syria and then moved on to Iraq. And then in Iraq, it became so impossible that people started talking about it. It is strategy. What nobody or so mentions is about a number of women are taken as hostages and their families are asked to pay ransom. And when they paid it out to some and the women now are freed it and there have been incidents where women have been raped. I have an email after my piece appeared in The Wall Street Journal from a woman in Israel who told me that she has a friend whose wife was kidnapped in Syria. And they asked for $30,000 from her grandson and he paid. What when the woman was freed she told her husband that she was raped and number of times and she was pregnant. So these women are older. So these cases we don't hear about. I mean she told me, 'You didn't write about ransom.' I have not heard. So there are all of these things going on at the same time. And it's all in ISIS strategy. And it shows how little importance they pay A) to women and B) to the reaction outside.

TOM ASHBROOK: Let's go to Mark, calling from New Cannan, New Hampshire. Mark, you're on the air. Thank you for calling.

CALLER MARK: Thanks Tom. Hi. How are you today?

TOM ASBHROOK: I'm well, I'm OK. What do you think of this.

CALLER MARK: I find it deplorable. And it's sad to hear women of Islam speaking in those terms where they're not really recognized by the men in the Muslim world. And I find it disturbing that they don't teach their children and especially their young girls that the shame is not on them on them, it's on their abusers. But it's a piteous world, sometimes that this happens and we see it time and time again. And we're there, I don't see it, I don't see media reporting in this part of the world. Any great hierarchy in the Islamic world, or Muslim religion, speaking out to this. Ever. Ever. I mean people here and there, randomly, don't qualify it and it's...

TOM ASHBROOK: Mark, I've got it, and I appreciate your call. I want to be careful about that because we have indeed seen Muslims, prominent Muslims, even Muslim leaders speaking out against the atrocities going on, in the path of the Islamic State. But what about religion here, Haleh. I mean this is, those black flags we see flying over the ISIS as fighters are talking about God. How does this, I mean, here we've got people of very different perspectives on this. Here's John writes to us, he says, "rape as a weapon used by a group that is at war with the West, for the West's perceived moral depravity is tough to compress and how does this jibe with the notion of a caliphate disposed to be God's reign on Earth, Haleh?

HALEH ESFANDIRAI: Look this is a very narrow interpretation of Islam that everybody's eating everybody's at the loss of why these things are happening in the name of God. But look, I mean you mentioned that you have come across people in their leaders from the Muslim world, too, who have condemned these atrocities. I  have just looked at it very carefully, they all, most of them I would say have condemned terrorism. But nobody has come out and said atrocities against our  women is, our sisters...

TOM ASHBROOK: But isn't this just terrorism.? Isn't that part of what's in your book?

HALEH ESFANDIRAI: I mean my argument is that you have to go one step beyond it. That generally saying terrorism. You should focus on 50% of the population, which is women, and see what is happening today, you know, you should mention then you should havr the courage to say yes this is happening to our women. This is done to our sisters, daughters, wives, what they thought they should have the courage to say that. There is nothing wrong with it. And that's hard. Then you start getting people to focus on in this in the present.

TOM ASHBROOK: Obama called it out there. Are there other apparent messages being sent here, as reported in the bombing runs yesterday over Syria thatthe coalition air strikes was FOX News reporting. And I don't see a lot of other places but here it is that it was led by a U.A.E. Air Force squadron commander. This is Major Miriam Ullman Suri, shares a squadron of fighter pilots, F16 fighter jets,35  years old. The first woman from an Arab nation to fly a mission dropping bombs on ISIS, the Islamic state. That appears to be a NATO kind of very deliberate message in itself that that the posting of that woman to this run.

HALEH ESFANDIRAI: Look we are not discussing not the status of women in the region. I can give you many examples. The whole progressive women want toengage and we are not discussing the plight of the minorities today, who are used, abused through barbaric means.That's what we are discussing. I mean the status of women in the region, one has progress and I can give you many many other examples but we are not discussing...

TOM ASHBROOK: But there's a difference though, to be made. Or here's another perspective on this though a listener on the website writing you know, listening to us reporting on these deeply troubling reports. And saying, "Keep up the propaganda machine,  we will have American boys and girls on the ground in Iraq the day after election day. We can't take proper care of our veterans from the Gulf War who already, you know, they cut it out. It's propaganda."

NADA BAKOS: Right. Well let me address a couple things. First the first caller, I would say that we have done a poor job even in this country of educating girls and boys on sexual violence. We have seen atrocious stories in our news in the last couple of years now. And secondly I do think it is an interesting point thatthere was a female pilot that was sent from an Arab nation and I think that that was an intentional point.

TOM ASHBROOK: Not a randomassignment.

NADA BAKOS: Right. Then, and third, I mean I would say that you know from the perspective of  the region and Iraqi, when we're talking about this as far as, you know women being taken into and removed from their homes. I mean as Hlaehsaid this isn't, we're talking about a specificissue and minority population that is enacting this not on behalf of all Muslims. This is a very narrow point of view held.

TOM ASHBROOK: We've heard stories here of this, like convert or be sent into this system of sexual trafficking. Is it being used in that way?

HALEH ESFANDIRAI: Look, we don't know what happens when they take them. I mean that is what we hear from the propaganda machine of ISIS and also from some of these girls. What does it matter when they say you know OK you convert. And then we rape you? Or you come? Does it make rape more legitimate from their point of view? I don't buy it.

TOM ASAHBROOK: Well, does it? Does it?

HALEH ESFANDIRAI:  I don't buy it. I really don't buy that. I said I think the whole approach to women by ISIS is to be condemned. It's a sustainable sexual violation.It's awful what they are doing to women. And we just should face it. And just an answer to what your previous, you know that one was a tweet.  Nobody is talking about putting boots on the ground. I personally believe that if anybody is going to put boots on the ground, it has to be the Arab countries. They finally haveto face the reality that this is happening in their region, in the name of Islam, and it is their women. So therefore, if anybody has to fight on the ground, ISIS, it's going to be them. And they shouldn't be sitting back and waiting for the United States and France and England to do their work for them.

TOM ASHBROOK: Clare in Madison, Wisconsin. Claire, thanks for calling. You're on the air.

CALLER CLARE: Oh thank you so much Tom. I have a big picture take on this whole thing. I think it's perpetrated, and I'm talking about domestic violence, rape, incest, Yazidi women, children. I think these perpetrators are brutal and immature. They are angry and frustrated with their lives and instead of dealing with their own inadequacies in a reasonable other words, these are not brave men. These are cowards.

TOM ASHBROOK: Clare, we've got it. The line is rough. Bu twe've got your point. Nada. these men, these are frustrated. brutal young men you know sort of thugs, is that what ISIS is recruiting? Or they are those shock troops in a way, are they. I mean people said something similar about the beheadings. You know this seems almost ghoulish. Do we have some kind of psycho killers out front here or is this a part of a kind of shock and awe campaign?

NADA BAKOS: Well look, this isn't the first time an organization, especially a terrorist organization, is enacting this kind of strategy. You know back in the 90s, in the Bosnian war. That's when we became very aware of rape used as a tool of war. Then in 2008, the UN then recognized rape as a tool of war. So this isn't new. This isn't something they have come up with. And now I just, there's not one specific profile of an individual that's attracted to a terrorist organization. They join for a variety of reasons. And if you look at it from that perspective, it's like a cult. There are people generally attracted to something like that that is in need of some kind of guidance. Or they're lacking their own moral compass. And they're also sometimes mentally disturbed. So while these men, I would agree are largely. disturbed and and probably very amateur, theyd on't all fit one specific profile. And another point I wanted to make from an earlier caller and I don't think talking about this is advocating for putting the United States at the forefront of this of this war. I think we have to discuss this because this is something that happens. And in order for us to be able to help rebuild a community we need to understand what has happened to the families and how the fabric has been ripped apart because unless you can help them heal and put back that infrastructure, you will not have a solid foundation to build on.

TOM ASHBROOK: Jared, in Omaha, Nebraska, you're on the air.

CALLER JERED: Hi Tom, thanks for taking my call. If you look at any...let me start over. These women live under the rule of a theocratic male-dominated society. These societies are usually poverty-stricken, where ISIS have taken over. I think we need to empower, these women and I think we need to support them. The cure for poverty...

TOM ASHBROOK: Jared, they've got oil wells, they've got a lot of money, ISIS, the Islamic State.

CALLER JERED:  You're correct, I'm talking about where they come in at. Another point before you move on to another caller. I really hope anyone listening, int he United States, in the Western world in general who identifies as a non-feminist, re-evaluates their perspective. These women in these foreign countries need our support. And thoughpeople here are not the victims and they claim that's the reason why they don't have to be feminists, they should be ashamed of themselves. People all over the world need us to support them.

TOM ASHBROOK: Think about power relationships, you say Jared, and we get a very vivid imbalance right here. Two of the worst imbalances come during war. When the power of violence rule and roll can roll over everything. Nada Bakos, please stand by in Seattle Haleh Esfandiari, in Washington. This is On Point.


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