Introducing “Behind the Lines,” a Mother Jones Podcast series featuring senior reporter Shane Bauer’s exclusive, on-the-ground reporting in Syria. A year in the making, these episodes follow Bauer as he explores an abandoned prison in the former capital of the Islamic State, hunts for clues about the devastating US-led bombing of Raqqa, and travels to a battlefront where a proxy battle between the United States and Russia is fueled by oil and gas fields. Bauer’s special investigation provides a new look at a civil war that has drawn American jihadists, anarchists, CIA agents, and special forces to a battlefield of shifting allegiances and horrific civilian casualties.
The podcast is part of a special package that includes Bauer’s in-depth report and riveting videos shot inside Syria.
Episode One: Burying Syria’s Forgotten Dead
In the bombed-out city of Raqqa, a former ISIS stronghold, forensics teams conduct the harrowing work of uncovering thousands of bodies from the rubble. The city was liberated in 2017 following an intensive four-month siege and bombardment by US-led forces that was part of President Donald Trump’s aggressive escalation of the war against ISIS in Syria. By early 2018, when Bauer visited, as much as 80 percent of the city’s buildings had been destroyed or damaged; Amnesty International called it “the most destroyed city in modern times.” Bauer follows the heartbreaking daily routine of 16 rescuers with no more lives to save. In this episode, Bauer also talks about why he embarked on this risky trip into Syria and discusses the shifting web of combatants that makes the war so difficult to comprehend.
Episode Two: Inside an ISIS Prison
Beneath a crumbling soccer stadium in Raqqa, in northeast Syria, is a maze of narrow corridors and underground cells where ISIS once held its prisoners. In this installment, Mother Jones senior reporter Shane Bauer tours these abandoned tunnels with a former prisoner who recounts the atrocities that happened beneath the stands where he’d watched soccer matches as a boy. Pro-ISIS graffiti still covers the walls of the cramped rooms were prisoners were kept in darkness, released only to be interrogated, tortured, and fed ISIS propaganda. While some prisoners made false confessions and were beheaded, others tried to save their lives by accepting their captors’ religious message; some escaped by joining ISIS. In this episode, Bauer provides an inside look at the place where ISIS held its captives and created new recruits.
Episode Three: Betrayal. Torture. Escape. An American ISIS Wife’s Exclusive Tell-All.
An American woman says she was tortured by ISIS, survived the US-led assault on Raqqa, escaped the Islamic State, and now wants to go home. Bauer meets Samantha Elhassani at a sprawling refugee camp in northeastern Syria. But two months later, she is sent to the United States on a military cargo plane and brought before a federal judge, becoming the first American woman to be charged with terrorism-related crimes after living inside ISIS territory. Bauer traces her story back to Indiana and looks at the events leading to her husband’s decision to take her and their young family to Syria’s front lines. Bauer investigates Elhassani’s role in her husband’s enslavement of three Yazidi children, and studies how her and the government’s competing claims may play out in her upcoming trial.