The video below was released by the Kurdistan Region Security Council. Its opening moments offer helmet-cam footage from the rescue of some 70 hostages from the ISIS prison near Hawija, Iraq – a mission in which American advisers assumed a combat role once their Kurdish allies came under fire, leading to the death of Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler in battle.
Most of the video consists of the rescued hostages telling their stories after being welcomed to the Kurdish capital of Erbil. They speak of torture at the hands of ISIS militants, including electric shocks, beatings with cables or pieces of wood, and suffocation with plastic bags. They were brutally interrogated on a regular basis. It was “torture that no human being may have ever witnessed,” as one survivor put it.
One of the ISIS commanders had a disconcerting habit of strutting around in a suicide belt, according to the prisoners’ testimony. Daily threats of imminent death were leveled at the captives.
Many of the prisoners were executed – between two and five every day, according to various accounts. Many of the interrogations were designed to elicit “confessions” under torture, which were followed by execution. The captives spoke of hearing mass graves dug for them with bulldozers shortly before the raid was launched.
Women and children were subjected to this treatment, as well as the male prisoners. One man interviewed in the video spoke of the Islamic State starving Iraqis in their conquered territory who refuse to swear allegiance to the caliphate and kill on its behalf.
One of the captives said that ISIS executed his brother by decapitation, then returned only the severed head for burial.
A prisoner underlined the Islamic State’s mania for kidnapping by noting his time in Hawija was the fourth time he had been captured by ISIS. Several of those interviewed said they were Iraqi police officers, local government employees, or military recruits.
Copious thanks were offered by the rescued prisoners to U.S. and Kurdish special forces and to Kurdish president Masoud Barzani. One liberated captive broke down in tears as he took the opportunity of the video to let his family know he was still alive.
The video is not without a few moments that will grate on American ears.
“I swear by God the torture they use isn’t used on Muslims, non-believers, or Jews. I swear by God Jews are more honorable than them,” exclaimed one former ISIS prisoner, not choosing the best possible words to express his dismay.
Another man criticized the Islamic State for the “injustice” of taking wives away from men who have more than one wife and giving the surplus wives to foreigners as slaves.