Michael Weiss writes: “They have a cage in this square,” Abu Khaled said, describing the place where ISIS justice is meted out in al-Bab, the Syrian town in which, until recently, he’d served with the state security apparatus of the so-called Islamic State. This is the same place where beheadings take place from time to time. But the cage is always there, and there’s almost always someone inside.
“They put people in it for three days. And they say why he is there,” the man we’ll call Abu Khaled told me at one of our meetings over three days in Istanbul last month. “One time, a man went to the court as a witness and he lied. They put him in the cage for three days. One guy was hanging out with girls; they weren’t his relatives and not married. He spent three days. For cigarettes, you spend like one day, two days, three days. It depends.”
Abu Khaled was describing a place I’d been. I was in al-Bab during Ramadan 2012, in the relatively early days of the revolt against the Assad regime, when the town was still controlled by local rebel forces, and I saw how that same square came alive at night when activists, rebels, or local civilians transformed themselves into ad hoc cleanup crews—the Free Syrian Street Sweepers—picking up detritus and rubble left over from regime shelling, or manning field hospitals in the basement of the local mosque, because the real hospital in al-Bab had been targeted and badly damaged by the Syrian military. [Continue reading…]