Syrian Rebels Are Killing Each Other for Control
"Watch out—there are snipers on this street," warned the ISIS fighter as my driver stopped next to him and eight other heavily armed men who were preparing to head into battle. ISIS, or the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham, is an offshoot of al Qaeda currently operating on the battlegrounds of Syria.
He wouldn’t have guessed it, but we were all trying to reach the same place—the front line outside the headquarters of yet another of the militant groups fighting in Syria, Ahfad al-Rasul. This organization is affiliated with the Free Syrian Army and had declared war on ISIS just a few hours earlier, for control of the provincial capital of Raqqa.
This was my third visit to the city in the four months since it had been “liberated,” as Syrians tend to refer to areas where rebels have managed to expel government troops.The battle against Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Raqqa had only lasted for about a week—a sharp contrast to the fighting in Aleppo, where gunfights and shelling have continued for over a year since the conflict began.
Once rebels take control of an area, it is now standard procedure for the regime to respond by bombarding it with indiscriminate air strikes in the hope of killing swathes of anti-Assad fighters. But back in April, just weeks after the liberation, cheerful residents seemed to greet the inevitable trail of destruction as a good thing—a sign of the progress the rebels were making.
Recently, however, the tension has risen considerably in Raqqa and the atmosphere has completely changed, as the rebel resistance continues to splinter, pitting many groups who once fought side by side against Assad against each other. The original celebration of freedom has given way to fear and uncertainty.
A number of civil movements—both religious and secular—have also been trying to establish themselves in a bid to influence the future of the city and eventually the country. A group named Haqna, Arabic for “Our Right”, is one of the organizations leading the charge. Its logo, a hand making a V sign, the index finger marked with election ink, is spray-painted all over the city. Mostly made up of young local activists, Haqna is aiming to educate the population about their civil rights and the importance of elections.
Is Pauly Shore Trying to Troll VICE?
A couple of weeks ago, we ran a piece by Jonathan Daniel Brown about the time he interned for Pauly Shore. As you would expect, the article was about how Pauly is a douche and interning for him was miserable.
A couple of days after the post was published, a video called “More Disgruntled Pauly Shore Interns” was uploaded to YouTube.
The video was uploaded with this description: “Thank God finally someone let the cat out of the bag. Pauly Shore is the worst boss and I truly think he’s crazy. I am currently one of Pauly’s interns. After I post this hidden camera video of Pauly (being who he truly is) that another intern and I did I’m sure we will both be let go, which will be a relief. We are sick of his abuse! Thank you so much Jonathan for letting everybody know: Pauly Shore truly is an asshole.”
Inside the Hot Box: Photographer Giles Clarke on August’s Cover Story
If you were as gobsmacked as we were the first time you saw British photojournalist Giles Clarke’s images of El Salvadorian gang prisons, you’d understand why we put one on the cover of the Hot Box Issue. The conditions are inhumane: 30 men shoved into a cage about the size of a freshman dorm room to await trial often for months at a time.
What might not jump out at you is the grinding journalistic work it takes to get access to this sort of thing. So we had VICE UK managing editor Bruno Bayley talk shop with Giles over a beer in London. They had such a good time, however, that neither of them particularly remembered their conversation, so Bruno and Giles corresponded over email this week to review. You can find Giles’s story and the rest of August’s issue of VICE online here.
VICE: Describe the days leading up to finding the cages: What did you see and shoot? Who did you meet?
Giles Clarke: I was in El Salvador with Nina Lakhani, a freelance journalist from the UK who was covering the 15-month-old “gang truce,” which was a brittle agreement between Barrio 18 and MS-13 to say the least. We began by meeting politicians, human rights groups, and “reformed” gang members who were all working to promote the truce by providing alternatives ways of life for young people.
After a few days in San Salvador itself, I went out to a gang “hotspot,” a suburb where the gangs live side-by-side and are separated by the town square. I spent an afternoon in the square taking pictures with a couple of local contacts and decided to visit the local police station to see how the truce had affected them. I asked if I could speak to someone of authority about the situation in the town.
I went on a ride-along with the police on patrols. Over the next couple of days, I went back to the town for a few more patrols and got closer to the captain, who eventually showed me the cages. While at the police station, I noticed that plates of food were being carried through the front lobby to a corridor in the back. I assumed it was for the guards.
So how did you go from interviewing media-ready politicians and NGOs to getting to see something that clearly authorities would want to hide?
In this case, it was a combination work, patience, luck, and connections in terms of getting access. I was fortunate to have met a sympathetic police captain who gave me access. I had tried official channels and was not given permission to shoot inside prisons. The authorities obviously prefer no pictures-given the conditions the prisoners are kept in. Also these cages were at the back of a provincial police station 20 miles from San Salvador. There is gang violence all over Latin America, so I assume there are “pits” like this everywhere.
New Media Shield Law Would Only Shield Corporate Media
Recently, Americans have witnessed a barrage of scandals regarding the federal government’s extension of their surveillance powers. Following whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations—which of course point to the National Security Agency’s spy programs and the FISA Court’s endorsement of broad domestic surveillance policies—the American citizenry’s right to privacy (4th Amendment) has taken center stage. The truth of these invasive and unconstitutional policies is giving rise to further argument, and laying ground for a practical forum to engage elected officials to more clearly define citizen rights in the digital era.
Yet, while Americans are engrossed in the debate over whether or not their government should be allowed to collect and examine the online data of citizens en masse, particularly without suspicion of criminal activity, the vehicle by which these revelations came to light—journalism—is now also under attack.
The trial of former CIA agent Jeffery Sterling, who faces charges under the Espionage Act, has provided Americans insight into how the federal government interprets the rights of journalists. In 2008 New York Times reporter James Risen was ordered to testify against Sterling, allegedly a source in his 2006 book, State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration. Risen. The Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, condemned the order and fought the subpoena. In a two-to-one ruling this past July, the fourth circuit of appeals issued this shocking statement: “There is no first amendment testimonial privilee, absolute or qualified, that protects a reporter from being compelled to testify… in criminal proceedings.” Risen has subsequently stated that he’d rather be imprisoned than reveal the identity of his source.
Notes from a Cairo Journalist Being Hounded by Spies and Thugs
Four journalists have been shot dead in Egypt this week. Dozens of others have been arrested, and I myself—a relatively young reporter—have received death threats. I am now being followed.
Since last Wednesday, I have seen my closest friends and colleagues beaten and repeatedly arrested as they have struggled to cover a story that the Egyptian government would prefer the world ignored. More than 600 supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi were killed on August 14, when the security services moved in to forcibly disperse a protest camp inside Rabaa el Adaweya Square. They came with bulldozers and guns.
The standoff lasted for ten hours; by 3 PM, bodies lined the floors of makeshift field hospitals andeven a mosque. Muslim Brotherhood supporters say this was a “massacre.” According to Human Rights Watch, it was “the most serious incident of mass unlawful killings in modern Egyptian history.” But most journalists could only watch from afar: police and army troops blocked off the site, firing tear gas, birdshot pellets, and live ammunition at anyone who tried to enter.
I spent hours trying to find a safe route in, but every side street was blocked. Instead of doing my job, I could only run from gunfire or crouch behind cars. By the end of the day, three journalists, including veteran Sky News cameraman Mike Dean, had been killed. Another photographer remains in the hospital, suffering internal bleeding and serious kidney damage.
The situation can only get worse. Politically, the country is now so dangerously polarized that coverage on either side of the divide invites attacks. On Sunday, I received a warning that I would be “shot in the back” as a result of my articles examining pro-Islamist protests. Most worryingly, it name-checked people close to me. I am now living out of a rucksack in a different part of town, and have repeatedly been followed by a man who appears to be from state security.
Prison Pit – Welcome to the Home of El Salvador’s Most Notorious Gangs
Above: Temperatures can reach 100 degrees or higher in these sweaty enclosures. More than 30 men are crammed in each cage.
In San Salvador, the two main street gangs are Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 (M18). Both were founded in Los Angeles in the 1980s by a group of poor, mostly illegal immigrants. Initially their membership consisted almost exclusively of those who had escaped from the civil war in El Salvador. Many of these gang members were deported back to El Salvador after the war ended in 1992, exporting back a newly organized and ruthless gang culture.
For nearly two decades, the gangs have been murdering each other in the most brutal ways possible, while expanding throughout Latin America. In 2011, the murder rate peaked at 15 homicides per day in El Salvador. Last year a truce was negotiated between MS-13 and M18 with the assistance of religious leaders and the government. The aim of the truce was to stem the escalating number of shootings and deaths by focusing on the younger gang members and taking some of the weapons off the streets. According to the gang leaders, the time was right to talk and stop the violence. After the much publicized treaty was signed, the effects were almost instantaneous, and the homicide rate dropped 52 percent in 15 months; however, in early July of this year, tensions boiled over once again and there were 103 killings in the country in a single week, giving Salvadorans a reminder that some things may never change.
It’s the Hot Box Issue
When photographer Giles Clarke saw the “gang cages” that members of San Salvador’s warring street criminals were imprisoned in—sometimes for months at a time—it was as if he encountered something out of a Hieronymus Bosch painting. The photographs he took of over 30 men stuffed into cages that are 12 feet wide and 15 feet tall are insane and express the underlying theme of VICE’s latest edition, which we’ve titled The Hot Box Issue.
In keeping with the spirit of Giles’s discovery of absurd detention, artist and writer Molly Crabapple traveled to Guantanamo Bay to check out the US Naval Detention Center that has become a worldwide blot on America’s credibility as a moral power for her story named after a T-shirt she found at the base’s gift store: “It Don’t GITMO Better Than This.”
Jean Friedman-Rudovsky and Noah Friedman-Rudovsky traveled to Mennonite colonies in Bolivia to report on the continuing and frightening rape epidemics happening in their insular community. They found that even though the perpetrators of the so-called “ghost rapes” have been apprehended, the rapes continue.
We also traveled to Colombia in search of rare strains of Marijuana with the self-proclaimed King of Cannabis, Dutch seed magnate Arjan Roskam, offering a more traditional take on the meaning of “hot box.”
As you can imagine, there’s much more in out latest effort to sink your teeth into too. Terry Richardson photographs mega superstar cat Lil Bub who then gets her fortune told. Richard Kern shot a dark and titillating fashion editorial inspired by David Cronenberg’s Videodrome.
As the month rolls along, expect more goodies from the print issue to appear on VICE.com—including an excerpt from Adam Leith Gollner’s new book The New Book of Immortality, new fiction by Barry Gifford, and a report on the courageous women of Egypt battling rape and sexual assault during the country’s recent revolutions.
If you want an IRL copy of this magazine to hold and snuggle with we’d suggest heading to one of these fine locations pronto. Actually, don’t bother. They probably are already gone.
Find all the published and future articles for the Hot Box Issue here.
VICE Loves Magnum: Dominic Nahr’s Eerie Photos from Conflict Zones and Disaster Areas
For this round of VICE Loves Magnum we spoke to Dominic Nahr, who—unlike previous interviewees—is still running the gauntlet of selection before becoming a full Magnum member. We discussed Africa’s endless potential for stories, the eeriness of post-tsunami Japan, and how a feeling of homelessness can be conducive to taking amazing photos.
VICE: As you’re one of the younger photographers we’ve spoken to for the series, could you give me a rundown on how you got to where you are, how you got into photography and your relationship with Magnum to date?
Dominic Nahr: I got into photography when my mom gave me a camera. I have a memory so bad that I don’t remember any of my holidays with my parents, which is not good at all. So she told me to photograph things so I wouldn’t forget. I went to university and started to study film, but I didn’t like working with a bunch of people at that time. I wanted to figure out my vision and style on my own. I quit and went into photography.
My first assignment was for GQ magazine, France—they called me while I was on my bicycle in Toronto, where I studied, and I almost fell off. Arnaud, the photo editor, was like, “You want to do an assignment in New York?” I said, “I don’t understand—what do you want me to do?” and he’s like, “Do whatever you do.” That was the first assignment that I got and a key moment where I was like, OK, cool, this job really exists.
So I started taking more pictures and right after university, in 2008, I got picked up by an agency called L’Oeil Public, who were amazing. The agency closed down in 2009; I joined them in their last year of existence. They were supportive and suggested I go to eastern Congo. I’d never been to Africa before, and I covered the war there. My pictures really moved and many magazines picked them up. I even got an exhibition during Visa pour l’image in Perpignan, which really helped a lot. I think that kind of opened people’s eyes to my work and led me finally to Magnum. I’m entering my fourth year with them now.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO. North Kivu, Kibumba, October 2008. Over 25,000 people carry their belongings as they flee one of the main refugee camps due to fighting near Kibumba in eastern Congo. Government soldiers were forced to retreat as they were being pushed closer to Goma by rebels of renegade general Laurent Nkunda.
Wow. I guess that makes Magnum what it is—the fact that’s it’s so hard to get into and you have to convince lots of other photographers to let you in.
This is probably the longest relationship that I’ve ever had with anything.
I wanted to know how you felt about book projects, like your ongoing Africa one, in contrast to other projects you’ve done, which seem more kind of self-contained, one-off reportage stories. I got the feeling you preferred working on more open-ended projects, but maybe I was wrong?
No, I think it’s a mix—like, the book projects, they come out of smaller projects. I’m not going into this like, I’m a photographer, I have this concept and I’m going to photograph it for six months or a year. Africa isn’t that place—there are so many stories out there. I’ll do small stories and then out of those small stories I pull pictures into my book project. They are all for my book, but my list of all the cool things I want to photograph is super long. It doesn’t end. I live in Nairobi, Kenya, and I can’t leave, because, really, if you’re feeling complacent or just bored, sitting in your house, that’s just wrong—there’s a lot of stuff to do. Even if people don’t pay you, it will somehow come back around.
An Open Letter to the Most Factually Incorrect Museum in America
Dear Guinness World Record Museum,
I recently visited your Los Angeles location. As was the case with the Hollywood Wax Museum last month, I was not impressed by what I saw.
It’s not just that your museum was generally shitty, boring, and broken-down. There was a much larger problem than that.
As I walked around the museum, I saw several “world records” on display that I knew were incorrect. For instance, the above claims that Titanic holds the record for highest box office gross, and that Lance Armstrong has the most Tour De France titles.
So when I got home, I did some fact-checking. The amount of false information you have on display is truly staggering.
Now, I don’t intend for this to be a definitive list of all of the errors in your museum. Obviously I didn’t have time to check all of the facts. But here are some things you claim are true that are not:
- You claim Michael Jackson’s Bad is the 2nd biggest selling album of all time. It is actually the 10th biggest selling.
- You claim Hilary Duff is the highest paid child TV actor. It is actually Angus T. Jones.
- You claim the longest mustache ever was 10 feet 2 inches long. According to the Guinness Book of Records (your book) it is actually 14 feet long.
- You claim that Dustin Hoffman holds the record for most Best Actor Oscars, with two. Daniel Day Lewis has three.
- You claim that Jurassic Park has the biggest marketing budget of any movie ever. Wrong. Avatar does.
- You claim that George Burns is the oldest man to win an Academy Award, at 79. Christopher Plummer won one when he was 82.
- You claim the Turkish lira is the least valuable currency in the world. This hasn’t been the case since 2005.
- You claim that at age 81, George Cukor is the oldest person to have ever directed a film. Spanish director Manoel de Oliveira is 104 and still working.
From the Photo Issue: The ‘LBM Dispatch’ Brings the Good News – By Alec Soth; Words by Brad Zellar
T he project that eventually morphed into the LBM Dispatch started as a lark and an experiment. On Alec’s birthday in December 2011, he texted me that he wanted to go on an adventure. A couple hours later, we were in his Honda Odyssey trolling the exurban fringes of the Twin Cities, pretending to be representatives of a small-town newspaper. The first “lead” we chased involved a cat that had been eluding rescuers for months, living on an island in the middle of one of the busiest freeway interchanges in the metropolitan area. This cat had assumed almost mythical status, and was purported to have survived only due to fate or a couple of remarkable strokes of luck: the island on which it had been marooned contained a freshwater pond, as well as the carcass of a deer that had apparently lacked either the cat’s good fortune or its survival skills.
As our luck would have it, on Christmas day, just before Alec’s birthday, there had been a break in the story. A suburban police officer had finally corralled the fugitive cat and transported the animal to a local shelter, where it had been christened Adam (after the rescuing officer, it turned out, but the name seemed fortuitous for our own purposes). We visited the island Adam had been stranded on, where we investigated and photographed the pond, the deer carcass, and a culvert under the freeway that—based on fresh paw prints—we surmised had been Adam’s shelter. We also paid a visit to the cat at his new, temporary home. His rather surly and uncooperative demeanor suggested that the cat had perhaps been captured rather than rescued, exiled rather than liberated.