Friday February 17, 2017

February 17, 2017 full episode transcript

Note: Transcripts may contain errors. If you wish to re-use all, or part of, a transcript, please contact CBC for permission. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print. Copyright © CBC 2016

The Current Transcript for February 17, 2017

Host: Laura Lynch


Listen to the full episode


[Music: Theme]


That this is the president of the United States and a small handful of people in the West Wing in the White House going to war with specific agencies of the government, of their government, of our government. That's what this is.

LAURA LYNCH: If this is a war as journalist Mike Barnicle labels it, then the weapons are leaks of sensitive intelligence information. Leaks brought down US President Donald Trump’s national security adviser. Leaks are undermining Trump's efforts to govern. Some are cheering that, saying the intelligence community has long used the technique as a check on those in office. But others warn of something darker and they draw disturbing comparisons to dysfunctional democracies in Turkey, Pakistan and Egypt. We look behind the leaks into what it means for governance in the US and the implications for the rest of us. Later on, a battle of a more traditional sort.


It’s about an hour and a half of very, very heavy fighting. It was very close. Only a block or two away we could hear the ISIS fighters. They were yelling at us. You could hear their voices.

LL: Photojournalist Victor Blue got uncomfortably close to ISIS troops when he spent six weeks with a special group of fighters trying to retake the city of Mosul in Iraq. Its members are all sons of Mosul. They and their families have suffered directly at the hands of ISIS. They're fueled by the need for revenge. Blue got to know them well and he shares his tales of what it was like on the frontlines. Also today—


He hit me once and that’s all it took. He hit me once. It was one powerful, well-executed suckerpunch.

LL: After the assault on bus driver Charles Dixon in 2011, he endured multiple surgeries and bouts of fear. The man who attacked him was given a conditional sentence. After this week's stabbing death of another driver in Winnipeg, transit drivers are calling out again for more protection and a tougher response from the justice system. We'll talk to three current and former drivers for their take on what it's like to get behind the wheel and what needs to change. I'm Laura Lynch and you're listening to the Friday edition of The Current.

Back To Top »

Trump battles U.S. intelligence agencies amid leaks

Guests: Glenn Carle, Glenn Greenwald


VOICE 1: Is it fake news or are these real leaks?

VOICE 2: Well, the leaks are real. You know the one that wrote about them and reported them. I mean the leaks are real. You know what they said. You saw it. And the leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake because so much of the news is fake.

LL: That was US President Donald Trump speaking yesterday at a White House news conference about the leaks that have his government reeling. From stories about connections between President Trump's election team and Russian intelligence during the election campaign, to what his former national security adviser Michael Flynn told the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador, secrets are spilling out almost daily. President Trump, however, has focused his ire not on the content of the leaks but the leaks themselves, promising to catch and punish the intelligence officials behind them. He's reportedly considering naming New York billionaire Stephen Feinberg to lead a broad review of all US spy agencies—a move some in the intelligence community worry will undermine their independence. Glenn Carle is a retired CIA operations officer and a former deputy officer on the National Intelligence Council. He's also the author of The Interrogator, which recounts his involvement in the “enhanced interrogation program” and he joins me from Boston. Hello.

GLENN CARLE: Good morning.

LL: What are you thinking as you hear President Trump say that the leaks are real but the news is fake?

GLENN CARLE: Well, everyone in the in the journalistic world is stuck in a bind because you have to pay attention to what the president of the United States says, of course. But what he says is largely incoherent and always self-serving. It will say that the sun rises at one moment and the sun sets at the next only as a function of what he thinks advances his personal agenda. So truly—I'm not meaning to insult—but it's almost impossible to make sense of what he says. He was trying to say that the leaks were politically motivated against him and then at the same time dismiss their substance while he sort of incoherently acknowledged that it is valid at the same time. But this is the problem with Trump.

LL: And the problem with Trump is something that I gather the intelligence community wants to hit back at. You were an intelligence officer for 23 years under both Democrat and Republican presidents. Have you ever seen this type of rift before between the White House and the intelligence community?

GLENN CARLE: Yeah. This is a really important point, the issue of leaks, because we do not want—one must not—fall into the narrative, the alternative reality narrative that is being put out as a smokescreen by Donald Trump, which is to focus on the issue of leaks. The issue is truly an existential one for public service officers, for CIA officers or state department officers or department of interior officers, whomever. Because what do you do when your oath is to serve the executive? Preserve, protect and defend the Constitution by serving the executive? But the executive himself is taking steps you fear that undermine the spirit and the letter of the oath and who you believe may well have associations with a hostile intelligence power.

LL: And you're speaking of Russia there.


LL: Okay.

GLENN CARLE: Of course. Yeah. What do you do? If you follow your orders and serve the executive, you become at least complicit in the betrayal of your oath. And if you don't follow orders, then you've betrayed your oath also. So you have an existential choice where nothing is good. And the ultimate obligation of a public servant is to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. So one shouldn't think about the leaks. One should think about the existential crisis facing the American government.

LL: Do you say then that the intelligence community has made its choice?

GLENN CARLE: I don't think we can speak of community as a coherent single entity. It's not like it's a being. It consists of dozens of thousands of men and women. So everyone is faced with an individual crisis moment. Now collectively, I am certain there isn't a cabal you know or the leadership of the CIA or the DIA—the Defense Intelligence Agency—are not sitting in their you know their plush executive room saying okay, how can we bring the president down? That's not how it functions. Everyone's in an agonizing circumstance of how do we fulfill our oath to the Constitution?

LL: Right. Okay. And you say that. The job is to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. But the real tension here is that members of the intelligence community weren't elected. They are supposed to be accountable through Congress and through the White House. Why should we be giving them so much power?

GLENN CARLE: Well, that's a fair question and this is the excruciating dilemma. But I think a more easily visible or describable circumstances that of an officer in uniform and you are under an obligation to disobey an order that is itself illegal. That's the circumstance that many officers feel they're in now or fear that they're in. And it's similar to the experience I had during the enhanced interrogation program. My colleagues are—

LL: Let's call that what it was. That was torture.

GLENN CARLE: Torture. Yes, that's correct. Yeah, yeah. I'm in no way defending in that. My colleagues are overwhelmingly honourable men and women. But we were told the president has authorized and ordered the following. And so what do you do? If you follow your orders, you are breaking the law and if you don't follow your orders, you're insubordinate and if you step aside, someone else will do it. So how do you do right? It's a terrible dilemma and I think that's—


LL: But in that case, in that case, orders were obeyed.

GLENN CARLE: Yes, they were. That's right. That’s right. Yeah.

LL: So what is the difference between that case and this case with President Trump?

GLENN CARLE: I think that's a good question. Well, bad as torture is, the subversion of our institutions and our laws and the influence of a hostile foreign power, I mean the Russian intelligence is exponentially worse. Breaking the law is bad. Seeing your institutions controlled from afar or destroyed and the meaning of the system of government no longer holding together is even worse.

LL: There are rumours now that that some intelligence agencies are withholding sensitive information from President Trump for fear of leaks and potential disclosure to foreign governments. If that is true, doesn't that risk those relationships with other foreign governments who come to rely on the United States for intelligence sharing?

GLENN CARLE: Yes. I mean everything is jeopardized now. I'm outside of the chain of command and so on now, but I think what that reference was is more directly. If we share this information, the source might be revealed and that would then cause huge harm to lives and treasure as they were. So what do we do? Perhaps we can pass relevant parts of the assessment that derives from this without revealing the source—one always tries to do that—or and I've wondered what one would have to do then. Perhaps one can work with relevant parts of the government establishment, say the Defense Department on certain issues, where the State Department and certain others, so as to advance your mission which is the national interest, one hopes, without endangering the information. I mean it's a crazy horrible situation that one would even have to contemplate how do I do this? It's like The Caine Mutiny. I don’t know if one remembers this book where you know Captain Queeg is the commander but if you follow his orders, the ship is going to run aground or sink. And yet if you don't follow orders, you are then committing mutiny. It's a terrible dilemma.

LL: Now President Trump says he may launch a review of the CIA and other intelligence services. How would the intelligence community react to something like that?

GLENN CARLE: Well, catastrophically. I mean the fellow being mentioned, not only does he have no experience, he probably can't pronounce, even name three of the agencies of the 17 in the intelligence community. He knows nothing except that he's a political loyalist.

LL: Well, I think that what Trump is looking for is someone who is from the outside looking in.

GLENN CARLE: Well, you can have an outsider and you can have an outsider who knows what he's talking about and you can have an outsider who is not set with a mission simply to clean house and find people who will only say yes to the man in charge. And our job, the intelligence community's job is to be a thorn and to say unpleasant things, not to say yes. So as described, it is a terrifying prospect because it means silencing any voice that is not in line.

LL: Very briefly, I gather you may have been talking to some of your former colleagues who are still in the services. What are they telling you about how far they are prepared to go?

GLENN CARLE: Well, they haven't told me directly anything in answer to that question. They have expressed grave anxiety and concern about the rationality and the competence of the commander in chief, but that's not uniform. I mean the CIA, specifically where I came from, broadly is representative of the diversity of American society. So you will have ardent Trump haters and ardent Trump supporters. But the most important thing to know about the CIA culture is that it truly is an apolitical institution. I, my colleagues, everyone has their individual political views, but they really are almost without exception left at the door when you go to work.

LL: Alright. We'll leave it there. Glenn Carle, thank you.

GLENN CARLE: My pleasure.

LL: Glenn Carle was a career CIA officer whose last position was as deputy national intelligence officer for transnational threats. He is the author of The Interrogator and he was in Boston. Glenn Greenwald is a journalist, author and founder of the online news site, The Intercept. He worked closely with Edward Snowden on the archive of classified documents from the NSA. Mr. Greenwald worries about the role the so-called “deep state” has played in the leaks that led to Michael Flynn’s exit. And Glenn Greenwald joins us now from Rio de Janeiro. Hello.


LL: First off, can you just explain what is the deep state?

GLENN GREENWALD: It's essentially the collection of agencies that exert power on a permanent basis in Washington. As presidents who are elected come and go, they stay. They typically operate in complete secrecy and in the dark and therefore are subject to very few democratic constraints or mechanisms of transparency. And they wield great power because the United States is a country that exerts power around the world and has vested them with awesome authorities, to do everything from detention and bombing to surveilling and spying.

LL: Let's just be clear about this. Are they agencies within agencies? Is that what you're saying?

GLENN GREENWALD: There is a tendency to sometimes talk about the concept of a deep state as though it's some bizarre unseen conspiracy. I mean it's really nothing more than the indisputable fact that we have agencies within the United States government that are rarely seen in terms of how they exercise their authorities even though they exert extreme amounts of power. And it's been viewed since Dwight Eisenhower, the two-term Republican president and five-star general, as being a grave threat to democracy. We have to have it. But if it gets too powerful and too removed or liberated from democratic norms, then it can become a serious threat to democracy.

LL: Now I know there are other observers who understand what a deep state is and argue that it exists in places like Egypt and Pakistan and Turkey, but say that we're not there yet in the United States.

GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah. There's a lot of people in the West who like to think that bad things only happen in non-Western countries but never in the West and all you have to do is look at the history of the CIA and the way in which it has been caught spying on political enemies, developing really toxic weapons without any kind of accountability, breaking the law continuously in secret, torturing people around the world, kidnapping them. Anybody who knows anything about the CIA would find this doubt that it really exists in America I think laughable.

LL: Glenn Carle just said that the intelligence agencies are an important counterbalance to the White House. What do you say to that?

GLENN GREENWALD: I find that to be a really disturbing concept. There are supposed to be checks and balances on a president that the Constitution protects and that the founders envisioned. They include things like a free press, like independent courts, like a zealous judiciary and like citizen activism, all of which you're seeing to varying degrees in response to Trump. But they don't include secret intelligence agencies. Those are supposed to be part of the executive branch that exist in subordination to political officials and elected officials like the White House. And if the intelligence community starts to see itself as liberated from political officials and in opposition to those same officials, then to whom is it subordinate? Nobody. It's this robe force that operates in the dark and has no one constraining what they can do and that's what I think is so disturbing.

LL: But you also heard him say that these agents are in what he called an existential crisis, that they feel that they have to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. Isn't that a valid point?

GLENN GREENWALD: No. First of all, I find it genuinely amazing, as one of the journalists who worked with Edward Snowden, to have watched the CIA and intelligence officials for eight years demand that every leaker, every whistleblower be harshly imprisoned, even be executed in the case of Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, now suddenly arrogate unto themselves the right to leak classified information because they think doing so is justified. This is the same rationale that Edward Snowden used, that Chelsea Manning used—I'm seeing grave crimes that are being covered up and I think the people ought to know them. So I do actually think that there is a justifiability for leakers both in the CIA, but as well as the leakers of the last eight years who have been so harshly dealt with, to make the public aware when high officials like General Flynn are lying. I'm all for that. But I think what is very disturbing are the subversive acts of the CIA and the Intelligence Committee that go beyond leaking like withholding information from the president because they're deciding that he can't be trusted, undermining the policies that he campaigned on and that people voted for because they think those policies are undesirable. That is as much of a threat as Trump poses to democratic norms. That is a real threat to democratic norms when you start having secretive agencies implementing their own policies that nobody voted for.

LL: Even if they feel there is a legitimate fear that that information may go on to Russia or other governments that they suspect of doing nefarious things?

GLENN GREENWALD: If there is evidence that Donald Trump is a traitor to the United States, that he's a spy for the Kremlin, which is what that theory says, that he'll take confidential or highly classified or top secret information and give it to Vladimir Putin and the FSB and other Russian intelligence agencies, which is the definition of treason, then they ought to show that evidence to law enforcement and to the media and let those institutions prosecute Donald Trump for treason. But taking it upon themselves to just undermine the president and impede what he's trying to do after two weeks or three weeks after he was just inaugurated after a democratic election is undemocratic in the extreme. There are institutions to deal with those kind of accusations. The CIA is not one of them.

LL: How did the intelligence—let's just go back to the campaign for a moment. How did the intelligence community look at the election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump?

GLENN GREENWALD: So I think one of the big overlooked stories of the 2016 election was the way in which it was essentially a proxy war between various components of the law enforcement and national security world. The FBI, at least parts of it, were clearly supportive of Donald Trump and we're doing everything they could to undermine Hillary Clinton, including leaking information—often false information—about the investigation that was aimed at her. But then on the other side, you had the CIA. Many leading members of which, you know the CIA officials obviously can't do it, but X officials, such as Mike Morrell who led the CIA under President Obama and Michael Hayden who led the NSA and the CIA under George Bush, were doing everything they could to make sure Donald Trump didn't get elected. And the reason is because when you look at what the CIA's priorities are, things like waging a proxy war in Syria, Hillary Clinton's policy was very much in line with the CIA agenda, which was President Obama has constrained the CIA too much in its proxy fight in Syria. We should unleash the CIA. We should impose a no fly zone in Syria. We should confront the Russians and Trump’s was exactly the opposite, which is let Assad do whatever he wants. It's not our business who's running Syria. We should work with the Russians, not against them, in order to kill ISIS and al-Qaeda and other groups in Syria. So they were clearly in favour of Clinton.

LL: I'm interrupting you because we're running out of time. But in that case, how do you explain FBI Director James Comey’s letter to members of Congress about Hillary Clinton's e-mails being on the computer and of Anthony Wiener 11 days before the election? And I apologize, but we’ve only got about 30 seconds left.

GLENN GREENWALD: No, it’s fine. Like I said, there were definitely factions within the FBI, that unlike the CIA, were supportive of Trump and against Clinton and I think they pressured Comey in lots of different ways to force him to do that.

LL: So much more to talk about. I wish we had more time but thank you for now, Glenn Greenwald.

GLENN GREENWALD: Great to talk to you. Thank you.

LL: Glenn Greenwald is a journalist and founder of the online news site, The Intercept. We reached him in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Well, the CBC News is coming up next. Then, threats of violence and even murder. The dangers of being a bus driver on Canada’s streets. I'm Laura Lynch and you are listening to the Friday edition of The Current.

[Music: Sting]

Back To Top »

Bus drivers call for national strategy to protect them on the job

Guests: Jim Yakubowski, Robin Winkley, Paul Thorp

LL: Hello. I'm Laura Lynch and you're listening to The Current.

[Music: Theme]

LL: Still to come, life, death and photojournalism in the war-ravaged Iraqi city of Mosul. But first, the fight to protect Canada's transit workers from on-the-job violence.


On behalf of the city of Winnipeg and Winnipeg Transit, I am confirming that we have in fact had an operator pass away in the line of duty earlier this morning. We'd like to extend our thoughts and our condolences to the family and the loved ones of the operator.

That was Dave Wardrop, former transit director and Winnipeg's new chief transportation and utilities officer, speaking about the murder of a Winnipeg bus driver that made headlines across the country this week. Irvine Jubal Fraser was 58 years old. Police say he died after being stabbed multiple times by a passenger. While many drivers are forbidden to speak out about the darker aspects of their job since the murder, transit workers are coming forward with their stories of passenger abuse from bullying and harassment to spitting and assault.


I was attacked eight times. I was shot at by people using various kinds of shooting weapons eight times. I had 150 major incidents interacting with the public. More than 20 years ago, two bikers that were on the bus didn't like that I called the authorities when they were disrupting behaviour on the bus and they came up to the front and one of them pulled a Colt 45 out of the waistband of his trousers and stuck it in my left eye and asked me what this was going to do to me.

LL: That was Brian Lennox speaking on CBC Manitoba's information radio program on Wednesday. The former Winnipeg transit driver drove the city's main routes for about 30 years. He retired in 2016 and lives with post-traumatic stress disorder. So today we're looking at the harassment and dangerous trends that drivers face on the job and ask what can be done to protect them. To discuss that I'm joined by three people who are familiar with the hazards of working as a bus driver in Canada. Paul Thorp is the national president of the Amalgamated Transit Union which represents many transit workers across Canada. A decade before joining the union executive, he drove a bus in Brampton, Ontario. He is in Winnipeg today to attend the rally in memory of Irvine Jubal Fraser. Robin Winkley is a former bus driver with the Toronto Transit Commission and she's in our Toronto studio. Jim Yakubowski is a 16-year veteran bus driver in Saskatoon and is also the local president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 615. He is in Saskatoon. Hello to you all.

MANY VOICES: Good morning.

LL: Jim Yakubowski, I want to start with you. What was your reaction when you heard about the death of a bus driver in Winnipeg this week?

JIM YAKUBOWSKI: I’m obviously very saddened to hear that one of our brothers passed away in the line of duty. Transit workers across Canada—I believe I could speak for all of them—are really suffering the effects of losing one of our brothers in the line of duty. And it raises the awareness that we need to do something about it.

LL: Tell me what kinds of hazards you face when you're behind the wheel of a city bus.

JIM YAKUBOWSKI: Well, there are many. Throughout the course of my 16-year tenure driving bus, I've been assaulted twice personally. And you know we've had many of our operators on a day-to-day basis are facing either verbal assaults or worst case, physical assaults.

LL: Robin Winkley, can you relate to that? What was it like for you?

ROBIN WINKLEY: Oh, definitely. On a you know not necessarily daily but definitely weekly basis, you would be verbally assaulted, abused, threatened and physical assaults from spitting to somebody doing a spit or a hit and run, which is basically as they're exiting the vehicle, they either spit at you or throw a punch at you and run. That was something that happened on a regular occurrence and it was regular in the mindset too. Basically we went out kind of thinking okay, it's going to happen again today or whatever. And it definitely was dependent on basically what time of day you were working possibly. The evening, the overnight when people are coming out of bars was a little bit more of a threatening situation and also some of the routes that you drive was you know, definitely more dangerous areas where you'd have more occurrences.

LL: You had a particular incident where you had to rescue another bus driver. Tell me about that.

ROBIN WINKLEY: It was a while ago but I was working for the Wheel-Trans, which is the disabled part of TTC buses. And I was up at Don Mills and Finch one day and witnessed a articulated bus driver was out of his bus rolling around in the snow trying to fend off an attack from what I learned later was a disgruntled rider who had not been let off of a express bus when he wanted to get off. And basically I was able to go across and assist that driver and apprehend the guy who was whaling way on him.

LL: Was the driver badly injured?

ROBIN WINKLEY: He was cut. I believe his glasses had been punched into his face so he was bleeding, cut and hurt. And yeah. But the sad part was that we had an articulated bus—so that's a double bus—and it was full of rush hour passengers and I was the first person to actually assist that driver. Nobody else came out of the bus to help.

LL: Paul Thorp, these are serious stories of abuse that we're hearing here. What do statistics tell us about how widespread this is across the country?

PAUL THORP: This happens on a daily basis. Our statistics show that five operators across Canada are assaulted on a daily basis. And this does not include the numbers of assaults that people are just too ashamed actually report them. Somebody gets spat on and they're just in utter shock and revulsion by what has just transpired and they don't want to tell anybody.

LL: What about non-physical abuse?

PAUL THORP: Verbal abuse happens on a daily basis, multiple times. It's the frustration of the timing of the routes. The customers want to make their connections. These routes are designed by a computer, by a person that's programming it, that’s never driven a bus and has absolutely no idea of what's actually transpiring. And that frustration is transferred on to our operators, which they have no control over the cutting of the routes. We've been telling employers across the country for years that they need to allot more time for the bus to get to its destination to allow our members to have a place to go to the restroom, eat some food. And yet the passengers don't seem to agree with this and they think that the control is solely in the operators.

LL: So are these incidents on the rise?

PAUL THORP: Oh absolutely they are. As society gets more frustrated and maybe they’re having to take transit, they don't want to. They want to be able to have a car. We want to be able to move these people as efficiently as possible. Unfortunately our employers are not listening to what labour is telling them, that they need to take traffic into account, passenger loads, just daily traffic, construction. All of these matters they don't seem to understand.

LL: Jim Yakubowski, what kind of training do you receive to deal with conflict?

JIM YAKUBOWSKI: Well, when we are originally hired, we receive conflict resolution training and operational procedural training. I can speak specifically in our transit entity, we have been requesting additional conflict resolution training for quite some time and I believe our employer is listening to that and is going to be providing additional training. But in all honesty, I don't know that you can give enough training in conflict resolution because if you can prevent further escalation of these types of incidents, then you know our operators need the tools in order to do that. So I think that's one entity that could definitely be improved upon.

LL: Robin Winkley, do you think you had adequate training at the time?

ROBIN WINKLEY: At the time, yes. I started in the late eighties, mid to late eighties.

LL: So what were you told to do then, when you faced an abusive passenger?

ROBIN WINKLEY: To be honest, at that time I cannot actually remember an in-depth discussion regarding you know conflict resolution and de-escalating a situation.

LL: Would you attempt to do that on your own then, with passengers?

ROBIN WINKLEY: Oh definitely. A lot of the disputes come regarding fares. As a driver, you sit there and you look at the fare box and every time somebody comes in, the fare box is set up that the money drops into the box. As the driver’s there, you look to see whether they're paying the correct fare, whether they're an adult, a senior or a student. So it's on you, the driver, to say hey, that's not the appropriate fare. I need more money. So you're kind of left there deciding whether or not you're going to let that person walk to the back of the bus and say you know F you, that's all I've got or whether you try and get the appropriate fare out of that person. So you know you never really know who's going to blow up in your face or not. So a lot of it, I know a lot of drivers near the end of the, like near the end of my career, I was just like whatever. I don't care it's not worth getting spat on or you know abused verbally. So you just kind of let it go. If they removed the aspect of the driver being responsible for watching what fare is deposited and just let the driver drive—which is what they do with the new streetcars that are in Toronto—the driver’s actually I believe cordoned off basically. You get on and it's an honour system, similar to the GO train.

LL: And I just stick with you for a second. You quit your job in 2005. Was the abuse part of the reason why?

ROBIN WINKLEY: Oh yeah. It was just you know, I got tired of the people basically. Humanity kind of wears on you after a while sometimes. So yeah. I was a little bit bored with the job too. It's like you're sitting all day long but it was the daily stress levels of having to deal with staying on schedule and also you know having to deal with people. And they also were not on schedule. The people that you're transporting are late for their jobs, late for their doctor's appointments. So you feel for them but it's you're doing the best you can do.

LL: Paul Thorp, you just heard Robin Winkley talk about these new streetcars in Toronto that actually have drivers enclosed. What do you think that's what needs to happen or does there need to be more training? What should be done?

PAUL THORP: No, absolutely. I think the natural progression is that the drivers need to have their own encased area. If you look at pilots, you look at train operators, they are in their own cabin. Bus operators are left out to be vulnerable to these heinous attacks and we need to take them right out of the equation.

LL: And what about training?

PAUL THORP: Training is minimal and each municipality is different. The challenge that we're facing now is that mental health challenges and issues are on the rise. And there is absolutely no training whatsoever on how to recognize somebody with a mental issue.

LL: You're talking about things like PTSD.

PAUL THORP: Well, PTSD. There's a number of different things that could contribute to someone being volatile. So we are not in any way trained to recognize that and that's something that should be looked at with the hiring process.

LL: Well, how supportive then are the employers when their drivers face these kinds of abusive situations?

PAUL THORP: It's shameful. I've sat in on a number of discipline hearings where the first question out of the employer's mouth is what could you have done to de-escalate or avoid the situation? If any of their employees ever treated them like our operators are treated, my operators would be subject to discipline and or termination.

LL: Jim Yakubowski, as you said you were punched twice. I'm wondering what happened to the people who did that to you?

JIM YAKUBOWSKI: Well, in the first instance, it was an intoxicated male late in the morning. The police apprehended him and he received I think six months additional probation. I mean he didn't serve any time for his assault. So at that time, this was a number of years ago, there was no effort or no changes to the law that enabled you know stiffer penalties. And I'm pleased to see that through the leadership of Canada and lobbying efforts across Canada—Paul is obviously part of this—we successfully lobbied for stiffer penalties in those types of situations. But at the time I was assaulted, that was not in place.

LL: And Paul Thorp, what are those penalties?

PAUL THORP: So back in 2015, Bill S-221 received royal ascension, which states that person can receive up to 10 years incarceration for a serious charge and 18 months for a summary charge. The problem that we're facing is that lawyers are plea bargaining for their clients. Quite often they don't serve any time whatsoever. And our judges know that the law exists and yet they are not upholding this law and we are calling and demanding that our legal system stop letting this fall by the wayside and give us the support that we deserve.

LL: Have you got the employers behind you in that call?

PAUL THORP: Well, the employers, if somebody is assaulted they may tell us when the court notification has come through and then we have a presence in the court, which puts pressure and pressure on the judicial system to give a stiffer fine. But I have yet to hear about anyone who received this punishment that has got the 18 months or even close to the 10 years incarceration. It has not helped deter assaults and we need to make people understand that it is not acceptable in any way shape or form to touch, assault or verbally assault any of our drivers. This law states that we are on the same lines as a first responder. You don't assault a police officer. You don't assault a transit operator. Period.

LL: Robin Winkley, I want to turn back to you for a second. I want to ask you about your experience of being a female bus driver. In reading research on this, I saw other cases of female bus drivers being sexually assaulted. Are there any particular challenges or difficulties being a woman behind the wheel?

ROBIN WINKLEY: I don’t know if there’s—I guess basically most women tend to be smaller stature than male drivers. And I would imagine also that there are a lot of volatile males out there that think that women are easier to verbally or physically abuse. I never had any particularly, I guess I would say sexual assault. It was mostly just you know verbal assaults about—

LL: Do you think you felt more vulnerable?

ROBIN WINKLEY: No. No. But yeah. No, I didn't feel more vulnerable. No.

LL: Robin, we've tried to get a number of bus drivers who are still on the job to speak to us on this panel today, but many refused saying they weren't allowed to by their employer. What do you think about that?

ROBIN WINKLEY: I don't think that's right. I think you should be allowed to talk about your situation. But you know I think if people spoke more openly about the issue, it would be addressed more. But to be addressed more would be costly. Right?

LL: In what sense?

ROBIN WINKLEY: Well, it's like I was saying. If all the drivers were basically protected and didn't have to worry about being the you know the tollgate sort of thing as far as everybody's paying, that requires money. You have to change the way the buses are set up, right? And the TTC has done a lot since I stopped working there. They have cameras on all the vehicles. The drivers do have the ability to close a little door to wall themselves off when they think they need to. There's signage throughout buses now that say that assaulting bus drivers is not appropriate. So they have done a lot, but that cost money. And the TTC is fighting for funds, right? We're not throwing a lot of money at the TTC so they're struggling to provide a service right. So it’s money. It comes down to money. Right?

LL: Paul Thorp, would you agree with that?

PAUL THORP: I don't agree with it at all. I think our employers, our government need to stop putting a price tag on the humanity of our operators. They need to invest in our safety and in turn, the public will benefit from that. There won't be any issues with fare enforcing, transfers. They need to take a realistic look at it. Cue to the Canadian Urban Transit Association, up until 2014, would actually collect these stats and publish them on the numbers of drivers assaults. This has fallen by the wayside because of all the infrastructure money. And they're focusing on how to get that infrastructure in place to deliver the service but they've forgotten about labour. And when reproached, I actually had discussions with labour. They can't wait to just get rid of labour entirely. It's shameful on all levels of management.

ROBIN WINKLEY: I totally agree. I'm not saying that they can't do it because it's a money issue. I'm saying that's why they justify not doing it.

LL: Jim Yakubowski, I just want to turn to you. As a local union representative, what can you tell me about the struggle for drivers to return to work after facing a stressful incident on the job?

JIM YAKUBOWSKI: Well, that obviously we're not exempt from having those types of situations. We do have operators off right now who are still recovering and attempting to you know be able to report back to work at some point. And many, many of our operators still have this mindset of not being supported 100 per cent by the employer.

LL: So do they come to you then, if they don't feel supported?

JIM YAKUBOWSKI: Oh most definitely they do. And you know we have as most jurisdictions probably do, we have a support system in place for our members whereby they can go in and seek professional help. And we have cases right now where our members are doing precisely that because of traumatic incidents that have happened on the bus. So if I could just kind of go back to the fare dispute and what causes a lot of these assaults, not all of these assaults and verbal abuse is directly related to fare evasion or dealing with fair issues. You know many of the attacks or altercations exist for other reasons. It's just the general public, for whatever’s going on in their lives, feel that the bus operator’s the one they could take their frustration out on. We are supported, I’m pleased to say in Saskatoon at least, that you know our operators are instructed that don't get into excessive you know altercations over fare evasion. Just you know simply inform the people what the fare requirements are and if they don't put it forth, then don't press the issue.

LL: Okay. I’m wondering with this latest incident, with this murder, how have your members reacted there in Saskatoon? Has it led to a sort of a spike in people talking to you about their own issues?

JIM YAKUBOWSKI: Not so much about their own issues but of course a use of shields protection has resurfaced. About two years ago we had internal conversations with our members in terms of how people feel about it and we've got mixed reaction. Some people don't want to be behind shields and some people do. And so this tragedy has reopened that conversation for sure.

LL: How optimistic are you that things will change?

JIM YAKUBOWSKI: Well, first off, I don't know that shields are the overall answer to the situation. I think they would definitely help. You know we don't have any emergency exits. If we were enclosed in a shield, right now the equipment does not allow for an emergency exit for that operator so you’re basically stuck in that shield. And this most recent incident in Winnipeg did not occur—it occurred off the bus as I understand and so the protection of the shield in this particular situation wouldn't have assisted.

LL: Okay. Jim Yakubowski, we just got a little bit of time left. Today as we said, there is a rally to mark the death of a fellow bus driver in Winnipeg. What do you want Canadians to think about when it comes to the job safety of people like you?

JIM YAKUBOWSKI: Well, for the public, that we haul every day. I hope that we can educate them as to the required protocol and expected protocol and how our members are treated. We're just simply coming to work and doing our job. And you know I think more work needs to be done across Canada by employers that we can address this issue and keep it to the forefront. Until we're satisfied, we're doing everything we can.

LL: Alright. My thanks to all three of you for coming in and giving us a glimpse into what it's like behind the wheel. Jim Yakubowski is a bus driver in Saskatoon and the president of ATU Local 615. He was in Saskatoon. Paul Thorp is the national president of the Amalgamated Transit Union which represents many transit workers across Canada. He was in Winnipeg and Robin Winkley is a former bus driver with the Toronto Transit Commission. She was in our Toronto studio. Now for those of you who have been wondering where Anna Maria is, she will be back here in the host chair on Monday. One of the stories she'll bring to you next week is this one.


Certainly I didn't expect to have a child with disabilities and it just changes what you think your path with respect to motherhood is going to be. It's incredibly wonderful. You know I wouldn't change a thing. But I needed Linda to remind me of that and she did, you know over and over again. And we just make a very good team. You know we're real partners in parenting.

LL: Natasha Bakht and Lynda Collins are partners in raising a seven year old. But according to the law, because they're not in a romantic relationship, they can't both be his mom. Tuesday on The Current, here how these two law professors won the right to be co-moms to a boy with a severe disability. Coming up in our next half hour, shooting pictures on the tortured streets of Iraq's Mosul. I'm Laura Lynch sitting in for Anna Maria Tremonti and you are listening to the Friday edition of The Current.

[Music: Sting]

Back To Top »

For Mosul's SWAT team, battle against ISIS personal: photojournalist

Guests: Victor Blue

LL: Hello. I'm Laura Lynch and this is The Current.

[Sound: Prayers]

LL: The sound of prayers in eastern Mosul last Friday. It’s the part of the city newly liberated from ISIS forces and where there is now a deliberate push for moderate Muslim voices to be heard in the mosques. Mohannad Ahmad told Reuters what life was like in Mosul under the militant Islamists who captured Iraq's second largest city in 2014.


[Through translator] Those who didn't go to the Friday prayers were lashed. They used to find the people who were at the market or outside and then take them to the accountability office and they were lashed 20 times. All their sermons were about jihad and brainwashing. We didn't used to go because we were afraid we would be brainwashed. It was all about jihad and the length of the beard.

LL: Despite the relative peace around the mosque last Friday, the battle for Mosul is far from over. Shortly after these prayers, five people were killed in suicide bombings in nearby neighborhoods. And Iraqi forces are gearing up for a fierce fight to take over the city's western half which is still under ISIS control. The Nineveh Province SWAT team is one of the many groups that has been on the frontlines in the battle to retake Mosul. And these police officers are out for personal revenge against ISIS fighters that have targeted their families. Photojournalist Victor Blue spent six weeks with the SWAT team in the Mosul area last fall. He's just published his photographs in the New Yorker. And you can have a look—visit our website, Victor Blue joins us from New York City. And a warning—some of his stories have graphic descriptions of what he witnesses. Victor Blue, hello.

VICTOR BLUE: Hello. How are you doing?

LL: Fine, thanks. Let's talk about the Nineveh SWAT team. Who are they?

VICTOR BLUE: The Nineveh SWAT team is kind of like the elite police unit for Mosul. They're all native sons of Mosul and they vary in age. Most of them of course are kind of younger guys and then there's some older guys who are veterans of the force. They were some of the last units fighting when ISIS took the city in the summer of 2014 and they were run out of town with the rest of the Iraqi forces when that happened and reconstituted themselves. And then when it was finally time to retake the city in October of 2016, they were one of the groups involved in that campaign.

LL: So these are more truly than most men on a mission.

VICTOR BLUE: Yeah absolutely. I mean the majority of the forces retaking Mosul were military forces—Iraqi army forces—either regular army or the lauded golden division, Iraqi special operations forces. But they’re you know army units. They're composed of Iraqis from across the country. But the individuals that we followed there from there, they grew up there. Most of them had families that were still living in Mosul under ISIS.

LL: Now what were some of the stories you heard from the men about what ISIS had done to them and their families?

VICTOR BLUE: One of the criteria for joining the Mosul SWAT was either that you had been injured in fighting ISIS or your family had been targeted or you had lost family members to ISIS. So every one of those police that we covered, they had some kind of a personal story about what they had suffered and what their family had suffered to ISIS. You know there was a young guy named Bashar who the writer Luke Mogelson writes about a lot in our piece. Quiet, pensive, young guy who kept a video on his phone that was one of these high-production ISIS execution videos and it was a video of his own brother being beheaded by ISIS. And he kept it with him at all times because he was afraid that when the time finally came, when he finally came face to face with ISIS fighters when he was fighting to retake the city or when he finally captured a prisoner, he would be unable personally to take another person's life. So he kept that video on his phone to remind him of his need to avenge his brother's death.

LL: So there's one story but there must have been others who were part of this force who still had family members living under ISIS.

VICTOR BLUE: Oh absolutely. And that was one of the big motivators for them. They were quite literally fighting back into the city to rescue their family members. One of our good buddies who we called Hadawi, Hadi Nabil, he quite literally was organizing for his wife and child to escape ISIS lines and reunite with him during the initial part of their campaign. And it was really tough. For the first few days, he was communicating with his wife by phone. He was trying to organize where she could get close enough to where the SWAT was on the frontline that she could cross over and at least initially she was never able to do that in the first few days of fighting. It was very frustrating for him. Eventually after we left and finished our story, they were reunited.

LL: These stories. One thing that strikes me is that people who are motivated by revenge can often not be terribly rational if they're fueled by emotion and I’m wondering if that affects their ability to fight, if you saw that in these men.

VICTOR BLUE: They had kind of put up with the situation for so long. They were ready and they were motivated. But you have to understand too that the campaign kind of ground on. You know there were like long periods of boredom or downtime punctuated by periods of extreme violence. They were just honestly much more excited to be actually on the march into Mosul as opposed to sitting in a camp somewhere waiting for the campaign to kick off like they had been doing for two years. As far as their fighting prowess, they are a very small unit, like they're about the size of what we would consider here in the West like about a company sized element.

LL: How many is that?

VICTOR BLUE: They have about 200 fighters and about half of them are off at any one time. They kind of rotate the shifts and then they have enough Humvees to actually deploy about 40 to 45 guys at a time. So it's not a huge fighting force but they've been tasked with tracking down and arresting terrorists since their formation back in ‘07 or ’08, I believe.

LL: What did this team do when ISIS forces entered the city back in 2014?

VICTOR BLUE: Oh, that's an interesting story. As most Iraqi forces kind of crumbled and ran from the city, thousands of Iraqi army soldiers tossed aside their uniforms and melted away. The Mosul SWAT tried their hardest to hold the city. They withdrew to kind of a last stand at a place called the Mosul Hotel which is on the west side of the city, when it was hit by an ISIS tanker truck detonated in front of the Mosul Hotel, injuring a lot of the SWAT members there. They eventually had to withdraw but they were some of the last. They were blood enemies. They'd already spent so many years fighting these exact same folks.

LL: So they were part of the last stand and now they're in the position where they want to prove themselves by going back, right?

VICTOR BLUE: Prove themselves and also they were just so anxious, so driven to get back to their city. They wanted to free their city from this two-year nightmare.

LL: So you embedded with them. What was the day-to-day life like while you were there?

VICTOR BLUE: There was a lot of downtime day to day. We would hang out and listen to their stories. They started out in a village pretty much away from the initial push into Mosul. So most of the campaign, it was a process of occupying houses that had been abandoned. So we would just kind of leapfrog from spot to spot to spot.

LL: What you’re omitting there is the battles that came in between moving from house to house.

VICTOR BLUE: Sometimes there was some fighting in between, yeah.

LL: What was the heaviest fighting you saw?

VICTOR BLUE: SWAT occupied a couple of houses along a ridge, which seemed almost like the very last street of Eastern Mosul, like the first neighbourhood when you're getting into the city. And then that evening when it got dark, there was a huge gun battle that kicked off and it was very difficult to photograph because it was a moonless night. But it was about an hour and a half of very, very heavy fighting and it was very close. Only a block or two away we could hear the ISIS fighters that they were shooting at yelling at us. You could hear their voices.

LL: How well-equipped was the SWAT team?

VICTOR BLUE: For a kind of elite unit, they weren't super well-equipped. They didn't have a lot of personal protective gear.

LL: What we know of as bulletproof vests.

VICTOR BLUE: Right. Right. They had plate carriers without plates. They didn't have helmets. They used Kalashnikov rifles and Dushka .50-caliber machine guns. Ammunition was always an issue. Heavy weapons were nonexistent.

LL: Did you hear them complain about that?

VICTOR BLUE: No, not terribly. They complained when they were used by other fighting units in capacities that were not tactically sound and were beyond their pay grade. They got put up in the front a couple of times and we were frustrated for them and they were very frustrated when they took heavy losses. You know they were paired with like Iraqi army units who should have been the ones up in the front.

LL: What was the sense behind that? Putting the less equipped guys up in the front?

VICTOR BLUE: I don’t know. It was tough. I think there's a very uneven degree of competence in the Iraqi army leaders and of course you know if there's these guys who want to get in the fight, they're not your guys. You're not responsible for them. Yeah sure. You guys wanna get in a fight? We’ll put you right up front. Here you go. And then they were kind of to some degree abandoned up there by their account.

LL: One of your photos shows a man on a rooftop holding a chair leg with a baseball cap on. What's going on there?

VICTOR BLUE: Yeah. That was Adnan Abdallah. That was his rooftop fighting position. That house fronted a large cemetery. The cemetery was kind of a no man's land. The ISIS snipers on the other side of the cemetery had the whole thing under observation at all times. They were extremely effective with the sniper fire across it. They had actually dug tunnels underneath the cemetery so they could pop up at different areas of the cemetery and it would be tough for the SWAT guys to know exactly where they were shooting from. They would spend their afternoons fighting from this rooftop. At one point after about an hour and a half of shooting back and forth, Adnan decided to rig up this dummy and see if he couldn't draw some sniper fire so that one of his colleagues could pinpoint and kill one of the ISIS snipers in the cemetery.

LL: Did it work?

VICTOR BLUE: He wasn't able to get them to take the bait that day. But my impression was that obviously that was not the first time he had tried to do that. So I think it was a kind of a regular tactic he used but the ISIS snipers had put a lot of rounds into the top of that house and right over our heads while we were sitting there. They were extremely, extremely accurate and they were very, very tactically competent.

LL: I should mention for people who are listening who want to see your photos, we are going to link to them on our website at You talked about bullets whizzing over your head, the proximity of the forces to one another. What kinds of injuries did you see?

VICTOR BLUE: One of the main weapons that ISIS has used to deadly effect in Mosul is the suicide car bomb. One of their worst days when we were with them was a day that they were hit by two suicide car bombs in one day, one of which killed two of their soldiers, Sufian and Jawad, in the eastern Mosul neighbourhood of Intisar. Luke and I, we actually heard and ran up on the roof and saw the blast from the suicide car bomb. We, of course hadn't known at that point that it had targeted our guys, the guys we were covering in. And about an hour later, you know we got word that they were coming into the aid station so we ran over there. One of our friends, Basam, his arm had been pretty much blown off. It was totally severed. It was only being held on by skin and he eventually had to have it amputated. You know our friend Sarmad had serious shrapnel wounds across his face and chest and shoulders. Sufian was dead when he arrived at the station and Jawad died on the table. They were trying to save his life.

LL: You describe this and it seemed to have had quite an impact on you watching this. Tell me what happened and how it affected you.

VICTOR BLUE: It was such a difficult morning. We were trying to figure out what was going on. Of course we were standing there and watched Jawad slip away. And it was kind of overwhelming for all the guys there and [unintelligible], one of the SWAT guys, he was driving one of the Humvees and he was one of the least injured in the blast but he was still you know covered in dirt from it and his Humvee was covered in debris. And he had a cotton swab kind of stuffed in his ear that morning because you know the blast had probably ruptured an ear drum or something. He’d been bleeding a little bit out of his ear. You know he was exhausted. He was trying to care for the guys who were still alive and so I kind of watched him sit with one of the body bags and then jump when some of the Iraqi medics started to carry him into the trucks to take them away. He jumped up to help carry them and when they got Jawad’s body, the guys kind of lifted it up and put it in the back of the truck and it wouldn't fit all the way in. It's a difficult situation. What do you do with this? You know it's a lifeless body at that point. And they were kind of trying to push it and it wasn't going in. He just kind of huffed and sighed and hiked his pants up and jumped up on the tailgate and lifted Jawad’s body from between his legs and kind of placed it you know into the truck. And for me, it was after he'd been through so much that day, it's kind of like ability to suck it up and do that last thing that needed to be done for his friend. It was one of the saddest things that I saw that day for sure.

LL: You also got involved in helping casualties. I’m thinking of when a young boy was hurt. What happened?

VICTOR BLUE: We spent 10 days at the end of my coverage of the SWAT in eastern Mosul and one afternoon, the major who was in charge told us that there had been a mortar attack nearby. They were going to go check it out and see what kind of help they could give. So Luke and I jumped into the Humvee with them. Luke Mogelson, the reporter, was actually a medic before he became a journalist and he always carried two personal first aid kits on his flak jacket with him. I always admired that that he always had two. Most of us who do this kind of work carry at least one. We were just jumping into the Humvees and I think I asked him if he had them with him he said no and I said I think you’d better go get those. I think we should have those with us. And so he dashed back inside and grabbed them. You know the Humvee’s pulling out, he runs back inside and grabs them. On the main highway into Mosul, there was just a sea—thousands of people into the distance streaming out of the city, walking along the road. And we jumped out of the trucks and immediately they kind of brought a guy up and he had a shrapnel wound to his arm. And Luke sat down and just immediately started to bandage him up. It wasn’t real bad but his upper arm had been shattered by the shrapnel. So Luke got a pressure bandage on it. He didn’t have anything to make a sling out of. The Gunnar gave him a scarf so he made a sling and got the guy kind of sorted out. And then all of a sudden, a small white pickup truck came screaming up and the Major pulled the door open and a couple of guys reached in and pulled out this probably about an eight-year-old boy. His face was covered in blood. His teeth were broken, shattered. You could see right away he had a sweater on. He had a massive shrapnel wound in his shoulder that was exposing his shoulder joint. And they kind of rushed him over and it was the oddest thing. They kind of just placed him in Luke's lap. Luke was kind of on one knee and it was almost like a like a Pieta or something. They just kind of draped him over Luke. Luke had been taking care of the other guy before and so I had taken some pictures of them. And you know as journalists, like we obviously do our best in almost all situations to stay out of whatever is happening, to sit back and be observers of it. You know we're non-combatants. We're trying not to influence the situation at all. We're trying to give an honest and impartial report of it to the best of our ability. But of course, there's a moment where you have to shift gears. So I just immediately place my camera on the ground—I didn't even know where it was for about five minutes—and started helping Luke tend to this boy. So Luke got out another pressure bandage and handed me a set of clothing shears and I started to cut off the boy's clothes. We got his pants off and his legs were just peppered with shrapnel wounds and so we assessed them and got another pressure bandage on the worst of them and got him bundled up and into the back of an Iraqi army pickup truck to move him with his father further out of town to get better medical assistance.

LL: And for those listeners who might not understand, for a photographer to put his camera down in the middle of an assignment like that—and as you say not know where it is—that's really striking.

VICTOR BLUE: In our line of work, oftentimes people don't quite understand exactly what we're doing, exactly how we how we do it. You know I would not stop and intervene in a situation if there were somebody there who are more capable than I was. It would be pointless for me to involve myself. My job is to be there and document the situation. But of course, it was a very easy call that day because there was no one else there to help this kid out. No one else there who had any kind of first aid or medical knowledge that Luke and I had. So it was just very—there wasn't any question about it. I dropped my camera and Luke immediately start working on the guy and I helped him and we got him patched up.

LL: Do you have any idea what happened to him?

VICTOR BLUE: We don't. We don't. I mean it's one of those fog of war things. You know he needed to have those bleeds stopped quickly and then he needed more care down the line so the Iraqi army guys got him to their aid station. Luke was really, really glad that we were able to intervene. You know he had told me that even though the bleeds—it wasn't like an arterial bleed or like he didn't have an amputation or anything like that—but little guys like that don't have as much volume so they can't lose as much blood as like a full adult can. So it was a good thing we were able to stop that bleeding.

LL: One thing that can happen in embeds—I know as a journalist and as a photographer, you hope can happen—is that the men that you're embedding with, the soldiers get comfortable enough around you that they reveal them true selves to you. And we talked earlier about the fact that these men were essentially recruited because they were seeking revenge. What did you see them do that you would categorize as retribution or revenge?

VICTOR BLUE: Well, it was an interesting thing. I think that honestly it was a little more difficult than they probably had expected for them to exact that kind of revenge. There was a fascinating episode that took place on the same morning that the suicide car bomb attacked the SWAT and that they lost two of their members. In the town where we were, refugees were steadily streaming out of Mosul and they were coming through that town. And two of the SWAT members recognized a neighbour of theirs, a young guy that they knew as Ahmed, streaming out with his family. And they immediately alerted the Iraqi army to his presence and they immediately nabbed him. The Iraqi army got a hold of him and dragged him into a school for questioning. He was beat up pretty good. You know they were kicking him and punching him and asking him what he was doing and who he’s affiliated with. These brothers had known him as a petty criminal who had signed on with ISIS in their neighbourhood. And the interesting thing was that Bashar who had initially kind of fingered him—I never saw him lay a hand on him. There was a fascinating thing. He kind of got down in his face and he was talking very calmly and very clearly and he was like we know who you are. We know who you work with. I've grown up with you. I know you. Tell us where another associate of theirs was who was a little higher up in that ISIS security force or police force. Tell us where he is. Tell us where he is. Well, you know these other guys, the Iraqi army guys and even some of his SWAT comrades, just hearing that he was associated with ISIS had been dealing no small amount of blows to the guy. But Bashar was very cool and very clear like we have you now. Listen. Tell us what we want to know. Tell us what we want to know. It was a very, very interesting thing.

LL: Where did you leave the men of the SWAT team when your six weeks with them were up?

VICTOR BLUE: They were heading deeper into Mosul. They were being used really in the way they should have been used the entire time, in that as the Iraqi special forces would clear new areas because you know the fight in Mosul was a block by block fight, neighbourhood by neighbourhood. It's very grueling and it's very hard won. So as the Iraqi forces would clear these areas, they finally enlisted the SWAT to kind of fill in behind them and hold those areas. And right when that kind of moment when they moved into take on their new mission was when I had to go.

LL: Did you see them, any of them reunite with members of their families?

VICTOR BLUE: Yeah, I did. I did. Another day that we were in [unintelligible], the Iraqi army had liberated a neighbourhood and a lot of civilians were on their way out. So we jumped in a Humvee, headed over to where they were kind of gathering at or where they were filtering out from and checked out the scene and I photographed a lot of refugees leaving. And right when we were getting ready to leave, Hadi, who was the driver of our Humvee, kind of told everybody alright guys. Let's head out. And Ehab, one of our buddies, asked him kind of a little bit sheepishly like hey, is it okay if we wait maybe five or ten minutes? And he was like nah, come on. Let’s go. And he said well, you know my family is coming out. It was actually a cousin of his, an older cousin of his and her husband that he hadn't seen in two years. Somebody had called him and told him they were on their way out. As they walked out, he met up with them and I was able to photograph their reunion. You know his cousin, she was weeping and she was crying and her husband just seemed incredibly grateful to even see Ehab. I mean they were grateful to be out from ISIS lines and I think they were grateful to see that he was still alive and that he was there to some degree on their behalf, fighting to help liberate the city.

LL: Again, that's another powerful photo that people can see if they go to our website and we'll have the link there. I'm wondering after all this time you spent there, what image stays with you the most?

VICTOR BLUE: The one that kind of always stuck with me the most is a photo of Ehab and a buddy of ours named Dumbuk, Mohammad. Ehab was the one who eventually reunited with his family and Dumbuk was a super wisecracking, really funny, really sharp, quick-witted guy that we spent a lot of time kind of going back and forth with. You know he was always kind of tormenting me and I was always laughing and taking it. But the night of the battle in Intisar, the night after the two suicide car bombings when SWAT took their worst losses, they were kind of regrouping in Hamdaniya, where their rear base was. It was a wild scene. They had to be hastily evacuated from Mosul. They had lost half of their vehicles. They had two killed and out of a little over between 40 and 43 guys, I guess, about 21 or 22 were injured. So they had had about a 50 per cent casualty rate over the last four days and it was an eerie scene. SWAT members you know had flashlights and they were assessing their friends and looking them over and seeing who needed to go to the hospital for further treatment and who didn't. You know everybody of course was refusing to go to the hospital and their leaders were having to force them to get into the back of a pickup truck. They just loaded the back of the pickup truck with guys and drove out of town to the hospital. And while that was happening, I noticed coming up the street in the headlights, Ehab was walking along with Dumbuk, kind of resting on him and limping. Dumbuk had a bandage wrapped around his head. He had been injured in the head. He had shrapnel in his face and been hurt in his legs and he was limping along and Ehab was walking with them and just kind of like staring off in the distance. And he had that thing that we always talk about in war photographs. You know that thousand yard stare, which can kind of be—sometimes it can be a kind of a trope or a kind of a cliché, but I had never seen a more intense thousand yard stare. It was like his eyes couldn't focus on anything. He was only kind of acting as Dumbuk’s crutch as he walked him to the pickup truck to get in and go to the hospital and be treated. So that's one that I always go back to and I think about a lot.

LL: Why?

VICTOR BLUE: Because it represented—for me, it kind of all came together in that moment. You know I'm not so super interested in images of the fighting and images of destruction and those kind of pictures. I'm much more interested in these guys as characters, as individuals and the bond that they form and to be present for an experience that was creating the bond that these guys are going to maintain long after I'm gone and I'm back in United States and back to whatever I do normally, you know. That bond between those guys will remain and it's a privilege. It's a privilege for me to be able to be there and witness it and communicate it to folks who can't be there.

LL: Well, Victor Blue, I thank you for your photographs and I thank you for this conversation.

VICTOR BLUE: Oh, thanks a lot. I’m glad to be able to share it.

LL: Photojournalist Victor Blue joined us from New York City. He spent six weeks with the Nineveh Province SWAT team in the Mosul area last fall. He's just published his photographs in the New Yorker and you can find a link and some photos on our website: And now it is time to give credit where credit is due. Time to thank the hardworking people behind the scenes.

KATHLEEN GOLDHAR: Hi. I’m Kathleen Goldhar and I'm the executive producer of The Current. And this week, the show was produced by Idella Sturino, Howard Goldenthal, Ines Colabrese, Lara O'Brien, Shannon Higgins, Ashley Mak, Sam Colbert, Sujata Barry, Liz Hoath, Karin Marley, Samira Mohyeddin, Kristin Nelson, Pacinthe Mattar and Willow Smith. Special thanks this week to our network producers Jack Julian in Halifax, Michael O’Halloran in Calgary, Suzanne Dufresne in Winnipeg and Anne Penman in Vancouver. The Current’s writer is Howard Goldenthal. Our web producer is Lisa Ayuso. Transcripts are provided by Eunice Kim and Rignam Wangkhang. Our technical producers are Gary Francis and Jennifer Rowley and our documentary editor is Josh Bloch. Our senior producers are Richard Goddard in Toronto and Cathy Simon in Vancouver.

LL: And what a great team it is. Thanks, Kathleen. That is our program for today. Stay tuned to Radio One for q. It was 24 years ago that Anna Paquin made history as the second youngest person ever to win an Academy Award for her role in The Piano. What followed was a series of dream roles from playing a mutant superhero in the X-Men franchise to a vampire loving waitress in True Blood. Now, the Winnipeg-born actress is back, playing a detective in CBC's hard hitting mystery Bellevue. She'll be Tom Power’s guest coming right up. Now as you heard, US President Donald Trump is pretty miffed at all of this leaking going on, allegedly by US intelligence agencies. Maybe those spies just forgot the rules of unauthorized disclosure of classified information. So to jog their memories, they might want to watch the 1965 Pentagon film, Unauthorized Disclosure. We'll leave you today with a bit of that film's good Cold War advice. I'm Laura Lynch. Anna Maria Tremonti is back with you on Monday. Thanks for listening to The Current.


Sources of information are often the elected leaders themselves who are aware the public must make the crucial decisions for the country. Disclosing all available information which does not compromise national security. They make use of the news media. There is then a need for the people of America to be informed. There exists the mechanisms to meet that need. In an ideal world, there would be no barrier between. No complication. But ours is no ideal world. And all over this world, hostile powers in accordance with communist doctrine seek our nation’s fall by every means, overt and covert. That is why certain information which requires protection in the interest of national security is classified. Disclosure of classified information in violation of the requirements of security classification represents an unauthorized disclosure—what we must avoid if our national interest is not to be compromised.

Back To Top »

CBC would like to acknowledge the support of the Broadcasting Accessibility Fund.