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World

Reporter Recalls Facing ISIS Terrorist In Baghdad Prison

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Kimberly Dozier has reported on war, terrorism and national security for years. A decade ago in Iraq, she was seriously wounded in a car bombing. The explosion killed members of her CBS crew along with an Army captain and his Iraqi translator.

Last month, she returned to Baghdad, writing for The Daily Beast. The day she landed in the country, she stumbled upon what she calls possibly the most surreal, disturbing interview of her life. Iraqi counterterrorism officials introduced her to a prisoner in a bright yellow uniform, and they said he was a battalion commander for ISIS.

KIMBERLY DOZIER: I am the survivor of a car bomb. So I'm looking at him going, this man has helped build car bombs. He's helped kill Iraqi civilians. Wow, what do I ask him?

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Dozier says it's tough to know how freely this man could speak while he was detained and surrounded by government officials. She says it's also possible he was tortured, though she didn't see obvious signs of abuse. Given the chance to talk with an ISIS leader who she was told killed dozens of people, she started asking him questions.

DOZIER: I asked him, why did you join ISIS? And he talked about, well, I'd heard that Sunnis were being abused. And I asked, well, did you ever see any Sunnis abused? Did you know any Sunnis who were abused - Sunni Muslims make up 20 percent of Iraq. And he admitted he didn't know anyone.

So I was trying to get to, OK, but why did you stage all of these bloodthirsty attacks? I couldn't get a direct answer from him on that. He said he felt guilty after he'd been caught. But I said, do you think you would have felt that way if you hadn't been caught? And he said, well, no.

SHAPIRO: Since you published the piece, some people have expressed concern that the interview itself could have been a violation of international law since this is a man who has not been tried and convicted. Did you have any concerns about going through with it?

DOZIER: It sort of unfolded in front of me. The fact that we weren't publishing his photograph and the fact that he did seem sincere - it's a judgment call. And in this case, you know, how often do we get to hear the other side other than in propaganda?

Was this another form of propaganda? Well, maybe, but I think when he was talking about - those couple of times when I asked him questions like, what would you say to other Iraqis who ISIS is trying to recruit, in those answers, it really seemed to me he found his voice. And he said, don't do it. They're bloodthirsty. I've ruined my life. I've ruined my family. Don't ruin yours.

SHAPIRO: One of the Iraqi security officials who arranged this interview invited you to his home afterwards, and you describe a meal where he asks you what you think should happen to ISIS killers. How'd you answer the question?

DOZIER: That moment I brought up the South Carolina shooting - Dylann Roof - and how the survivors of that attack and the loved ones of those who were lost turned that act inside out by offering him forgiveness.

And I said, well, I would rather be like that than be vengeful. This counterterrorism official just shook his head and said there's a backlog of Iraqi prisoners who are killers waiting to be executed. They need to be executed.

CORNISH: This was your first time reporting in Iraq since the car bomb in 2006. Did this experience change your perspective on that experience from a decade ago?

DOZIER: Well, I did go back to the bomb scene. Everything's changed. Baghdad had moved on. And yet the violence is still there. For Iraqis in the streets going about their daily lives, they always wonder where the next car bomb will hit. That's sort of a daily calculation.

I have to say. Everyone that I shared with the fact that I survived a car bomb right down to the lady at the consulate who stamped my visa and my passport - she was like, oh, you have shrapnel, too? And then she showed me where she still had shrapnel that you could see visible on her head and her hand.

Almost everyone I came across had had a close brush and had their photographs on their cell phones like I have on mine of them in the aftermath. So it was sort of a - yeah, understand, we're speaking the same language; all right, tell me what's happening today.

SHAPIRO: Kimberly Dozier covers national security for The Daily Beast. Kim, thank you so much.

DOZIER: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF J.VIEWS SONG, "INTO THE NIGHT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.