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After his capture, Foley and two other reporters are blindfolded and taken to Sirte.
Sirte, Gaddafi’s hometown. We were blindfolded and another set of zip ties were wrapped around our wrists. We were shoved in the back of a small sedan. The car stopped at dozens of checkpoints along the coastal highway. Too tall, my knees were digging into the back of the driver's seat. A guard I could not see turned around to re-position me. At some point in the ride, I felt a hand reach for my neck and slide down my chest. I tried to be still, but my arms hurt more than anything. He opened my neck pouch and took from it all the money I had.
A strange kind of tantric music mixed with words from the movie "300" played over Gaddafi's infamous "Dar, Dar, Zenga, Zenga" speech. Listening to that hoarse, enraged voice, over and over, the terror of where they were taking us began to sink in. At one checkpoint, a rough voice came through the window. “Fuck Sahafa, Fuck Obama, Fuck Everybody.” A voice at another checkpoint growled, “You are in Trabulous (Tripoli) now!”
“Wait, we’re in Tripoli?” Clare asked, incredulous. It was impossible. We’d only been traveling west for about three hours. The voice must have only been trying to intimidate us. We decide that we must have been in Sirte.
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We felt the car roll through gates that we assumed were military. We parked and were marched up a flight of stairs. They forced us down and we knelt on the concrete. A pair of hands unwrapped the double layer of cords and zip ties and my arms and shoulders were finally free.
“Oh, thank you, thank you, shukran!” I said, feeling Manu’s relief as well next to me.
They ushered us into a lone cell, I flopped onto a mattress on the floor. I was too tired to think. I drifted to sleep. Later that night, I was again blindfolded and taken before some kind of official. I could hear them flipping through the pages of my passport. I told them I was a journalist and who I worked for. At the end of about an hour of questioning, the interrogator said he thought I was a spy. “I’m not a spy, I’m a journalist,” I said. I was guided back down the stairs and into my cell.
The next morning I woke up in a white washed cell, grimed with streaks of either blood or feces, or both. Sun peeked through from a barred window high on the back wall. The initial capture and beating replayed through my mind on a loop.
A man dressed as a civilian appeared at my door. I asked for a cigarette, he gave me one and, of all things, a banana. It was the first of many acts of kindness that would get us through the coming weeks. “We are prisoners too,” he whispered with a smile.
I spent the whole day thinking and trying to sleep, my mind wandering between anguish and confusion. I was given rice dishes with no silverware. I ate greedily with my hands.
That night we were pulled out of our cells. I was told to wash the blood from my face and hair. Clare and Manu appeared in the hall and we held a long embrace. We were guided upstairs and asked to do an interview for the state-controlled television station. We discussed among each other whether or not we should agree to do it. A television crew was already setting up. We thought that some channel outside of Libya might pick it up, and it might be a good way to begin ingratiating ourselves with the Libyan government.
A female reporter with beige make up and a beige hijab began arranging our chairs in front of the camera. She asked Clare and I who had done the damage to our faces. We said it had been Gaddafi's soldiers. “No!” she replied. “Impossible.”
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The interviewer held out a microphone bearing the insignia of State TV. We replied as truthfully as we could. The interviewer, a man, asked how we felt about the NATO air strikes that had recently begun across the country. Manu said he was opposed to international intervention in any internal conflict. I mumbled something about how air strikes were good if they protect civilians, bad if they kill civilians. He reminded me to look at the camera.
The next afternoon we were pulled out of our cells and led upstairs without blindfolds. A large man said we were going to Tripoli, confirming our earlier suspicions. We walked out, unbound in the sun, not quite believing how freely they were treating us. There were three other captured journalists in the van with us — Hassan Zeitouni, an Algerian British television correspondent; Megdi, his Egyptian cameraman; and another younger Libyan Egyptian who appeared to be their fixer.
Zeitouni was wearing clean, even elegant clothes. They were captured rather cordially, it seemed. He said that the captain of the group who had captured them was Gaddafi’s cousin. He was confident we’d be released soon. With no blindfolds and more cigarettes, we watched the desert countryside passing by as the van flew toward Tripoli. All of us were lifted by the journey.
But we had darker things on our minds. “We cannot say anything,” Manu said, his eyes full, referring to Anton. It was what we had all been thinking. Clare and I nodded.
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