Connect to share and comment

Inside Gaddafi's Libya: The Return

Foley returns to Libya to witness the fall of Gaddafi and to search for the body of his colleague, Anton Hammerl.

James foley chapter six muammar gaddafi sixEnlarge
Libyans carry a body bag containing the remains of a loyalist fighter believed to have been killed in a NATO bombing before the capture of Muammar Gaddafi in the Libyan town of Sirte on Oct. 22, 2011. (Philippe Desmazes/AFP/Getty Images)

GlobalPost correspondent James Foley spent 44 days in captivity inside Muammar Gaddafi's Libya. This is the sixth chapter of his story. For the full series, click here.

SIRTE, Libya — I knew I’d return to Libya. While we were locked up in Tripoli, Clare, Manu and I all vowed we’d come back. I knew I had to do it both personally and professionally. I just didn’t want to tell people right away. I didn’t want people to think I was crazy, and I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t first.

Back at my parent’s house in New Hampshire, sometimes I couldn’t sleep. And sometimes I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to be alone with my thoughts. It took me a month to come to terms with the guilt I felt over the decisions we made that led to Anton being shot that day. And it wore on me that we were forced to keep it a secret for some 44 days.

It also took more than a month to thank all the friends and family who had done simply extraordinary things to assist in our release. By thanking them I was able to speak openly about my emotional struggles, and each conversation helped me to process what we’d been through. I’ve always thought that if I hadn’t spoken openly about everything, it would have taken me much longer to forgive myself.

Still, Libya was always on my mind. On the day in late August when I read that the western oil town of Zawiya was about to fall, I had a feeling that the scattered, uncoordinated rebels were somehow about to strike the decisive blow; that the fall of Tripoli was near. Clare had the same feeling. In phone calls we shared our anguish over not being able to get back to see the fall of Tripoli in time.

We had been planning to go immediately following Anton’s memorial on Sept. 9. But Tripoli collapsed in days due to internal revolt throughout the capital’s neighborhoods and a mass abandoning of positions by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi. The Libyans had again defied expectations — moving quickly when you expected them to inch ahead. I felt sick watching the looting of Baab Al Ziza live from the GlobalPost offices in Boston.

I resolved to get back in as soon as I could. I didn’t even have my new passport ready until the day before I left the States. And then on a dark night with some other reporters, I felt my heart race as we crossed over from Tunisia in a rented van. I was back in Libya, the place that had changed my life and almost cost it. And I just wished I’d returned sooner.

Instead, on Aug. 25 I witnessed the Corinthia, Tripoli’s five-star hotel, saddled by intermittent electricity, no running water and overflowing with journalists, some of whom were camping on couches in the lobby. I met Matthew Van Dyke the first night in the cavernous lobby, still in his black prison clothes and looking as gaunt and traumatized as one of the articles described him when he was first spotted wandering around Tripoli.

More from GlobalPost: Rebels move to starve Tripoli of fuel and food

I scrambled around Tripoli to get some stories. Trying to follow up on how many black Africans had been imprisoned in wake of the regime’s collapse. I stumbled upon the prison where Clare, Manu and I had first been held. A rebel guard inside told me that Richard Peters, the voice who had prayed with us through the electrical socket, had escaped days before and was still in the neighborhood. Amazed, I asked the new guard to guide me to Richard.

When I first laid eyes on Richard, he was kind of as I imagined him — big, outgoing, sporting a Fu Manchu moustache, with the muscles of a Navy SEAL warrior even in his 60s. He’d been imprisoned for six months, had been reduced to eating dates and fending off rats coming out of the prison drain. When all the guards fled in late August, he escaped by drop kicking his cell door some 30 times. I wouldn’t have believed it unless I saw the concrete encrusted door