Clare Gillis Recounts Detention in Libya

"If any one of us had been alone, it would have been so devastating," she said. "Just the fact that we were able to be together for so much of our captivity ... carrying around this terrible knowledge that we had about Anton, it just made a big difference to be able to look over the room" and know she was not alone in her grief for Hammerl, though they always discussed him and his death in code for fear of reprisal.

Gillis was interrogated twice, once for six straight hours, always blindfolded. After so much time had passed with no news or apparent progress in her case, she was frustrated and, though she sensed the danger, grew combative with her interrogators. "I can't really explain why I was angry instead of scared," she said. "I was really pissed. I was angry, and that probably wasn't the best frame of mind to be interrogated in." She harangued her interrogators for the military's theft of her things, mocked them for mistaking her as Spanish, and argued with their insistence on speaking Arabic, in which she is minimally proficient.

On April 19, the three journalists were brought before a judge, who sentenced them to prison for illegally entering the country and reporting without permission. Gillis was taken to a two-story building that served as a small women's prison. She relied on informal sign language to communicate with the four other inmates, who were all from Libya or neighboring countries.

One day, a man who described himself as a personal aid to Saadi Qaddafi, one of Muammar's Western-oriented sons, visited to ask how she was faring. He brought a cell phone and allowed her to call her parents. He showed up again the next day. Then, late on the night of April 26, Saadi drove his armored SUV up to the prison. The prison guards panicked. "You have to get your stuff," they told Gillis. "Right away, right now, hurry hurry hurry."

"Hello, I'm Saadi, I'm here to take you out of this place," he told her. They drove to the Corinthia Hotel, which had housed most Western journalists in Tripoli until they had moved to the Rixos across town a few days earlier. Gillis was given her own room with a phone, which she used to contact her parents and a handful of friends. She was also given a laptop and internet access, which she used to read, to great surprise, some of the hundreds of news articles describing her captivity. She was outraged to read the articles quoting Libyan officials who said Hammerl was safely in the government's capivity.

Saadi told Gillis that she would be released within a few of days. I asked if she believed him. "I really did, I really did," she said, recalling Saadi's intention to release her on World Press Freedom Day on May 1. "That sounded like a great plan. I was really into it," she joked. Many of us back in the U.S., including Gillis's parents, believed her release was imminent as well.

After three nights at the hotel, however, it became clear that Gillis was not to be released. She was moved to a retired military officer's guesthouse, where she rejoined Foley and Brabo. Chandler was also there, having been brought to the house by mistake.

The four of them stayed at the guesthouse for nearly three weeks. They watched satellite TV, mostly Al Jazeera English, a network the Qaddafi regime has accused of inciting the protests in Libya, and countless movies, including the 1963 remake of Cleopatra. The group sometimes quarreled over their limited supply of cigarettes -- Brabo wanted to ration them -- but mostly remained friendly.

They frequently discussed their situation and how to move forward, puzzling over "the logic of the court system," on which their release seemed at the time to hinge, among other questions. "Do we need a lawyer? Do we need to demand lawyers? Is it significant that they're not handcuffing us to go outside anymore?"

Ultimately, Gillis said they resigned themselves to not knowing what was happening or how their case would resolve. "My conclusion was, look, we can speculate until the end of time. But there are a number of factors. The incompetence, the chaos of the situation, and the misdirection that you get in a police state," she recalled. "And between all of these factors, looking for logic, we are always going to be disappointed, and we're just going to break our heads open on the wall."

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Max Fisher is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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