Clare Gillis Recounts Detention in Libya


Finally, after three weeks, the journalists were again taken before a judge, who gave them a suspended sentence of one year and order their release. The next day, on May 18, a military convoy arrived at the guesthouse, blindfolded them, and drove them across the city to the Rixos Hotel, where most of the foreign press corps was staying. Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim welcomed them, announcing that the Libyan government had treated them well and inviting the four to stay in Tripoli and continue reporting.

"We'd been talking about the possibility of some publicity stunt," Gillis said, but the group was amazed at the bald absurdity of the government's apparent plan to spin their release. "We just got swarmed by these reporters," she said of their arrival. "It's uncomfortable for any reporter to be on the other side of the cameras and the questions."

They were tired and annoyed at having to face the reporter scrum at the Rixos, but happy to finally be on their way to freedom. Hungarian diplomats picked them up at the hotel and drove them to their embassy in Tripoli, which was informally representing U.S. interests in the country.

The next morning, a Hungarian diplomatic convoy drove the reporters to the Tunisian border three hours away. After spending all day waiting at long immigration control lines, they finally crossed the border into Tunisia and out of Libya. Brabo was whisked away by Spanish diplomats based in Tunis. On Friday May 20, Gillis, along with Foley and his brother Michael, took a long series of flights back to the U.S.

Gillis's parents, who had spent much of the past month and a half in New York and Washington raising awareness for their daughter's case, met her at the airport. "I was just so happy to be back in the country, to see them again," she said. "They're just incredibly strong people."

"I remember Jim said to me at some point, when we were still in the same cell at the military detention center, 'Look, I could do another couple weeks of this, it doesn't bother me that much. It's just not knowing how my family is, is making me absolutely crazy,'" she said. "It was bad but it wasn't terrible. But whatever our families is imagining is happening to us is a thousand times worse than what actually is happening to us."

Finally home in New Haven, Connecticut, Gillis's days are filled with phone calls to overjoyed family and friends. The Libyan military took her cell phone, leaving her glued to the house landline for most of the day.

"I'm so happy to be able to be with my family again, I'm so happy that my sisters came back," she said. "It's just normal family stuff. Hanging out, watching TV, arguing about stupid stuff. It's just nice. It's really nice."

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

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