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.
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
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?"
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."
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.