Tuesday, April 5, started off as an exceptionally successful day. We had located the ever-changing front line of the Libyan civil war, a conflict we had come from all over the world to cover. Before the day was over, it would be exceptional in another way entirely—brutal, heartbreaking—as our initial success made us forget the cardinal rule of war reportage: don’t die.
Clare Morgana Gillis’s Dispatches From Libya
The freelance journalist filed for TheAtlantic.com before being captured by Qaddafi's forces. Read how her Libyan adventures played out in real time.
There were four of us that morning, freelancers who had already racked up our share of near misses, together and separately. I’d known Jim Foley, a fellow American, the longest. He’d come to Benghazi from Afghanistan in time to catch Qaddafi’s attack on the city on March 19, and he and I had been close ever since. He tended to address other men as “brother” within seconds of meeting them. Manu Brabo, a rangy Spanish photographer, also had a ready grin. We hadn’t gone out reporting as a group before, but we’d spent a lot of time talking in the media center and the hotel. I’d met Anton Hammerl, a photographer from South Africa, only a few days earlier. His quiet charisma and professionalism had impressed me during an interview with a general in Benghazi, and later that evening he had bounded up to me in the hotel, showing off a picture of his son, with whom he’d just chatted on Skype. And then there was me, covering the conflict for The Atlantic, USA Today, and other publications. The dissertation in medieval history I’d completed less than a year earlier had left me unsatisfied with academia and determined to work in journalism, where I could get a look at history being made.
Our spirits were high as we set out at 7 a.m. from our base in Benghazi toward Brega, an important oil town in eastern Libya, where the front line of the rebel offensive had stagnated. At a checkpoint outside Brega, we dismissed our driver and secured a ride with some rebels, in a red van that we quickly concluded was a scout vehicle. “They would have more luck with two guys on foot with binoculars,” Anton observed. As we rode, I used the zoom lens on my camera to scan the crest of a hill above us. When the van stopped near some other rebel vehicles, we climbed out.