Lost in interrogation

Captive's attention
By DAN MCCARTHY  |  June 1, 2011

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On April 5, James Foley, a journalist for Boston-based GlobalPost, was beaten and captured by armed pro-Qaddafi loyalists outside the Libyan town of Bregra, along with Atlantic writer Clare Gillis and Spanish photographer Manu Brabo. His friend, South African photojournalist Anton Hammerl, was gunned down in the attack, his body left in the desert — an incident under investigation by the International Criminal Court as a possible war crime and government cover-up.

In local and national coverage following his release on May 18, the relatively plush accommodations Foley enjoyed during his final stretch in captivity — which involved residing in a villa with cable television and his own room — may have made it seem like his incarcerated stint in Libya was a walk in the park. It was anything but.

Following his capture, Foley was blindfolded and grilled for six hours about why he was in the country, and whether he was a spy. He, Gillis, and Brabo were forced to tell state-run television — the government propaganda machine that is Libyan "news" — how the rebels were disorganized and had inadequate weapons. Then, after two weeks of sharing a cell with Gillis, Foley was dropped into the bureaucratic clusterfuck that is Qaddafi's Libya: being carted around sweating and blindfolded in the back of a paddy wagon with no ventilation from one prison and office building to another as his captors searched for the proper processing paperwork.

Foley was eventually moved to a larger (still, only 12-by-15-foot) room, with showers — and eight other inmates. Speaking with the Phoenix this past weekend, he said it was at this time — more than two weeks into captivity — that he finally felt safe. His new roommates were all rounded up during the revolution. They introduced themselves and welcomed him with a seat on the floor and a share in their communal bowl of macaroni and bread. Once they learned he was a Western journalist covering Benghazi on the rebel side of the conflict, Foley said, they gave him the best bunk in the room and some cigarettes.

His government captors were not so hospitable.

A few days before his transfer, Foley said, an interrogation took an ominous turn when he was asked if he'd make another statement on the rebels for state television. This second request, which Foley refused, instilled in Foley a sense of paranoia, which was perceived as a weakness, a way to get in his head.

"I just told them I didn't want to do any more TV," he said, "and that was the first time I was really frightened for my safety.

"For some reason I said no," said Foley, "and one of the guys immediately switched into bad cop. Really screaming stuff like, 'You're our guest . . . we give you cigarettes, food, treat you good . . . but that was soft, and now we're going to do this hard,' and took off my shoes. I started trembling, and when they saw how scared I was, he switched back to good cop, and gave me a smoke and asked if I would at least write something. I said okay."

Ultimately what he wrote was not propaganda, just more of the same non-intel he'd been giving the government all along. "The concession of fear made them feel like they got something," he said.

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  Topics: This Just In , Libya, International Criminal Court, James Foley,  More more >
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