Robertson: Gadhafi thugs grabbed me and my crew
CNN Senior International Correspondent Nic Robertson has been covering the situation in Libya.
March 11th, 2011
08:44 PM ET

Robertson: Gadhafi thugs grabbed me and my crew

CNN Senior International Correspondent Nic Robertson and his crew were detained Friday in Tajura, Libya, east of Tripoli by forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. This is his account.

For a few moments today, for us personally, Libya’s lies and deceit were swept aside and the real deal was brutally exposed.

“Itla, itla” - "Get in the car, get in the car!" - he was screaming. My cameraman, Khalil Abdallah, and I hesitated for a split-second. But that's all it was.

We were staring down the barrel of an AK-47, the weapon was jumping in his hands. He was cocking it, wrenching the handle back, a bullet being slammed into the firing chamber.

It was only a split-second.

We are free to go anywhere, any time, talk to who we want, when we want. That's what Moammar Gadhafi’s son told me, that's what Libya told the U.N. We already knew it was all lies - look at any number of our colleagues, arrested, detained, in some cases, beaten - but today it came home to us personally.

The hyper-aggressive jerk with the gun had just hit the jackpot.

There was him and three others. They were grabbing us, bundling us towards their pickup truck. He had a pistol in his belt, one of the others kept his AK trained on us too, and an older guy with the grey beard was speed-dialing his phone.

These are Gadhafi’s enforcers. They were looking for us.`

As Khalil and I were pushed through the car doors, clambering over the body armor these thugs had strewn over the seats, I could see the rest of our team try to drive away.

We got to Tajura in a random taxi that had picked us up as we walked down a street. Now it was the best hope producer Tommy Evans had to get away and report our detention.

But it was too late. They'd been spotted, blocked, and stopped, and as I watched, Tommy was forced out of the car, kicked by another thug who already had his AK pointed at Tommy’s face.

Another member of this plainclothes security force pulled open our car door, started rifling through my pockets. Patting me down about as aggressively as he could. There was nothing we could do.

They were demanding our phones, asking where was our camera.

They'd only just got hold of us. This was no accidental arrest, no fortunate stumbling across a news team. They had planned this all along.

We were trying to cover Friday prayers on the same streets where last week police attacked protesters firing tear gas and live rounds. Now it was clear they were out in force.

The questions began. "Where are you from? Where are you from?" It seemed they didn’t quite know what to do with us.

"We are going to cuff you and we are going to throw you out of the country," the angry thug with the AK and pistol was shouting at us. Then the guy on the phone got orders. The press office would pick us up.

They'd known all along who to call - the government officials who'd invited us to the country. We parked by the roadside. No chance to call CNN head office; they had our phones now.

But much worse, they were bringing the innocent taxi driver with us. He'd done nothing more than give us a ride. He had no idea he might get in to trouble. The poor fellow looked increasingly nervous.

Not much younger than me, he probably has a family waiting for him. We felt terrible for him. But there was nothing we could do to protect him. Our camera was on the floor of his car, our kit in his trunk.

In the eyes of these government heavies, our taxi driver was guilty by association. But guilty of what, what had we done? Nothing - we'd not even shot a single picture. No interviews, nothing, just driven in to a neighborhood with an anti-government reputation.

The gunmen were smoking, bored now that the thrill of the chase was over. They called again: "Where was the ride to take us back to the hotel?" The answer: "We're busy, bring them in yourself."

Amid screeching tires and the stench of burning rubber needlessly ground into the tarmac, we took off. A final indignity for these hard men, they'd got the mundane job of delivering us back to government officials.

The violent invective started again. "You should go to Palestine and film what the Israelis are doing. You should leave Libya, go to Afghanistan, report what’s happening there," "Libya mia mia," repeating a chant we’ve heard many times, meaning Libya 100%.

We were screaming down the highway close to 100 mph, the radio blasting out a Gadhafi anthem, the driver pumping out the beat with his fist in the air. One-handed driving at its most worrying.

At the hotel gates, the realization we weren't alone, the realization of why the Libyan government press office had no spare vehicles to pick us up.

Dozens of other journalists like us were being brought in under armed guard, signed over to our minders. One was OK about our detention, claiming, "You know if you are there they will protest; if you don't go nothing will happen."

Of course, the protests began long before the government allowed in reporters, but that kind of logic carries no weight here.

Another official waiting for us, one I'd not seen before, was more aggressive, telling cameraman Khalil: "If you’ve shot anything, I'm going to take you to the airport and deport you."

It took a long time to convince him Khalil hadn't shot any footage. Some journalists we talked to were inside the mosque when they were arrested. How they got out of that threat, I don’t know.

But right now we had only one concern: our taxi driver. We pleaded for his release –by now he could barely speak - but we were ignored.

He was stuttering and trembling as they stuffed him in his car and drove him away.

I still don’t know what’s happened to him. Our ordeal is over, but I fear his may only just be beginning.

That’s the reality of life here under Gadhafi’s rule.

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Filed under: Libya
soundoff (616 Responses)
  1. Ali

    simply, if you are the number one country that talk all the time about democracy,then you should do something when a psychopath,egocentric,schizophrenic,serial mass killer dectatorship is slaughtering inocent people with weapons supplies by the europian countires mostly. It is a clear case of being rightfull or not. It takes real men in power to take a deciison, unfortunitly we have the wrong people in the goverment in control now.this is bad ofr the USa standards and furture relatt\ionship with other countries.
    we are sending the wrong message to otehr dectators in the world,and no one blame them later on for what they will do later on to their people to stay in power.
    shame people shame

    March 13, 2011 at 10:01 pm | Report abuse |
  2. I smell drama

    Wrenching, brutally, slammed. These are not the words of an objective reporter. This smells of pumped up drama to get the sympathy glands of the reader flowing. That's what Geraldo was good at. News is SUPPOSED TO BE OBJECTIVE, not laced with dramatic invectives in order to slant the news in a negative light.

    March 13, 2011 at 10:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • ben

      this remindes me of a badly written high school paper. How did this guy make it into being a reporter?

      March 15, 2011 at 10:23 am | Report abuse |
  3. I smell drama

    Wrenching, brutally, thugs, slammed. These are not the words of an objective reporter. This smells of pumped up drama to get the sympathy glands of the reader flowing. That's what Geraldo was good at. News is SUPPOSED TO BE OBJECTIVE, not laced with dramatic invectives in order to slant the news in a negative light.

    March 13, 2011 at 10:09 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Enough

    If Quadhafi regain control of Libya, we'll see another tsunasmi going thru Lybia. But this time people will die slowly in correction camps by his tortures and that is not a good way to die. He's trying to crush the rebels as fast as he can, because he knows that without any rebels. The NATO won't be supporting anybody. If he wins, he will able to show the world that NATO is a useless group and should disband. He will teach other dictators not to worry about rebellions and revolutions anymore. just do like what I did to my people and rebellions won't exist in this world anymore. Now the former president of Egypt and Tunisia wished that they could go back in time.

    March 14, 2011 at 4:18 am | Report abuse |
  5. Douglas

    Unlike that poor taxi driver, you were lucky guys.
    I have seen a video clip yesterday broadcasted by the Lbian stste tv, it showed a bunch of defected soldiers captured and were being interrogated. The amazing thing about it is the last segment of this clip showing the same soldiers shot dead and the same Libyan state tv claiming they were executed by "the rebels"!!
    you can watch it here

    March 14, 2011 at 7:18 am | Report abuse |
  6. DrJ

    Is it true that the US sent hit squads to Libya for years. Only old soldiers who were there as a spotting team will admit it. The rest of us will remain asleep like sheep and not recognize the propaganda feed to us by the administration not matter who is in office [its a matter of national security to never tell the truth]. On the other hand when the real americans rise up against the tyranny of the billionaire banksters, corporations and their lapdog politicians what will you say then... freedom fighters or anarchist will cnn report this

    March 16, 2011 at 8:31 am | Report abuse |
  7. gordon atl

    I read that more Libyans were killing Americans in Iraq than any other Arab nation. It seems they really are with Al Qaeda after all. Seems like the dictator is right. Besides, he gives us oil and kind of works with us on things. I would never ever send troops to help people who killed our own, especially in a recession. Sorry opposition, I am backing the dictator.

    March 16, 2011 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
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    December 27, 2011 at 9:09 am | Report abuse |
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