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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soundoff (616 Responses)
  1. Saitek

    What the US needs to do is take control of the middle east and its oil and than we will have to problem. At that point we can distribute oil at fair prices to other countries. Problem solved.

    March 12, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
  2. owebama rulz

    A teleprompter in every pot. I wonder if everybody is feeling all hopey changey. He Nick, you fool, still running 'round the mid east asking every Tom, Dick and Mohammed. "How do you feel about Owebama? " so silly.

    March 12, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Lucy

    I always supported Obama, but I am dissapointed that he does nothing to help those people. You don't need to send troops there, just no-fly zone and send equipment to Libian people and they will take care of Gadaphi. How can we sit and watch while this Hitler is killing his own people and do nothing about it. Obama once said that we need to lead in the world. Well, this is our chance. Let's lead. It is our moral obligation to help Libian.

    March 12, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • LarryKegel(USA ARMY)

      Good grief Lucy,get a brain! You know better than that,don't you? We definately need to keep out of there and you know it!

      March 12, 2011 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
  4. stewart55

    Who are the rebels? My concern is that they are just Islamists masquerading as democrats. It would be great if mad old Gaddafi was overthrown but it would be disastrous for Libya if he was replaced by religious fundamentalists.
    Remember the reports that Gaddafi`s troops gunned down some of his own men who refused to fire on demonstrators? It was widely reported on line and by main stream media.
    http://www.libyafeb17.com/page/8/

    Check out the "survivor." His hands aren`t tied and he appears unwounded. His "executioners” somehow failed to hit him in the brain from point blank range! This is clearly a “set-up. ” The “survivor” is clearly one of the bystanders who has simply lain down amongst the bodies.
    Now look at this. It seems to be footage of the dead men just prior to their being shot. They are in the custody of the rebels, it seems to me. See also the beating and lynching late in the report. The murderers are shouting "Allah Akbar!" These are killings by Islamist rebels, not pro Gaddafi forces.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8POHluG86IU
    I know it is from Libyan state TV but the footage is persuasive.
    Should we be careful what we wish for?
    Who are the rebels? My concern is that they are just Islamists masquerading as democrats. It would be great if mad old Gaddafi was overthrown but it would be disastrous for Libya if he was replaced by religious fundamentalists.
    Remember the reports that Gaddafi`s troops gunned down some of his own men who refused to fire on demonstrators? It was widely reported on line and by main stream media.
    http://www.libyafeb17.com/page/8/

    Check out the "survivor." His hands aren`t tied and he appears unwounded. His "executioners” somehow failed to hit him in the brain from point blank range! This is clearly a “set-up. ” The “survivor” is clearly one of the bystanders who has simply lain down amongst the bodies.
    Now look at this. It seems to be footage of the dead men just prior to their being shot. They are in the custody of the rebels, it seems to me. See also the beating and lynching late in the report. The murderers are shouting "Allah Akbar!" These are killings by Islamist rebels, not pro Gaddafi forces.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8POHluG86IU
    I know it is from Libyan state TV but the footage is persuasive.
    Should we be careful what we wish for?

    March 12, 2011 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Hans Huber

    Larry Kegel , when has Israel done anything for the USA ? The Jews won't to make sure we know for "EVER" about the Holocaust because the " Whining "t makes money for them . Is anybody ever talking about the 25 millions Stalin and 30 million Mao has kill t ? No , because the don't have a voice in the mostly Jews owned media and the go own with there life's .
    There is no need for the USA to intervene in Libya , however they USA can help with weapons and with a strong no fly zon . It makes me sick when i listen to Obama and his political Generals who like to hide behind technicality's .The area where a no fly zone is needed is relatively small and there are few good anti aircraft guns . So America and Europe , keep on watching the slaughter of people and don't take sides because your friends the King of Saudi Arabia and other brutal Dictators would not like it because it is up there " ally " .
    Yes , I know , my English is great !

    March 12, 2011 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • rasp

      Hans do realize how much of some of our major broadcasting companie's stocks are owned by royal family arabs? I don't think those guys are Jews.

      March 12, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  6. David Jones

    Wow what a ordeal now let me hear again on how bad the United States is.

    March 12, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  7. rasp

    How does global discussion always end up yanking on the republican or democrat chain? The Democrats got this country in it's current situation under Bush. Yes, he stated he was a republican but who was running the house and congress(who, by the way unanimously voted to go into Iraq) but the dems now, like the president himself, don't want to take responsibility for what they have done. The "it's Bush's fault thing is long gone) Bush didn't put troops in Afghanistan or Pakistan. It's funny that a few months ago the president was slamming the Repubs but after the majority of Americans woke up and they voted most of the Dems out,the pres says "we have to work as a team" and now the Dems won't even stay in their jobs. What if you walked out on your job? What do you think would happen to your positions? The people that post one sided views are just as ignorant as the politicians they support. No wonder the politicians are destroying this country so easily. The majority of emotion fed supporters are just as ignorant as they are.

    March 12, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Hans Huber

    Steward 55, one day a real man-society will take a stand ! Let's help the People first and don't worry about Religious orientation . America has already plenty of brutal Dictators as friends who hide behind religion .
    I know you love technicality's and I am sure you debate all day long " if this that could be would be " and if the sun will come up tomorrow .
    A no fly zone is easy to enforce, in eastern Libya , because the area is small and there are hardly any anti aircraft guns .

    March 12, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
  9. chuckmartel

    Too bad it wasn't the pompous pseudo intellectual idiot Anderson Cooper.

    March 12, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Ryan

    Why does everybody think that the US must get involved in every issue? We are not the world police! But watch, we go in and you cry, we don't go in and you cry. I would hate to see how most of you people would live in another country. So spoiled, but yet so unappreciative.

    March 12, 2011 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Alex

    Rulers of Saudi Arabia are worse than Gadhafi, but being USA allies, nobody writes about them. Nobody mentions that under Gadhafi Libians had free education (including post secondary), free medical, and dental care, every Libyan citizen have shelter that is owned by them (not by banks), $5,000 government grant towords purchase of new car (6,000,000 citizens own 14,000,000 cars). Sounds like pretty good country to live in (much better than USA or Saudi Arabia). It all looks to me like western plot to get Libyan resources.

    March 12, 2011 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Hans Huber

    RASP, I think you got lost with your thinking . Greedy will invest in a devils company . The facts are , Jews own the majority of media company's in the USA and BS Americans so it is easier to take there money . Jews whine with there old Holocaust store so they get more sympathy and money . The never talk about the 25millions and 30 millions killed by Stalin and Mao .
    I don't think my post will make it because CNN don't like to hurt the Jews feelings and acknowledge all the FACTS !

    March 12, 2011 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Hans Huber

    CHUCKMARTEL , you must be a " STRANGE HUMAN " because looking it very objective and fair Anderson is most likely one of the best Reporters in the WORLD .
    Well , that's what makes live interesting , there are always IDIOTS too !

    March 12, 2011 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
  14. LarryKegel(USA ARMY)

    I'm getting quite annoyed at these ingnoramuses who keep on telling us to jump upon our high horses and go galloping so to speak over into Libya and butt in on behalf of the so-calld "rebels" which the right-wing people in the media keep trying to glorify. Such ignorance turns my stomach upside down!!!

    March 12, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Free Libya

    We have been saying this for the last 30 years.. Nobody beloeved us.
    It's like "1984 by George Orwell" ..

    March 12, 2011 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse |
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