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. lmfao

    Done. It's ridiculous that my last comment was thrown out. No vulgar language, no derogatory statements regarding any group, and DAMN good English grammar and spelling! CNN is too much. Goodnight, all.

    March 12, 2011 at 1:23 am | Report abuse |
  2. Got Intelligence?

    @Newslover: Wow...the media is run by Jews? I'm a jew and was not informed about this conspiracy. It's funny how you spew ignorance all over the place and you have the audacity to call others ignorant. How ironic. Bet you believe the world is ending next year. 🙂

    March 12, 2011 at 1:25 am | Report abuse |
  3. david bidlack

    thank god we finally have a president who is keeping us out of these kinds of messes. the republicans fell all over themselves to supply arms to people in afganistan who were fighting the former USSR. maybe the russians had it right about who to fight because who are we fighting now. ronald raegan , dick cheney and donald rumsfield are in old news pictures shaking hands with saddam. we know how that judgement in who friends are turned out. george w. bush made nice with gadhafi and even opened an embussey in libya! now who are the republicans trying to get us into a war with another one of the made up friends they think they could handle! a no-fly zone is not going to make people who waste bullets shooting up in the sky only to kill clouds be able to take out gadhafi even if they have a good cause! what is it with republians has war become a drug that can't seem to kick along with minding the whole worlds business? the two wars we are into now are fast closing on a cost of $4 trillion dollars mostly for nation building for people who many of them pry to god 3 times a day asking him to destroy our country. republicans! daaaaaaaaa!

    March 12, 2011 at 1:30 am | Report abuse |
  4. Lee Oates

    If Gadhafi wins and coninues to kill men, women, and children at the rate he is, the US and Western Nation will carry a great burden of shame. Personally I am throughly disgusted with the US in its grandious neglect and hypocracy. We are a nation without a soul, and money is our goal in life. We are a nation dying.

    March 12, 2011 at 1:48 am | Report abuse |
    • markjuliansmith

      Is it not amazing here we have the US being blamed now for not acting? When it does go to 'save' Arab people it gets bucket loads of shrapnel and the resultant body bags in the thousands for its trouble.

      The fact is the Islamic Council behind the Libyan opposition even refused initially to have an air exclusion zone and even now refuses to recognize such an action as military intervention as if it is a costless exercise so they can they preserve their hallowed achievement of not obtaining military support from imperialist pig dogs and be open to pressure to deliver a real Democracy rather than anything but under the label of a Religious Democracy.

      The fact is the Libyan opposition had its chance to gain international support but because the hardline Islamist want to retain control of the endgame they have and will continue to allow Libyans to die for the non-existent idea of Freedom Win or Lose. So the Islamic hard liners can sing hand on heart ‘I did my way.’ as fellow Libyans are slaughtered for a failed cause due to their grasping leadership.

      What has changed people shout for freedom sacrifice their lives and people who believe in anything but Freedom take control and you end up with worse terror against the citizen?

      The Libyan opposition needs to detach themselves from the Islamic Council (given there are any real Democrats left in the Libyan opposition) and detail exactly what these Revolutionaries who are shouting Freedom (given it is an illusion) are actually dying for.

      King Philip of Spain “I would rather sacrifice the lives of 100,000 people than let up in my persecution of heretics.”

      March 12, 2011 at 2:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Gazzman

      All these crocodile tears. Reports are that 1 – 2000 have been killed in 3 weeks. It just doesn't compare to the slaughter the US has brought to Iraq or Afghanistan.

      This reporter wants to be Tom Clancy.

      March 12, 2011 at 2:28 am | Report abuse |
  5. Wishful thinking

    I wish that the quake hits Killerdarfreak!

    March 12, 2011 at 1:59 am | Report abuse |
  6. the_dude

    That taxi driver is going to die just because you wanted a story for your career. How does that make you feel?

    March 12, 2011 at 2:00 am | Report abuse |
    • Grace

      Don't be dim. Reporters are out there trying to get impartial information and report it accurately. Just because you're fame-obsessed doesn't mean they are. When "advancing your career" is synonymous with "doing your job", it's a bit petty to claim the guy's throwing himself into a war zone for personal glory.

      If we were talking about Geraldo, then maybe you'd have a point. But Robertson doesn't have a history of grandstanding.

      March 12, 2011 at 2:52 am | Report abuse |
  7. Jonesy

    @Grace

    Do u work for cnn and or the US gov? Cause for gods sake u have replied to almost every damn anti cnn slant.. Your propaganda is overwhelming . I think your going to make the non free thinkers go over to the side your working for.

    March 12, 2011 at 2:06 am | Report abuse |
  8. kmw

    These people are doing a job we make poosible by wanting to know what is happening in our world – and so we should. No journalist gets on a plane to Libya with the idea that its going to be a vacation. They go to report what is happening so that the rest of the world cannot plead ignorance. To those who are posting hateful comments, my only question is, why are you on the CNN website to begin with?

    March 12, 2011 at 2:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Just Me

      I agree. I always liked the expression "Better to remain silent and appear ignorant, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt".

      March 12, 2011 at 2:46 am | Report abuse |
  9. devil dog

    This piece is the single most important bit of journalism I have seen in a while. simply being there is incredibly powerful showing what libya really looks like currently. Why such mistreatment to journalists absolutely baffles the hell out of me tho. Hes not making a very good case for himself. I know which side I support and what message is the lie. This certainly is civil war and my thoughts and prayers go to all the innocents in this new struggle. Semper fi.

    March 12, 2011 at 2:25 am | Report abuse |
  10. sonny

    The rebels never had a chance, as air support is critical. Too bad we didnt get in this one as it would have been an easy win and the benefits of creating s solid ally in that region would have been good...oh well, suppose we should all go back to our 9 to 5 world...

    March 12, 2011 at 2:33 am | Report abuse |
  11. devil dog

    Wow! I didnt comment on the comments because the blog is about the article. Yes, there is alot of hatred. What I find interesting is ppl are compelled to waste their time yacking about stupidiity or hatred in one form or another. I actually find those comments funny because most of these yayhoos are sitting at their desktop typing away about god knows what. Prob. Jacked up on cofee and wasting company time. All those comments that are super critical about teeny tinee things and miss the big picture are doing just that...."missing the big picture". If you count how many ppl yak hate...i wonder how much time they have collectively wasted. Shame shame...god bless the brave souls facing torture and death for their voices to truly be heard..my groups are with you all and you have been publicly recognized as well as supported in the united states. Semper fi

    March 12, 2011 at 2:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Sherpa

      Kiran and Betty is Hot!!!!

      March 12, 2011 at 7:02 am | Report abuse |
    • rockvillemd

      Charlie? Is that you?

      March 12, 2011 at 8:23 am | Report abuse |
    • abu murderus

      you don't read these stories here:

      http://debka.com/article/20754/

      March 12, 2011 at 9:50 am | Report abuse |
    • LarryKegel (USA ARMY)

      I think He really wants the United States to get involved in the trouble there??? Otherwise why would go after the Reporters??? He is a lot stupider than I thought He was!!!

      March 12, 2011 at 10:48 am | Report abuse |
  12. Mark

    It's really disappointing to see some of the comments against CNN's camera crew and I've seen this in events ranging from the G20 to these conflicts; Yes it's a dangerous job, they know that, but why would you wish them harm? Why can you not show just a bit of respect for people doing a really nasty job? I question how many others could remain that cool under that kind of heat.

    At the very least we get to see what conditions are like on the ground ...or do we want all our news from nice, crisp, clean, sanitized press conferences?

    March 12, 2011 at 2:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Cut The Crap

      @Jackin' Off: You've managed to compile a record-breaking load of drivel and ignorance into one post. Way to go, idiot. And, (assuming your moniker is accurate), you did it with only one hand!

      March 12, 2011 at 10:07 am | Report abuse |
    • buenos dias amigos

      I totally agree that some of the post are just dumb for lack of a better word. The innuendos and the hatred that ppl spew because they have nothing btr to post is unbelievable. Your right when you say that they are missing the bigger picture about this story. Reporters know the dangers of going to places like Libya, Iran, Iraq, Afganistan, and even int he US, but it is a love for their job and yes they will risk their safety to bring you and me what is truly happening behind enemy lines. They give the world a chance to see what ppl like Gaddafi do to their own ppl. Shame on you all for making it sound like the CNN crew, or for that matter any other news station crew, is doing this for news purposes. I for one would not do thier job because I am not a good reporter, but I support them all 100%.

      March 12, 2011 at 10:47 am | Report abuse |
    • LarryKegel (USA ARMY)

      He doesn't want the World to see what He is doing there!!! Because They would for sure want to get Him out of office...

      March 12, 2011 at 10:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Klaark

      There's a reason the phrase "Don't shoot the messenger" exists. People really want to shoot the messenger. They haven't been out of the trees long enough to sort out the difference between the bearer of bad news, and the cause of the bad news.

      March 12, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Thank You !

    Nic... thank you for your service in reporting the best way you know how about what is happening in Libya. My heart and prayers go to you, your crew, the cab driver and all the million of Libyans who yearn for basic freedom. Keep on your good work. The world has to know what's going on there. Don't let the rant & rave of some people stop you from doing it. This is a great story that clearly illustrates what's been happening in that region for too long. The inconvenient truth will eventually force our leaders to face their responsibilities... I just hope that the sacrifice of the thousand of Libyans and other nationals will not be in vain. I hope and pray that good and God will prevail. In the meantime, hats off to you and your team for making a difference. On the positive side, I have been pleasantly surprised by the move of the King of Morocco. I was surprised it didn't get much coverage as it shows how change can happen in that region in a peaceful way. It looks to me that some of the Arab leaders still have a heart ... the question we should all asked ourselves, how do we win their heart? I know it sounds corny but I am really trying to stay positive.

    March 12, 2011 at 2:52 am | Report abuse |
  14. devil dog

    Gazzman,. You must not know what crocodile tears even are. You talk about death like it means nothing. How many women and children do you assume are in your little imaginary number land of 2000 ppl dead? Oh silly me its not your Family, so why would you even care?Go ahead,. Go back to your netflix or news junkyness while the real warriors hash it out. God knows you dont know jack diddles anyway.

    March 12, 2011 at 2:52 am | Report abuse |
  15. devil dog

    Lobo, let the adults talk and go back to the kiddie table. Ie. Important things going on that are way over your head.

    March 12, 2011 at 2:58 am | Report abuse |
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