Tag Archives: Libya

Lynsey And Tyler’s Incredible Tale

What do you do if you’ve just spent 6 days in terror-filled captivity in Libya?

If you’re journalists and photographers for the New York Times, you collaborate on a story about it.

Westport photographers Lynsey  Addario and Tyler Hicks joined Beirut bureau chief Anthony Shadid and Stephen Farrell in writing a 5,000-word story that the Times just posted on its website.  It will undoubtedly run in tomorrow’s print edition.

Among the most remarkable passages:

No one really knows the script for days like these, and neither did we….

As they neared a dangerous government checkpoint:

“Keep driving!” Tyler shouted at Mohammed, the driver. “Don’t stop! Don’t stop!”Mohammed had no choice, and a soldier flung open his door.   “Journalists!” he yelled at the other soldiers, their faces contorted in fear and rage.  It was too late.

Tyler was in the front, and a soldier pulled him out of the car.  Steve was hauled out by his camera bags.  Anthony crawled out the same door, and Lynsey followed.

Even before the soldiers had time to speak, rebels attacked the checkpoint with what sounded like rifles and medium machine guns.  Bullets flew around us, and the soft dirt popped. Tyler broke free and started running.  Anthony fell on a sand berm, then got to his feet and followed Tyler, who, for a moment, considered making a run for it.

Lynsey instinctively clenched her cameras as a soldier pulled at them.  She let them go and ran behind us.   Soldiers tried to get Steve on the ground next to the car, and he pointed at the gunfire.  They made him drop his camera, then he ran, too.

We made it behind a simple one-room house, where a woman clutched her infant child.   Both cried uncontrollably and a soldier tried to console them. When we got there, soldiers trained their guns on us, beat us, stripped us of everything in our pockets and forced us on our knees.

Tyler’s hands were bound by a strip of a scarf. A soldier took off Lynsey’s gray Nike shoes, then bound her with the shoelaces. “God, I just don’t want to be raped,” she whispered to Steve.

The journalists were no strangers to danger:

All of us had had close calls over the years.  Lynsey was kidnapped in Falluja, Iraq, in 2004, Steve in Afghanistan last year.  Tyler had more scrapes than he could count, from Chechnya to Sudan, and Anthony was shot in the back in 2002 by a man he believed to be an Israeli soldier.  At that moment, though, none of us thought we were going to live.  Steve tried to keep eye contact until they pulled the trigger.  The rest of us felt the powerlessness of resignation. You feel empty when you know that it’s almost over.

“Shoot them,” a tall soldier said calmly in Arabic.

A colleague next to him shook his head.  “You can’t,” he insisted.  “They’re Americans.”

They bound our hands and legs instead — with wire, fabric or cable.   Lynsey was carried to a Toyota pickup, where she was punched in the face.  Steve and Tyler were hit, and Anthony was headbutted.

Even that Tuesday, a pattern had begun to emerge.  The beating was always fiercest in the first few minutes, an aggressiveness that Colonel Qaddafi’s bizarre and twisted four decades of rule inculcated in a society that feels disfigured.  It didn’t matter that we were bound, or that Lynsey was a woman.

But moments of kindness inevitably emerged, drawing on a culture’s far deeper instinct for hospitality and generosity.   A soldier brought Tyler and Anthony, sitting in a pickup, dates and an orange drink. Lynsey had to talk to a soldier’s wife who, in English, called her a donkey and a dog.  Then they unbound Lynsey and, sitting in another truck, gave Steve and her something to drink.

From the pickup, Lynsey saw a body outstretched next to our car, one arm outstretched.  We still don’t know whether that was Mohammed.  We fear it was, though his body has yet to be found.

If he died, we will have to bear the burden for the rest of our lives that an innocent man died because of us, because of wrong choices that we made, for an article that was never worth dying for.

No article is, but we were too blind to admit that.

We probably shouldn’t have lived through the night.

Even before the sun set, another gun battle broke out, almost as fierce as the first one.  We were trapped in trucks in the open.  Tyler stretched the binding of his handcuffs, allowing him to open the door.   Anthony yelled for help, trying to open the door with his teeth.

A soldier finally let Tyler crawl around the pickup to let Anthony out. For a moment, our captors were in the same plight as us. As the hours passed, they offered us food, drink and cigarettes.

“These are the morals of Islam,” one said to Anthony.  “These are the morals of Qaddafi. We treat prisoners humanely.”  For a few hours they did.  They offered blankets and mattresses, then put us in a car.  As rebels attacked every so often, we all barreled out of the car and dove to the ground, until the firing subsided. They put us back in, and we dove to the ground again.

They eventually let us lie behind a pickup.

Lynsey asked for her shoes. She got a bullet-riddled pair of Tyler’s, taken from his bag.

Clockwise from top left: Lynsey Addario, Stephen Farrell, Anthony Shadid, Tyler Hicks

On Wednesday:

A new group seized us, and they were rougher.  They blindfolded us, tied our arms and legs and beat us.  They then stuffed us into an armored car, where Lynsey was groped.  She never screamed but instead pleaded.  A soldier covered her mouth, tracing his hands over her body.  “Don’t speak,” he warned.  Another soldier tried to shove a bayonet into Steve’s rear, laughing as he did it.

A half-hour later, we arrived on what we thought were the outskirts of the other side of Ajdabiya.  A man whom soldiers called the sheik questioned us, then began taunting Tyler.

“You have a beautiful head,” he told Tyler in a mix of English and Arabic.  “I’m going to remove it and put it on mine.  I’m going to cut it off.”  Tyler, feeling queasy, asked to sit down.

We were finally put in a pickup where a soldier taunted Lynsey.

“You might die tonight,” he told her, as he ran his hand over her face.  “Maybe, maybe not.”

At 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, they were thrown blindfolded and bound in the back of a pickup truck and driven along the Mediterranean coast toward Colonel Qaddafi’s hometown of Surt, a six-hour drive.

We felt like trophies of war, and at a dozen checkpoints, we could hear militiamen running to the car to administer another beating.“Dirty dogs,” men shouted out at each stop.Over the years, all of us had seen men detained, blindfolded and handcuffed at places like Abu Ghraib, or corralled after some operation in Iraq or Afghanistan.  Now we were the faceless we had covered perhaps too dispassionately.  For the first time, we felt what it was like to be disoriented by a blindfold, to have plastic cuffs dig into your wrists, for hands to go numb.

The act is probably less terrifying than the unknown.  You don’t know when it’s going to end or what comes next.  By late afternoon, we were taken to a jail in Surt. Our captors led us to a basement cell with a few ratty mattresses, a bottle to urinate in, a jug of water and a bag of dates.  As night fell, we wondered whether anyone knew — or could know — where we were.

The foursome realized that no one outside of their captors knew where they were.
The next afternoon, on Thursday, was perhaps the worst beating.  As we stood on the tarmac in Surt, waiting for a military plane to Tripoli, Tyler was slapped and punched, and Anthony was hit with the butt of a gun to the head.  We were blindfolded and bound another time with plastic handcuffs, and Lynsey was groped again….

Nothing ever felt more generous to Anthony than a handcuffed Tyler managing to reach into the pocket of Anthony’s jacket, pull out a cigarette and light it before handing it back to him.

Tyler Hicks near the frontline during a pause in the fighting on March 11 in Ras Lanuf, Libya. Four days later, he and three other Times journalists were taken captive by government soldiers. (Photo: John Moore/Getty Images)

After a plane trip and bus ride:
We were moved to another vehicle but not before a soldier, perhaps from the losing side, drove the barrel of his rifle into the back of Tyler’s head.

Within a half-hour, we were in a military compound, in the hands of military intelligence. We collapsed on the floor, accepting milk and mango juice. We saw our bags unloaded, though we would never get them back.

A gruff man struck a sympathetic tone. You won’t be beaten or bound again, he told us.   You will be kept safe and, although you will be blindfolded if you are moved anywhere else in the compound, no one will mistreat you.

From that moment, no one did.

We were taken to a detention center that looked more like a double-wide trailer.  On the shelves were a two-volume German-Arabic dictionary and five of Shakespeare’s plays. (Colonel Qaddafi once famously quipped that Shakespeare, or Sheik Zubeir, was actually an Arab migrant.)

The men were given track suits. Lynsey was brought a shirt that read, “Magic Girl,” emblazoned with two teddy bears.  Her new underwear read, “Shake it up.”

At the late hours of night, we were blindfolded to receive visitors.

“You are now in the protection of the state,” a Foreign Ministry official told us….

Officials asked Lynsey whether she had been raped.

Over the next 4 days:

We fought boredom more than anything else.  Tyler finished Julius Caesar.  Lynsey started Othello.  If it went on much longer, Tyler jokingly suggested we perform the plays.  As the hours passed, we replayed each moment of the preceding days in detail, trying to piece together what had happened to Mohammed.

We wondered whether we would be delivered into more sinister hands.  After the no-fly zone was imposed and we heard volleys of antiaircraft fire, we thought that a desperate government could make us human shields.  Weighing over all of us was guilt for what we had put our families and friends through.

In the end, it was the trappings of diplomacy that delayed our departure.

Foreign Ministry officials, clinging to a prestige they may have never had, insisted that our transfer be formal, between two sovereign states.   At one point, they insisted an American or British diplomat had to travel to Tripoli in wartime.  In the end, Turkish diplomats served as intermediaries and delivered us to the border.

As we left, we saw the billboards of a crumbling government.  “Forty-one years of permanent joy,” read one slogan superimposed over a sunburst.  But the words that lingered with us as we left were quoted to Steve by an urbane Foreign Ministry official speaking idiomatic British English.

As we sat in an office, he murmured two lines of Yeats.

“Those that I fight I do not hate,

Those that I guard I do not love.”

Libya Ordeal: A Frightening First-Hand Account

We’ve all speculated about the conditions of Lynsey Addario and Tyler Hicks’ capture in Libya, and what the Westport photographers and their 2 reporter colleagues from the New York Times went through during 6 days of captivity.

Here is a report from the Times.  They came — literally — seconds from death.  The report is chilling, raw — and very, very important to read.

The four had been covering fighting near Ajdabiya last Tuesday when they decided that the battle had grown too dangerous for them to continue safely.  Their driver, however, inadvertently drove into a checkpoint manned by forces loyal to Colonel Qaddafi.  By the time they knew they were in trouble, it was too late.

“I was yelling to the driver, ‘Keep driving! Don’t stop! Don’t stop!’ ” Mr. Hicks recalled in a telephone interview from the hotel where he and the three others were recuperating. “I knew that the consequences of being stopped would be very bad.”

The driver, Mohamed Shaglouf, is still missing. If he had tried to drive straight through, Mr. Hicks said, the vehicle certainly would have been fired on. In any event, the soldiers flung the doors to their gold four-door sedan wide open so quickly that they had little chance to get away.

As they were being pulled from the car, rebels fired on the checkpoint, sending the four running for their lives.

“You could see the bullets hitting the dirt,” Mr. Shadid said.

All four made it safely behind a small, one-room building, where they tried to take cover.  But the soldiers had other plans.  They told all four to empty their pockets and ordered them on the ground.  And that is when they thought they were seconds from death.

“I heard in Arabic, ‘Shoot them,’ ” Mr. Shadid said.  “And we all thought it was over.”

Then another soldier spoke up. “One of the others said: ‘No, they’re American. We can’t shoot them,’ ” Mr. Hicks said.

The soldiers grabbed whatever they could get their hands on to tie up their prisoners:  wire, an electrical cord from a home appliance, a scarf.  One removed Ms. Addario’s shoes, pulled out the laces and used them to bind her ankles.  Then one punched her in the face and laughed.

“Then I started crying,” she recalled. “And he was laughing more.”  One man grabbed her breasts, the beginning of a pattern of disturbing behavior she would experience from her captors over the next 48 hours.

“There was a lot of groping,” she said. “Every man who came in contact with us basically felt every inch of my body short of what was under my clothes.”

Their captors held them in Ajdabiya until the fighting with the rebels died down.  Soldiers put the four in a vehicle and drove them out of the city around 2 a.m.  One threatened to decapitate Mr. Hicks.  Another stroked Ms. Addario’s head and told her repeatedly she was going to die.

“He was caressing my head in this sick way, this tender way, saying:  ‘You’re going to die tonight.  You’re going to die tonight,’ ” she said.

Their vehicle stopped repeatedly at checkpoints, each time allowing for a new group of soldiers to land a fresh punch or a rifle butt in their backs.  The first night they spent in the back of a vehicle.  The second night they spent in a jail cell with dirty mattresses on the ground, a bottle to urinate in and a jug of water to drink.

On the third day they were on the move again, this time to an airfield.  Mr. Shadid, who speaks Arabic, had overheard one of the soldiers saying something about a plane, and the four assumed they would be flown somewhere.  As they were loaded on the plane they were blindfolded and their hands were bound tightly with plastic handcuffs.

“I could hear Anthony at this point yelling ‘Help me!’ ” Mr. Hicks said, “which I learned later was because he had no feeling in his hands.”  In a rare show of mercy, a soldier loosened the cuffs.

They landed on Thursday in Tripoli, where they were handed over to Libyan defense officials.  They were transferred to a safe house, where they said they were treated well.  They were each allowed a brief phone call.

That was the first time since their capture two and a half days earlier that their whereabouts became known to their families and colleagues at The Times.

Their disappearance had kicked off an intensive search effort.  The Times canvassed hospitals and morgues, beginning a grim process-of-elimination search.  The paper also turned to a variety of people on the ground who might have heard or seen something — local residents, security contractors for Western businesses, workers for nongovernmental organizations.  It also notified American diplomats.

The State Department got word Thursday afternoon that the journalists were safe and unharmed, in a phone call to Jeffrey D. Feltman, the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, from an aide to Abdullah al-Senussi, the head of Libyan military intelligence and the brother-in-law of Colonel Qaddafi, Mr. Feltman said.

But the arrival of the four journalists in Tripoli was just the beginning of three days of frustrating, increasingly tense negotiations conducted by a State Department consular officer, Yael Lempert.  Libyan officials kept changing their demands for the conditions of the journalists’ release, and an allied coalition, including the United States, began bombing Tripoli to enforce a no-fly zone.  Several Libyan agencies were involved in the negotiation, which added to the confusion.

First the Libyan government demanded that an American diplomat come to Tripoli to take the journalists, State Department officials said.  The United States, which closed its embassy in Libya last month, refused.  After initially resisting, the Libyans agreed to allow the Turkish Embassy to act as an intermediary.

The release was scheduled for Sunday but was delayed until Monday because of the bombing. The four were turned over to Turkish diplomats Monday afternoon, and were driven to the border with Tunisia.

While Monday was a day for celebration and relief at The Times, other news organizations covering the conflicts in Libya and elsewhere in the Arab world have not been so lucky.  According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 13 journalists are either missing or in government custody.  The missing include four from Al Jazeera, two from Agence France-Presse and one from Getty Images.  In addition, six Libyan journalists are unaccounted for, the group said.

Others have died. A Libyan broadcaster was killed Saturday while covering a battle near Benghazi. A cameraman for Al Jazeera was killed in the same area on March 12, the first death of a journalist in Libya during the current conflict.

Lleft to right: New York Times journalists Stephen Farrell, Tyler Hicks, Ambassdor Levent Sahinkaya, Lynsey Addario and Anthony Shadid at the Turkish Embassy in Tripoli, Libya.  (AP Photo/Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Breaking News — Lynsey Addario, Tyler Hicks To Be Released

The New York Times reported this morning that 4 missing journalists — including Westport photographers Tyler Hicks and Lynsey Addario — who were captured by Libyan forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi will be released today.  The Times said the dictator’s son told Christiane Amanpour the news in an ABC interview.

The Libyan government allowed the journalists to call their families on Thursday evening.

“We’re all,  families and friends, overjoyed to know they are safe,” said Bill Keller, the executive editor of the Times. “We are eager to have them free and back home.”

Tyler Hicks: In The Thick Of The Fight

The disappearance of Tyler Hicks and Lynsey Addario in Libya has focused world-wide attention on the plight — and the photos — of the New York Times photographers, who graduated from Staples 3 years apart.

Tyler Hicks

Working in war zones is nothing new to either of the Pulitzer Prize winners.  But last Wednesday — in an interview that is both chilling and insightful — Tyler talked about the special challenges of Libya.

“One unusual thing is the access we have to frontline fighting,” he told the Times “Lens” blog. 

“Despite what a lot of people think, when you go to a war zone, there are a lot of formalities and difficulties to reach the fighting.  You can get into a country but to get to where the conflict is happening can be very difficult.  This is a very rare situation: complete access to a war, from the opposition side.”

Tyler added:  “You never are relaxed and you never have a moment to feel at ease when you’re out working.”

And, he said: “I’m constantly moving around.  Occasionally, you run into people who speak English.  In general, they’re really supportive.  Even out in the middle of the fighting, someone will hand you a box of juice or a bottle of water.  They might ask your name or where you’re from.

“Some ask who I work for.  They’re saying, ‘Get down’ or ‘Move to another place for your own safety.’  So they’re doing what they can to be helpful out there, even under those circumstances. ”

(Click here to read the entire interview.)

Breaking News — Tyler Hicks And Lynsey Addario Missing In Libya

Westport natives Tyler Hicks and Lynsey Addario are  missing in Libya.

The 2 photographers were in a group of 4 New York Times journalists whose last contact with editors was yesterday.  Executive editor Bill Keller said that Libyan authorities are trying to locate the group.

“We are grateful to the Libyan government for their assurance that if our journalists were captured they would be released promptly and unharmed,” Keller said.

Also missing  are Pulitzer-Prize-winning reporter Anthony Shadid — the newspaper’s Beirut bureau chief — and Stephen Farrell, a reporter and videographer.

Both Tyler (Staples Class of ’88) and Lynsey (Staples  ’91) won Pulitzer Prizes for their Times work.  Lynsey also received a MacArthur “genius” award.

“Their families and their colleagues at The Times are anxiously seeking information about their situation, and praying that they are safe,” Keller said.

Lynsey And Tyler’s Libya Lens

The New York Times’ “Lens” page is always fascinating.  Each day it features fantastic photographs — and a back story, courtesy of the photographer.

Today’s “Lens” highlights Staples graduate Lynsey Addario.  She’s in Libya — working with fellow Stapleite and Times photographer Tyler Hicks.

Her story begins:

It’s been a rough day.  From where we are in Benghazi, the opposition sent hundreds of troops — if not more — toward the front line to fight against the government troops.

Tyler Hicks and I went forward.  Tyler was about two hours ahead of me.  We decided that I would stay back and see what was happening and then follow, depending on the situation.

At the send-off point for the opposition troops, people were pouring water on them and cheering.  Hundreds of people came out to send the fighters forward.  Everyone was armed to the teeth on the back of these trucks.

You could hear the airstrikes.  There was a lot of machine-gun fire, Kalashnikov fire.  People were shooting in the air.  It was really chaos.

That’s just the start.  Click here to see Lynsey’s amazing shots — and read more of her and Tyler’s harrowing experiences in a world far from Westport. 

(Photo: Lynsey Addario/New York Times)