James Foley recounted his time as a prisoner of war under Libyan Leader Moammar Khadafy’s regime, and revealed a secret that he and his three colleagues had to keep throughout their 44 days of imprisonment.
Foley, a correspondent for the Boston-based GlobalPost, revealed that he and the three others kept their knowledge of an unarmed South African photographer’s murder a secret from their captors because they felt the knowledge put their own lives at risk.
The Libyan government declared the photographer, Anton Hammerl, missing.
“There was this deep, dark secret that Anton was dead,’’ said Foley, 37, of Rochester, N.H. “We decided we couldn’t talk about it because it would be dangerous if they knew what we knew,’’ he said to the Boston Globe.
Foley encouraged the international community to pressure the Libyan government to reveal the facts about Hammerl’s shooting in a n interview with the Boston Globe.
“I want to get out the fact he was killed . . . and the Libyan government kept it a secret from the world and kept putting out misinformation,’’ Foley said. “I believe it is a war crime when an unarmed journalist is killed, and it’s not reported and covered up.’’
Foley; Hammer;; Clare Morgana Gillis, a free lance journalist who has reported for news outlets including the Globe; and Spanish Photographer Manuel Varela, also known as Manu Brabo, were on their way to the front lines with a small group of rebels in Libya to report on the rebels’ efforts on April 5.
Their vehicle stopped on the road outside the eastern port city of Brega when the journalists left the vehicle to interview a different group of rebels who informed them Khadafy’s forces were near by, according to Foley.
The rebels went ahead while the journalists waited in the desert brush. Two heavily-armed vehicles carrying Libyan soldiers quickly approached the unarmed journalists, firing machine guns,
“I quickly realized this isn’t crossfire — this is them firing directly at us,’’ said Foley, I heard Anton shouting, ‘Help, help.’ I shouted, ‘Anton are you OK?’ He responded, ‘No.’ Another barrage of bullets, I said ‘Anton,’ and he didn’t respond after that.”
Foley jumped up and yelled,” sahafi,” which means journalist in Arabic. This stopped the shooting, but then the soldiers struck him in the head with an AK-47 and punched him, Gillis and Brabo.
The soldiers took the journalists to a house in Brega, but left Hammerl, who appeared dead according to Foley, behind.
Libyan soldiers interrogated Foley over the following six weeks and repeatedly brought him to court and charged him with entering the country without a visa and reporting without permission.
Foley reported that he was treated fairly well, although he saw physical evidence that other prisoners were beaten, whipped or shocked.
He was permitted to call his mother the day before Easter after he begged his captors.
“All you want to do is tell your Mom you’re OK. . . . She might think I’m dead’’ he said.
On April 29, Foley’s colleagues were taken away, but he was left behind without explanation. After a worrisome eight days, Foley was blindfolded, placed in the back of a van and driven to a luxury villa where Gillis and Brabo had been transported. He was also met by another captured journalist, Nigel Chandler, a British freelancer.
In the last days of his captivity at the villa, Foley ate three-course meals, slept in his own room and watched cable television, which informed him that Khadafy’s son, Saadi, believed Western journalists should be well treated.
Hungarian officials checked on the journalists on May 9th and told them many people were working for their freedom.
They were finally released on May 18 when Brabo was handed over to Spanish authorities and Foley, Gillis and Chandler were driven to the Tunisian border. A hostage team of American and British soldiers, media and Foley’s brother met them there.
Foley is currently taking a short break from world conflict reporting, according to the Boston Globe, because he feels he owes it to his family to stay home for a while