A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who was detained by forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi said Thursday he feels guilty about his decision to remain in a Libyan city as fighting intensified because it may have led to the death of his young driver.
New York Times Beirut Bureau Chief Anthony Shadid became emotional Thursday as he described to an audience in Oklahoma City how he and his three colleagues were beaten and threatened on March 15 when they drove into a checkpoint manned by Gadhafi's forces.
Shadid, reporter and videographer Lynsey Addario, photographer Tyler Hicks and videographer Stephen Farrell were pulled out the car and held captive for six days, but their 21-year-old driver, Mohammed Shaglouf, hasn't been seen since.
Shadid, who worked previously for The Associated Press, said he had spoken with his father, Buddy, the night before he was detained and was warned not to return to the area.
"Maybe a little bit arrogantly, perhaps with a little bit of conceit, I said, `It's OK dad. I know what I'm doing. I've been in this situation before,'" Shadid told the crowd of several dozen people at the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum. "I guess on some level I felt that if I wasn't there to tell the story, the story wouldn't be told."
Shadid, who won the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting in 2004 and 2010 for his coverage of Iraq, said he believed that the fighting in Ajdabiya, located in eastern Libya, was going to be "decisive and momentous." The rebels are trying to break Gadhafi's four-decade rule of the country.
"I think I had enough for the story long before, but something kept me there," he said. "And that's what I'm struggling with now. We did stay too long and we stayed too long after getting the warnings."
Shadid said after interviewing doctors, patients, residents and fighters on the front lines, they came upon the checkpoint before realizing it was uniformed soldiers, not rebels, they were about to encounter. When Shaglouf told them they were journalists, all were pulled out of the car and thrown to the ground, Shadid said.
A gunfight erupted around them and they fled behind a concrete shed. Afterward, Shadid spoke to the soldiers in Arabic, which he said didn't help because they believed he was a spy. They were then forced to lie on the ground on their stomachs.
"When they put you on your stomach, you expect to get shot in the head, to be executed," he said.
They were bound with wire, blindfolded, hit with fists and rifle butts and threatened with death, he said. Addario also was groped, he said.
Over the next few days, they were kept in a room with four dirty mattresses and graffiti-marked walls. They were allowed to read Shakespeare and occasionally watch CNN, which is when they learned that news of their captivity had reached the United States.
He was relieved to return home to Beirut, and his wife, Nada Bakri, and their daughter and son.
"When you worry about not coming home, home becomes a lot more important," he said.
When asked if she wants her husband to return to writing about conflicts, Bakri said she was torn.
"As a journalist, I understand what he's doing, trying to tell the story of oppressed people. At the end of the day, he's my husband and the thought of going through life without him and raising our children alone is terrible," she said afterward.
Bakri said she, Shadid and their family planned to return to Lebanon sometime next week.