There is much to shock and rattle you in today’s first-hand account from the New York Times journalists captured—and now released—by government forces in Libya this month. Anthony Shadid (reporter), Lynsey Addario (photographer), Stephen Farrell (journalist and videographer) and Tyler Hicks (photographer) team up for an A1 piece in which they recount their capture, captivity, brutal beatings and threats, and ultimately, the wait for their release in “a detention center that looked more like a double-wide trailer.”

Most readers will probably focus on the most gruesome aspects of the story they tell. This passage, in particular, seems lifted straight from a particularly sadistic horror film:

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.”

But equally arresting are the moments in which these four journalists wrestle with the dilemma that faces many reporters, photographers, fixers, drivers, translators, and others like them, when they’re working in dangerous areas.

There is this:

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.

And then this:

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.

It’s important to note—as Joe Pompeo reports at The Cutline—that there are still thirteen journalists in captivity in Libya. Let’s hope they will soon be able to tell their stories as well.


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Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.