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Monday, Apr 18, 2011, 11:45 am

Free Foley: U.S. Journalist (and ITT Contributor) Captured in Libya Still Incommunicado

By Jeremy Gantz
Jim Foley in Libya
Jim Foley, reporting from Benghazi, Libya.

Last month, my friend Jim Foley dropped me a line to say he was heading into Libya to do some reporting. On March 16, he wrote again to say he had made it to Benghazi and would like to write a story for In These Times focusing on the new, improvised economy sprouting up in the rebel stronghold. I was excited he was there, but also worried.

During the last few years, Jim has reported for In These Times from Iraq and Afghanistan while embedded with the U.S. military. Those are war zones as well, of course, and Jim knows how to take care of himself, having spent the last three years in the Middle East. But heading solo into Libya—just days before the U.S./NATO bombing campaign began—is even more dangerous than reporting within U.S. military operations, alongside American soldiers.

A few weeks passed, as Jim kept himself busy reporting for the excellent online international new site Global Post and shooting video for other news organizations. (All his work is collected on his blog, A World of Troubles.) I checked in with Jim on April 5.

A few days later, I found out why he still hadn't responded.

That same day, Tuesday April 5, Jim had been taken prisoner by Libyan government forces, along with at least two other western journalists, including one American. They were on the outskirts of Brega, an oil town in the east that has hosted some of the most intense fighting between Gaddafi forces and the rebels. Human Rights Watch says the journalists' van was attacked on a highway, and they were then moved to a detention facility in Tripoli on April 7, the Chicago Tribune reported today. As that first week ended, rumors circulated that the quartet would soon be released in Tripoli, much as four New York Times journalists had been less than a week after their capture in March.

Not only has that not happened, but the Libyan government has not actually confirmed it is holding Jim and the other journalists, or allowed anyone to visit them. Nothing. Just silence, which, given how the Times' reporters were treated and Libya's grim human rights record, is terrifying to contemplate.

Yesterday, Jim's parents held a candlelight vigil to push for his release. "We miss him tremendously, and tonight we appeal directly to the Libyan government and to Colonel Gadhafi to release our son and to do so without further delay," John Foley said. Another vigil was held in Chicago, where Jim attended Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. (I was lucky to meet him there; during our time at Medill, we moved to Washington to report on military and national security issues. That experience, I believe, led him to embed with an Indiana National Guard unit in Iraq in early 2008; he's been in the Middle East ever since.)

Global Post, which is working with the State Department and other news organization to force their release, reports that Turkish diplomats, who still have an embassy in Tripoli, think they'll be "good news" soon. But for now, there's plenty of bad news, as the site reports:

"Libyan and foreign journalists are facing unlawful restrictions from the government, including incommunicado detention in Tripoli," said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch. "If the government has nothing to hide, then it should let the media do its work."

Human Rights Watch said that nine foreign journalists and six Libyan journalists are now detained or missing in Libya.

"It's now over a week since Clare Gillis, James Foley, and Manu Brabo were sent to Tripoli, and they still haven't been allowed contact with the outside world," Bouckaert said. "Their isolation is compounding the suffering of their families."

There are a few things you can do right now to help pressure Gaddafi and his embattled government to release Jim and the others:

Go to FreeFoley.org, sign this petition, and spread the word on Facebook. At FreeFoley.org you can download a poster to make Jim's sudden invisibility more visible. "Everyone in the country needs to know about Jim," the site, created by Jim's friends, declares.

I agree, and you should too. As Jim knew better than most, we live in a world of troubles—and we need intrepid reporters who go where the action is to show us the world as it is, not the version of reality repressive governments would rather we see.

Jeremy Gantz was the Web/Associate Editor of In These Times from 2008 to 2012. His January 2011 cover story for the magazine, "Terrorist by Association," was selected as a finalist for the Molly National Journalism Award 2012. He is now a contributing editor to the magazine, focusing on labor issues.

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