by Staff Writers
Tripoli (AFP) Sept 9, 2011
When war veteran Richard Peters arrived in Libya's coastal capital in January he did not foresee either the popular uprising against Moamer Kadhafi or jail-time looming on his horizon.
But when protests escalated to war in February, the former US Navy SEAL turned contractor decided to head east, where he thought he would be able to help secure oil installations or train rebels to fight against Kadhafi.
"There were checkpoints every four or five miles," Peters recalled in an interview with AFP.
But his progress was short-lived. He was detained and driven back blindfolded in the opposite direction by regime agents who were so convinced Peters was a spy that they put him through six interrogations, the longest lasting 10 hours.
"I know who you are: you are a human frog," one interrogator told Peters, a former "frogman." The mistake prompted a chuckle out of the captive, both then and now.
Peters, 62, reviews every chapter of his ordeal with a healthy dose of humour, even sympathising with interrogators who kicked him, saying they were clearly under a lot of pressure to dig up any dirt on him they could.
He said interrogators used a car key alarm in an unsuccessful bid to convince him he was hooked up to a polygraph or lie detector, and threatened to take him in for a "military interrogation" in the hope he would crack.
But he never did.
Peters does not even flinch when retracing his steps back to his cell at a police detention centre in Al-Furnash neighbourhood, where food was so scarce in the end that he only got a few dates and a lukewarm carton of milk per day.
"It is kind of neat to come back and see this place from the outside," said Peters, as he sauntered past guards on site, disarming them with a mix of charm and determination.
"Remember me? I was locked here for six months. I'm Libyan now," he joked.
Although Peters lost some 80 pounds (36 kilos) while behind bars, at first glance it seems as if the California native left a bigger mark on the prison than it did on him.
Mehdi Talia, the only social worker for a prison population of 400 during the war, immediately recognised him when Peters returned to visit the cell he called home.
"Welcome back, we are free now, we have nothing to hide from you," said Talia with a bemused smile as the American twice his size shook his hand and showered him with congratulations on the new chapter ahead for Libya.
"You are the American? Your papers are in my house," a guard chipped in.
Peters, a married man and father of five, says he stayed sane while in solitary confinement by reading a copy of the Bible, exercising and monitoring the guards in the hope of spotting an oversight and being able to make a move.
"I was anticipating a mistake every day," he said, adding that when guards abandoned their posts on August 20, he knew the golden opportunity he had prayed for all along had finally arrived.
"I just started running and doing front snap kicks at the door. After 25 or 30 of them, it blew the whole door out. Thank you, lord, for poor construction."
The ex-SEAL released fellow prisoners on his way out and then took shelter in a nearby public building where Kadhafi's portrait still loomed large.
"When I got out, I didn't know who was good or who was bad," he said.
Rebels found him hours later armed with a pipe and ready for a fight. But the moment of tension was defused when one fighter said "Kadhafi no good," a mantra promptly repeated by the American.
A local family then gave him room and board.
"He was very skinny when he came so we fed him and gave him everything we could except petrol which we didn't have," said Hadi Amar, 65, a father of nine.
Peters says he is going to stay in Libya to secure projects for his two companies, Associated Construction Management and Global Security and Retrieval, the original reason he came to Tripoli.
He has great hopes for the north African nation he now calls home.
"Libyans are the sweetest people. Their heart is in it so they will get it right, and you just want to do everything you can to help them," he said.
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Turkish warships will protect Gaza aid convoys: PM
Dubai (AFP) Sept 9, 2011
Turkish warships will escort the country's aid vessels bound for the Gaza Strip, protecting them from Israeli ships, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said late Thursday. "Turkish warships will be tasked with protecting the Turkish boats bringing humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip," Erdogan told Al Jazeera television, according to an Arab-language translation of his comments in Turkish. ... read more
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