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Freed journalists await word on missing driver, reflect on Libyan captivity

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Journalists reflect on captors' cruelty
  • The journalists believe their Libyan driver may have been killed by pro-Gadhafi forces
  • They feel 'a huge responsibility' for the missing driver
  • The journalists have been reassessing how much risk is worth taking to get a story
  • They say they realize how dehumanization of prisoners can lead to violence

(CNN) -- The four New York Times staffers recently held captive for about a week by pro-Moammar Gadhafi troops made it out of Libya alive.

However, they're unsure if their driver, Mohammed, did. And the experience is forcing the seasoned war journalists to reconsider how they look at the world.

"We probably should have died those first 12 hours, given, you know, the intensity of the firefight and the positions we were in," Anthony Shadid told Anderson Cooper on CNN's "AC360."

But when Shadid and his colleagues Lynsey Addario, Stephen Farrell and Tyler Hicks emerged unscathed from the firefight, they fled right into the arms of their soon-to-be captors, who were manning a government checkpoint.

Mohammed got out of their vehicle at the checkpoint.

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Freed photojournalist tells her story
Journalists recount being taken in Libya

The journalists, who were blindfolded soon thereafter, aren't sure if they ever saw him again, but suspect the worst.

Addario recalled, "I looked over, and I saw our car, and one of the doors was open, and there was a guy taking out stuff and putting it on the sidewalk. And I looked down and next to the driver's side was a man, face down with one arm outstretched, and he clearly wasn't moving. And my initial thought was, 'It's Mohammed.' But I don't -- I didn't see his face, and it's hard to say, because we don't know. You know, there was so much chaos after the car was stopped."

Hicks said Mohammed was about 21 years old and a great driver.

"We've been checking the jails, the hospitals, morgues, everything," Hicks said. "And still, nothing has come forward. And you know, this is all weighing very heavily on all of us... We feel this huge responsibility."

Shadid recently wrote in the Times that, "If he died, we will have to bear the burden for the rest of our lives. And an innocent man died because of us, because of the 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."

When Cooper asked him about that quote, Shadid responded, "I think the full impact of that burden is -- I mean, it's certainly starting to dawn on me. You know, why didn't I leave earlier? You know, why did I stay as long as I did. You know, you hope that you -- you're doing it, because that story wouldn't have been told otherwise. But even if that story wouldn't have been told otherwise, it wasn't worth someone's life."

Farrell said that the same gambles that can pay off with information for journalists can also put lives at risk.

Hicks said that can cause psychological stress for loved ones.

"It was really quite emotional," he said. "There are three days that my family, for example, didn't know if I was dead or alive. You know, that's a lot, a lot to put your family through and everyone else that you knew."

Addario says the psychological trauma she endured at the hands of her kidnappers has changed the way she sees people and prisoners.

"I've photographed prisoners with the hoods on and their hands bound, and I've never thought about what it feels like to be completely removed of all of your senses. I mean, it never dawned on me. Not that I'm insensitive, but I just -- because it's never happened to me before," she said.

"You have to dehumanize somebody, I think, before you can be violent," Shadid added.

Ultimately, the journalists' shared humanity helped them pull through.

"There were moments when I was -- I couldn't stop crying. And I felt so weak and I -- and I tried to sort of muffle it. And I was trying not to cry," Addario remembers. "Inevitably, one of [my colleagues] was sitting next to me and would say, 'There are people who love you. We're going to get out of this. You just have to get there,' you know. And so it's very helpful to have colleagues with you. I mean, we were so lucky that we were together."

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 14 journalists have been killed around the world so far in 2011, including two slain by crossfire in Libya and one each in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, some of the other Arab countries that have experienced uprisings this year.

Sabah al-Bazee, a freelance journalist who regularly contributed to CNN, was killed this week in Iraq. Currently, two Reuters journalists are missing in Syria.

Watch Anderson Cooper 360° weeknights 8pm ET. For the latest from AC360° click here.

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