In an excerpt from his new autobiography, Guardian Editor-in-Chief Alan Rusbridger recounts “three of the more surreal days in my life” — when he went to Libya to negotiate the release of an imprisoned journalist, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, before Moammar Gadhafi’s regime fell.
Gadhafi’s son Saif sent his chief of staff, Mohammed Ismail. Rusbridger talks about his conversation with Ismail and Abdulmajeed Ramadan El-Dursi, chairman of the Foreign Media Authority.
I sketch [Ghaith] as a human being – irrepressible, human, messy, brilliant. I joke he is as much a problem to us as to them. I want to make them realise they are dealing with flesh and blood. Jackie [an American PR from LA] cuts in: “Gentlemen, what sort of coverage are you planning to give this?” Now that’s an LA publicist speaking. I answer honestly: “Ghaith has never been one to write about himself. It’s not his style. He doesn’t put himself at the heart of the story.” I tell them he had been in scrapes twice before and didn’t write self-glorifying accounts. Ismail asks, “When?” I have a heart-sinking feeling he is going to Google Ghaith to see if I’m telling the truth.
Jackie says she’s keen that everything remains low-key, and Ismail agrees. He evidently wants Ghaith out of the country, problem solved, not hanging around in Tripoli. After an hour it becomes apparent the business is done, but Ismail and Jackie, who are, currently, as close as you can get to the Gaddafi family, stay and keep talking, reasonably openly: they do not, one suspects, want needlessly to make an enemy of the Guardian.