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Gadhafi Exit Strategy?; Libyan Rebels Regrouping

Aired March 31, 2011 - 22:00   ET



Breaking news, everyone. Tonight, with signs of Gadhafi's inner circle is shrinking, perhaps even splitting, late word that Colonel Gadhafi might -- and I say might -- be looking for a way out.

Britain's "Guardian" newspaper reporting tonight that the regime has sent one of Saif Gadhafi's most trusted aides to London for confidential talks with British officials, the paper's sourcing, British government officials familiar with the meeting, a British Foreign Office spokesman telling "The Guardian" the envoy was told that, bottom line, Gadhafi has to go and he will be held account an by international courts.

Meantime, on the battlefield, in Libya, opposition fighters today fired rockets outside Brega. However, for the most part, they are still largely regrouping and waiting for the weather to clear, which would allow greater allied air support. For now, it's a strategy of shoot and run. Take a look, intense fighting today outside Al Brega and also in the surrounded city of Misrata further to the west.

Now, for days, the Gadhafi regime has been saying that Misrata is under their control. They even took our Nic Robertson there several days ago, drove in a mob of pro-Gadhafi people to hold a fake rally. But eyewitnesses and amateur video have told a very different story, that the fighting continues. And now, for the first time, we're actually seeing for ourselves what's really going on in Misrata.

CNN was able to send correspondent Frederik Pleitgen into Misrata. He got remarkable access to the opposition forces still fighting in that city. Here's what he saw.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Weeks of urban combat have taken their toll in Misrata. Badly damaged buildings, streets littered with wreckage. Libya's third largest city, the final opposition stronghold in the west is under siege by pro-Gadhafi forces.

(on camera): All right. So we're close to the front line right now we're with a couple of the fighters from the opposition forces and this is in downtown Misrata. There is a lot of destruction everywhere. Most of the buildings here have some sort of damage to them; pockmarks. There's a lot of destroyed cars in the streets as well and we can also see that the people that we're with -- the fighters that we're with are very, very tense at this moment.

(voice-over): The celebration on a destroyed armored vehicle a step too far for pro-Gadhafi forces nearby. And the scene turns ugly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fire, fire, fire.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As you see, that all is destroyed pro-Gadhafi forces. Buildings, gas stations, schools, (INAUDIBLE) police station, even fire station, they destroyed it.

PLEITGEN: Most residents have fled downtown Misrata as pro- Gadhafi forces have positioned snipers on tall buildings, used tanks and artillery in the city center. The anti-Gadhafi fighters badly outgunned, fight back with the few weapons they have.

They provided us with this video saying it shows a man disabling a battle tank with a rocket propelled grenade.


COOPER: Amazing stuff.

Frederik Pleitgen has left Misrata. He is now at sea on the way to Malta. He joins us from the Mediterranean. Also, Ben Wedeman joins us tonight from Ajdabiya in Libya, in Eastern Libya.

Fred, those images, it seems like, I mean, sheer utter chaos in there. And yet it does push against and -- and show that what the Libyan government has been saying, that they're in control of Misrata, is simply not true.

PLEITGEN: Absolutely, Anderson. The Libyan government is by no means in control of Misrata.

What you have is you have sort of a front line that goes right through the center of the city, where when you go to one street, you will be inside opposition-controlled territory. They will have their checkpoints. And you go a couple streets further on, and you get what happened to us in that report. You will have bullets whizzing by.

What the government has done is it has positioned snipers on a lot of key, very tall buildings. They're sort of trying to fire at people who are out in the streets. The opposition, Anderson, is really very much still holding their territory in the city of Misrata.

However, they are very badly outgunned. Some of them have AK- 47s. Some have some rocket-propelled grenades. But a lot them actually have makeshift weapons that they have made themselves, machetes. Some have tried to sort of make their air rifles a little higher-powered to give them a little more force. But they are very badly outgunned.

But the sense we got is that they are holding not only a large part of the center of the city, but also other key installations in Misrata, like the port, through which we got in with the ship, and at least some aid is also getting in, although it's very, very little -- Anderson.

COOPER: I want to talk to you about what you saw in the hospitals.

But, Ben, when you were on the front lines with the opposition today, I want to play some -- some of what you saw today. Let's take a look.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "This is useless," says fighter Salak Bingazen (ph), giving me his antiquated Soviet-made machine gun, adding that it's only good for pigeon hunter.

The fighters fire their weapons all day long, but by the afternoon, they start to run out of ammunition, which, of course, means they have to retreat.


COOPER: What are their supply lines like? What kind of -- you have been following them now for weeks. Have they -- has the force evolved? Is this a learning army?


What we see, Anderson, is still this sort of ad hoc, ragtag group of people trying to fight their way toward the west, toward they say Tripoli. But in fact, there doesn't seem to be any emerging leadership on the battlefield. There doesn't seem to be a plan. There doesn't seem to be really any vision as to how they're going to overcome the army of Moammar Gadhafi.

Their tactics haven't changed, whereas we have seen on the Libyan army side, the tactics change quite rapidly. They no longer, for instance, depend on heavy armor. They're driving around in civilian vehicles. They no longer depend on a large group of people. They really operate like a guerrilla army against the opposition.

And you see the effects, the results every day on the front. They get beaten back very easily, retreating more often than they're advancing, so not really much progress at all -- Anderson.

Frederik, what are the hospitals -- or the hospital like in Misrata? I mean, do they have supplies?

PLEITGEN: No, it's an absolute disaster, Anderson.

We were in one of the few hospitals that's actually still functioning in Misrata. The situation is so dire that they're having to operate people in the hospital corridors. Some people are being treated in the parking lot of the hospital. The emergency room is actually in a tent that's outside the hospital. And the supplies are really a very big issue. They say they lack things like anesthetic, they lack things like operating tools. And one of the things that you will have, Anderson, for instance, you will have someone who has a gunshot wound to the leg, where normally that could be treated quite easily. However, now they have to push that patient back because they have so many coming in. And in the end, they have to operate legs and other limbs that they normally wouldn't have to. So this is a very dire situation.

As I said, the boat that we're on carried some supplies into Misrata under a lot of danger, because the port is still under artillery attacks a lot from core Gadhafi forces, but it's by no means enough to meet the needs of the hospitals. And the doctors there say they're working 24/7. They stay at the hospital all the time. They don't go home anymore, simply because they're so overwhelmed with the number of casualties, Anderson.

COOPER: Ben, now that this has been taken over, the command and control has been taken by NATO, have there by fewer airstrikes since it's been handed over, and is that because of the handover or is it just because I saw there was bad weather?

WEDEMAN: Certainly, with regards to the airstrikes, we haven't seen really many today. Just an hour or so ago, I did hear planes overhead, but no airstrikes.

And, yesterday, there was a fairly intense sandstorm, so that might explain the lack or the reduction in the number of airstrikes. But, today, it was quite clear, quite -- basically, there was no sandstorm, good visibility, but still no -- no airstrikes that we saw. That may be because it's much harder to find actual targets to hit.

As the Libyan army is operating in small groups, in civilian cars, probably NATO aircraft are a bit hesitant to hit cars that may in fact contain civilians -- Anderson.

COOPER: And that goes to the point that you raised last night, Ben, about lack of communications that the opposition forces have. They're using cell phones in some cases and not able to coordinate, I assume, in any realistic battlefield real-time way with aircraft overhead.

Fred, we look forward to seeing more of your reporting of your trip to Misrata. Thanks very much. Ben, as well, stay safe. Be careful.

Just us on Facebook. You can follow me also on Twitter @AndersonCooper. I will tweeting tonight.

Up next, Moussa Koussa, the top official, you remember him? He fled Tripoli. He's now in London apparently talking on some degree to authorities. Wait until you hear what Gadhafi's spokesman is now saying about him. We're "Keeping Them Honest."

And new details what happened to Eman al-Obeidy, the woman dragged off saying Gadhafi thugs had gang-raped her. We will talk to a British reporter who tried to help her and got punched in the face for it.

Later, the four "New York Times" journalists captured, beaten, one of them sexually assaulted. They say they never expected to survive it. Tonight, they will tell us what happened and how they managed to preserve enough humanity in the eyes of their captors to save their own lives.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You could only work them if you're looking at them -- if you're looking in their eye.


COOPER: If you're showing your back, what, you're no longer a person? You're just -- you're easier to kill?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't -- you can't be talking with them, you can't be negotiating with them, you can't be pleading with them. If your back is turned to them, they're not going to have any compunction about shooting you. They're going to enjoy it.


COOPER: The story is riveting. That's ahead.

First, let's check on some other stories we're following. Isha Sesay has that -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, more troubling news from Japan, where workers are scrambling to cool down reactors at that damaged nuclear power plant. Now there's word about radioactivity being found in beef. I will have the latest.


COOPER: More on our breaking news, the British newspaper "Guardian" reporting a Gadhafi envoy traveled to London reportedly making peace overtures.

There's also new word tonight of a fresh crack in Gadhafi's inner circle, another apparent defection, a former foreign minister now in Cairo denouncing the regime.

The most recent foreign minister, Moussa Koussa, this man, meantime, is in Britain. Officials say he's talking to them willingly and that no deal was made to secure his cooperation. They say he's as close to Gadhafi as someone can be without being family. Yet, to hear the regime tell it today, his departure was no big deal and neither is he. Listen.


MUSSA IBRAHIM, LIBYAN GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN: Well, Mr. Moussa Koussa asked for a sick leave because he was exhausted physically, and he had diabetes and high blood pressure. The government or the authorities gave him the permission to leave the country to look after himself, because he was in bad need for intensive medical care. And we -- since he arrived in Tunisia a day after, we didn't have any communications with him. We understand now that he resigned from his position. That's his personal decision. Other people will step in to do the job.

QUESTION: The question was, but, for Colonel Gadhafi, is this is a big blow?


QUESTION: Do you feel this is a big blow?

IBRAHIM: Colonel Gadhafi is surrounded by many, many people who admire him and are prepared to work with him under his leadership. It's never dependent on one person.


COOPER: Spokesman Mussa Ibrahim saying a sick old man, who is not very important anyhow, asks in the middle of war for a little time off. Then, in the heat of battle, with his government under attack, he decamps to one of the foreign countries that just so happens to be bombing his homeland and starts talking to that country's intelligence services. It happens every day.

"Keeping Them Honest," even if that scenario were not absurd on the face of it, it also runs hard into a freight-load of facts.

Claim one: Moussa Koussa was old and sick, ill and exhausted. Well, for starters, he's several years younger than Moammar Gadhafi. As for his health, well, judge for yourself. During his last news conference two weeks ago, right after the U.N. authorized using force against Libya, his hands were trembling a bit.

Now, here's a frame taken from the video we showed a moment ago from his interview in February with Nic Robertson. He seems to be in relatively good shape there. Here he is last October meeting and greeting Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez. Nothing unusual about his appearance, and he certainly was healthy enough to travel. This is Moussa Koussa in Beijing, China, last May. He was in Brussels in March and in Madrid in February.

More recently, he was in Italy two months ago and at the U.N. a little over six moments ago, a pretty heavy schedule for a sick old man. As for the claim that his departure is not so important because he himself wasn't so important, well, what was he doing with all those world leaders?

And before that, what was such an insignificant and replaceable figure such as himself doing as head of Libyan intelligence for 15 years? What was he doing allegedly overseeing the Pan Am 103 bombing, as well as assassination campaigns targeting Libyan dissidents overseas? What was he doing so close to Gadhafi since almost day one?

Yet, today, faced with those facts, spokesman Mussa Ibrahim said his departure would have little impact on the regime.

Well, if all this sounds familiar, that's because this is not the first time that Mussa Ibrahim has been confronted by facts that contradict his story. Take a look at what happened when we confronted him on the regime's allegation that foreigners pushing drugs were behind this entire uprising.


COOPER: The claim I find hardest to understand is this claim that Libya's youth are being given hallucinatory pills and then brainwashed to attack. Again, Gadhafi said it was Americans doing this first. Now he says bin Laden. What drugs are being used, specifically, what hallucinatory pills?

IBRAHIM: Actually, the leader did not specifically accuse the United States of America. He really said that al Qaeda, very highly trained individuals, who now look more secular than the dwellers of the caves in Afghanistan. They were trainers...


COOPER: I'm asking you what pills, what hallucinatory pills?


IBRAHIM: ... young people to join them against -- we did indeed capture young people using those pills to...


COOPER: What pills? No, I'm asking.


COOPER: Are you talking about methamphetamine? Are you talking about ecstasy? Are you talking about LSD? Are you talking -- what are you talking about?


COOPER: He didn't have an answer.

Gadhafi's authorities, by the way, eventually showed reporters a shipment of drugs they said were hallucinogens. Instead, they were pain pills that don't cause hallucinations. They actually cause constipation.

Joining us from Tripoli, Nic Robertson. Also with us tonight from Berkeley, California, former CIA officer Bob Baer, co-author, along his wife, of "The Company We Keep: A Husband-and-Wife True-Life Spy Story," and Anne-Marie Slaughter of Princeton University and before that the Obama administration, where she headed up the State Department's policy planning staff.

You say that the defection of Moussa Koussa is a big deal; it's actually a success of the coalition strategy.

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER, DEAN, WOODROW WILSON SCHOOL OF PUBLIC AND INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS AT PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: And I think it's really proof that the strategy is working. And the strategy from the beginning has been to isolate Gadhafi, to pressure him and to convince the people around him that their days are numbered.

So, this is a really significant demonstration that the strategy working.

COOPER: Bob, you're not convinced, though, that this guy's defection is the beginning of the end for Gadhafi in any way, right?

ROBERT BAER, INTELLIGENCE ANALYST, TIME.COM: No, I don't think so. He was forced out of the intelligence service in 2009.

Gadhafi's sons all fought with him. He was on thin ice three or four months ago. But it is important in the sense that it gets a morale booster for the rebels and the United States and the West.

And I think what we should hope for is a snowballing of this and see somebody truly from the inner circle, his brother-in-law, for instance, Abdullah Senoussi, leaving. And then we would know it was the end.

COOPER: You say you have been hearing actually for several weeks that he was looking for some sort of a deal.

BAER: I know the intermediary that was dealing with European governments trying to get him out. They were putting out messages that Moussa Koussa in fact was plotting against Gadhafi, thought he could get some people together and decapitate the regime.

I don't know if that's true, but he was looking for a way out. They were looking for American channels, but it ultimately ended up in a European country and then it went to the British.

COOPER: Nic, this report now about an emissary of Saif Gadhafi's going to London, you actually heard about that before he left.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, if we can just back up and talk about Moussa Koussa, I can tell you pretty assuredly that Moammar Gadhafi actually was rattled and is rattled by his departure. It is something he is going to get over, for sure, but I can tell you for a fact it has gotten to him.

The intermediary working for Saif Gadhafi, I met with him. I have known him for 10 years now. And I met with him just a few days before he left for London. He told me that he was going, and he told me that he was going for family reasons. And we discussed this. I said that, well, it's always good to have discussions. And he said, yes. And he said, what do you mean discussions? Am I going to be interrogated? And I said, well, I don't believe so. Why would I know that?

But the very fact that this man was going, this is somebody who has worked very, very closely with Saif Gadhafi for a long time. He's done a lot of things for this regime. I first met him on the border of Afghanistan right after 2001. He had come there to escort all the Libyans who were in Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden -- out of the country.

He has been trusted by the regime and he has paid a very, very high price for it over the years. I won't go into the all the details. But knowing that he was going to London seemed to me to open the possibility that this was a man, if anyone was going to talk on behalf of Saif al-Gadhafi, this is a man who would do that.

And he is very well-known and familiar with officials in London. So he was somebody who would be known there, who would have a track record, somebody that they would recognize as a real genuine potential intermediary, if that were the case, Anderson.

COOPER: Professor Slaughter, do you think this is still the best hope in terms of trying to get this thing into a new chapter of the inner circle crumbling, that that is really the best hope?

SLAUGHTER: I do. I do. I think -- and you're certainly getting evidence that there are lots of tensions. No matter which version of the story you take, there's a lot of tension within the inner circle.

I agree that actually he is close to Saif. I think talks in Britain, where Saif has spent a lot of time, are significant. And I think, overall, people are looking at this and trying to figure out what the endgame is for them. Each person that leaves, that makes it a little scarier for the people who are still remaining.

And you may at some point just get a tipping effect. But I think this really is evidence that this combination of force and diplomacy is working.

COOPER: They have been -- the British authorities have made it clear, though, he was not offered any kind of immunity deal, Moussa Koussa.

SLAUGHTER: Yes. That's interesting. And also it's been reported today that any discussion of whether Gadhafi would leave, he would not get any kind of immunity.

You know, it sort of depends on where these people end up. If they end up in countries that don't have extradition agreements or are not subject to ICC jurisdiction, they're not going to get immunity, but they won't get prosecuted. I think we're going to have to just wait and see how that plays out.


COOPER: Bob Baer, when you look at the amount of time his -- Gadhafi's kids have spent overseas, whether it's in St. Barts or in Europe or jet-setting around the world, it would seem the idea that they're just going to be stuck in Libya for the rest of their lives, that doesn't seem a very attractive thing for them, given their penchant for international jet-set traveling. BAER: You know, Anderson, you're absolutely right. They're soft, if you like. And they don't want to follow the same fate that their father is going to follow. And that's what -- exactly what I would like to see, is one of these kids defect and other members of the clan come out.

And then I would really feel confident we're in days with -- seeing his departure.

COOPER: Because I remember one of these kids saying to Christiane Amanpour in the early days of this thing that he was upset because he had to get a lawyer because he likes to go on safari in Africa and he can't believe that he is not going to be able to do that. And that seemed to be foremost on his mind of what his biggest problem was.

BAER: Absolutely. Crack that clan, and he's done. Those elite units will fall apart. The tribe will defect. And it will all be over.

COOPER: Nic, very briefly, we only have about 30 seconds left, has Saif Gadhafi appeared? I know I saw his daughter on -- posing with troops in some areas. Is Saif still around?

ROBERTSON: We believe he is. Certainly, there are other members of the family around. Again, these are details I don't really want to go into. But there are other members of the family around. And I can say reasonably assuredly that they haven't given up hope. They still believe in their father, and they're saying pretty much what they were saying before, Anderson.

COOPER: Nic Robertson, appreciate it. Thanks very much, Bob Baer as well. And Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up, the latest on Eman al-Obeidy, last seen Saturday screaming that she had been gang-raped by Gadhafi troops -- what the Libyan government is saying about where she is now, new information on that and what her family is saying. And you will hear from ITN reporter Jonathan Miller. He's on the left in that video in the blue shirt trying to help her right before she was driven away. He got punched in the face. He tells me what he saw up close that day.

And later, a 360 exclusive with the four "New York Times" journalists who were held captive by Gadhafi's troops for nearly a week. Their story is riveting. Photographer Lynsey Addario, the only woman in the group, told a harrowing tale about being not only punched, but repeatedly groped. She told me about one particularly chilling moments when one of the troops started stroking her hair.


LYNSEY ADDARIO, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I sort of tried to put my head down, and he picked it up and just kept caressing me in this weird sort of tender way. And I -- and he was say thing phrase over and over. And I said to Anthony, I said, what is (INAUDIBLE), right, or (INAUDIBLE), yes. I said, what is he saying?

And Anthony said, he's telling you're going to die tonight.



COOPER: New video tonight -- take a look -- of a wedding ceremony in Eastern Libya.

Now, it's up unusual because it takes place during wartime, but it's really unusual because the bride is missing. The bride is Eman al-Obeidy. She's not at her wedding ceremony, which is being held as a very public affirmation of her honor.

As you know, she was last seen on Saturday when she stood up before cameras in Tripoli in a hotel and said that she had been gang- raped by Gadhafi troops. Plainclothes officials, thugs dragged her away, and ever since, authorities have been -- well, they have been blowing smoke about what's become of her.

First, they said she had been released and was with her family. Her family says that's a lie. Today, when confronted by reporters, Libyan government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim said he didn't know her immediate whereabouts. Then, even though he supposedly doesn't know where she is, he said that she would be made available on Saturday for an interview with two female reporters. Eman's parents have their doubts. When reporters tried to pin him down on her location, he said this.


MOUSSA IMBRAHIM, LIBYAN GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN: The only place other than her family's house, we have usually -- how to say this in English, like a place -- maybe some of the Arab speakers will help me -- a place for a woman who have been raped or like a shelter, some sort of shelter. It's a social shelter for women who have been traumatized or raped or kidnapped and they have social stigma against them, they are in danger of any sort. It's a social care place for women, especially for women. It's a major place in Tripoli, and maybe she is there to look after her psychologically and make sure she is fine.


COOPER: Well, late today, we checked again with her parents. They told us they're yet to hear from their daughter and remain totally in the dark about her whereabouts.

As for the facility that that guy is talking about, according to a 2006 human rights report -- watch report, there is no limit on the length of time the government can hold women there.

And even if Eman -- if Eman were home safe right now, everything about the rest of her experience shocks the conscience. It certainly has shaken ITN's Jonathan Miller who witnesses much of it up close. He was in the hotel that day. I spoke to him earlier.


COOPER: Jonathan, I think everybody who has seen the incident with Eman al-Obeidy in the hotel is -- has been incredibly disturbed by this, and the reason we're doing this is because we think it's important to continue focusing on her in order to get information about what has really happened to her.

Explain where you were when she came in. How did you first get involved with this?

JONATHAN MILLER, ITN REPORTER: Well, I'd just inadvertently walked back into the dining room, having left it, and I found myself ten yards behind her as she stopped and brought the whole place to a halt. There was an electrifying silence as people just stopped what they were doing. Most were just eating breakfast, a group of journalists, government minders, and they all turned around and stared at this woman, dressed in a black coat. I think some of them actually feared that at first she might be a suicide bomber.

She shrieked out and at the same time was drawing up her coat and exposed a gash on her leg, a long deep scratch. And what she was screaming in Arabic was, "Look what Gadhafi's militia have done to me." It was, as I say, really shocking.

And she was very quickly shepherded away over to the side and surrounded by a handful of journalists, me among them, and some serving staff, some -- some waitresses and waiters, who tried to shut her up. And said, "Look, be quiet. Who on earth do you think you are? You're a traitor. You're betraying the regime. You're betraying Gadhafi."

And we just couldn't believe our ears. These people who had been serving us coffee and cold drinks were suddenly trying to silence this woman. And within minutes, when the cameras began to arrive, pushing them out of the way.

And so a number of journalists realized what was going on, and we became quite irate at the way in which these serving staff had intervened. But by then, the government minders had arrived.

COOPER: You got punched in the face, right?

MILLER: I did, yes. I wasn't the only one, though. I mean, I watched as a fellow British correspondent was dragged away. He had lashed out and said, "Look, just leave her alone. Let us hear her story." It was like a barroom brawl. I've seen nothing like it. But what happened to the journalists, the kicking that they got, the tackles, and it all spilled out into the lobby. It was absolutely extraordinary.

COOPER: I want to show our viewers those final moments where we see her being put into the car. Because you appear. You try to intervene, sort of a last-ditch effort to get between her and the minders in that car. And you're demanding to know where she's being taken. And you get shoved off. I just want to show our viewers that moment.


MILLER: Where are you going with her? Where the hell are you going with her?


COOPER: How frustrating is this? I mean, not just as a reporter but as a human being to be in this situation where, you know, you've been lied to for all the time you've been there. You've been tightly controlled. And to see somebody like this being manhandled and taken away to who knows where, and not being able to really do anything about it?

MILLER: You know, we feared for this woman's safety terribly. It was a remarkable thing to have happened, though. Because for all those weeks that you have described the journalists being in Tripoli locked down in this hotel, unable to really talk to ordinary Libyans, to hear their perspectives of how things and what they really felt, only being taken out on these shepherded tours and government buses to meet people who love Gadhafi and demonstrators who shouted and ranted and raved at me that they had green blood flowing in their veins, not red. Well, we couldn't get the story. We couldn't hear what ordinary people wanted to tell us. They were too frightened. They did not dare stick their heads above the parapet.

But on Saturday morning, this very courageous woman, Eman al- Obeidy, who was besmirched by the government spokesman over the next couple of days, first of all as a drunk, then as someone mentally unbalanced, then possibly as a prostitute, she had the courage to come in to the journalists, and she brought the story to us.

So there we were in our bubble, held under virtual house arrest in that Tripoli hotel. But she dared to come in and tell us what was really going on, and it was a very shocking, very striking incident. And I really join with all those other journalists and just truly saluted her courage in doing so.

COOPER: Jonathan Miller, I've enjoyed following your reporting, and I appreciate your efforts. Thank you for being with us.


COOPER: Still ahead, my exclusive primetime interview with four "New York Times" journalists held captive in Libya. They describe why the ordeal was more terrifying than any close call they've ever had, and they've had a lot of them in their long careers.


COOPER: You really thought you were going to die?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. When they demanded we lay on our stomachs, we all were begging, "No, we don't want to. We're sorry." We're begging not to go on our stomachs. We all felt that once we were on our stomachs, they were just going to start shooting.


COOPER: Also ahead tonight, new worries over tainted food in Japan. High levels of radiation have now been found in beef. That development ahead.


COOPER: Tonight a 360 exclusive: the first primetime interview with four "New York Times" journalists who were held captive by the Gadhafi regime for nearly a week. They were threatened with death and fully believed they could be killed at any time.

Steven Farrell, Anthony Shadid, Tyler Hicks and Lynsey Addario are shown here with the Turkish ambassador who helped secure their release. But someone is missing from this picture: their driver who was captured with them. His name was Mohammed, and no one knows exactly what's happened to him.

Keep in mind: all four of these journalists are tough, seasoned war correspondents. In this photo, Tyler Hicks is on the far right in the glasses. Lynsey Addario is in the far left in sunglasses. As you can see, they're used to being in the thick of it.

All four have been in dicey situations before, but this time was different for all of them. Here's what they told me earlier tonight.


COOPER: Lynsey, start at the beginning. You guys were driving out of Ajdabiya, because you knew Gadhafi forces were moving in, right?

HICKS: Yes. We had been treating this in the same way that we had with other cities that had fighting in them, like Brega, Ras Lanuf. So as Gadhafi forces were bombing from the west of the city inwards, we were kind of pulling back slowly as that add Vance was coming.

COOPER: And you're all in one vehicle. You have a driver, a guy named Mohammed. And you're driving, what, to the -- to the east gate of the city?

ANTHONY SHADID, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": That was I think the haunting -- one of the things that played over in my head that creeping realization of what we were actually up against. And Lynsey was the first to realize that it was a government checkpoint.

And it must have been seconds, but it fell like minutes. As we got closer and closer, we saw the green military uniforms, the military vehicles, and then almost -- I mean, almost instantly we realized that we were -- we were actually at a government checkpoint and that we had no options.

COOPER: And that's got to be the worst feeling to see the green vehicles and realize, OK, wait a minute. There's a level of organization. These aren't opposition forces. These are Gadhafi's people.

LYNSEY ADDARIO, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": And you can't turn around and go back, because they'll open fire. I mean, you assume they would open fire. You look more suspicious if you try and run away.

So we just sort of -- we made a decision to go forward. And at some point, you know, there's all -- it's so chaotic, you don't know what the best option is. I mean, Tyler was saying, "Don't stop, don't stop," because we kind of just wanted to coast through and hope that they didn't recognize we were foreigners. But at the same time, they knew that we were. I mean, they saw Tyler in the front seat.

COOPER: And the risk is if you don't stop they'll just open fire.

ADDARIO: Right. I mean, it's kind of a no-win situation. So -- and then our driver, he stopped the car, and he jumped out and said, "Zahafa (ph), journalist." And then...

CLINTON: All hell broke loose?


And very quickly, you find yourselves laying on your stomachs, bound. And you hear one of the soldiers -- you speak Arabic, correct? You hear one of the soldiers say, "Shoot them."

SHADID: That's right. We were put on our knees first, and there was a lot of kind of slapping. There was you know -- emptying our pockets.

And I remember one of the soldiers was yelling at we, "You're the translator. You're the spy."

And then soon after that they forced us on our stomachs. And I think we all had that very sinking feeling that this was it. And I remember on my stomach, looking up at a tall soldier and saying, shoot them. And it felt like, to me, again it felt like a lot of time elapsed, but I think it was just a matter of seconds, and another soldier said to him, "You can't. They're Americans."

COOPER: I want to read something that you wrote about that moment. You said, "At that moment, though none of us thought we were going to live, Steve tried to keep eye contact until they pulled the trigger. The rest of us felt the powerless of resignation. You feel empty when you know that it's almost over." Explain that. What do you mean?

SHADID: I don't know how my colleagues felt, but I remember, it wasn't panic necessarily. It wasn't that kind of, like, desperation of flailing about that you're about to be killed. It was almost that, it's hard to describe other than calling it resignation or emptiness that, you know, the moment is drawing near and you're kind of waiting for it. COOPER: You really thought you were going to die?

HICKS: Yes. When they demanded we lay on our stomachs, we all were begging no, we don't want to. We're sorry." We're begging not to go on our stomachs. We all felt that once we were on our stomachs they were just going to start shooting. And as soon as I went on my stomach, I was just waiting to hear gunfire. And it was really a sinking and empty feeling.

COOPER: Is that why you wanted to maintain eye contact?

STEVEN FARRELL, "NEW YORK TIMES": Yes. It's never over until it's over. And I've been in this situation before.

COOPER: You were taken hostage in Afghanistan.

FARRELL: In Afghanistan and in Iraq in 2004. And the...

COOPER: Are you lucky or incredibly unlucky?

FARRELL: Both. I mean, there was no real question of making a run for it at that point because you're surrounded by guns. If you present your back to these guys, they're just going to shoot you and enjoy doing it. You can only work them if you're looking at them, if you're looking in their eye.

COOPER: If you're showing your back, when you're no longer a person, you're easier to kill?

FARRELL: You can't be talking with them. You can't be negotiating. You can't be pleading with them if your back is turned to them. They're not going to have any compunction about shooting you; they're going to enjoy it.

So we were just -- Anthony was working. Anthony was throwing the Arabic. I was throwing what Arabic I had at them. You're just pushing -- you just push every button you can, as quickly as you can in the seconds you may or may not have. Journalists, that wasn't working. Americans, that did seem to hit a chord.

And they were forcing us on a -- they were saying "get down" and we were all -- we all went halfway. It's crazy. You're like compromising with nothing, no cards to play. You're trying to play them. You're get down, I'll go on my knees. I'm just not going all the way down, face down, because then you've kind of lost everything.

COOPER: And you think it's the fact that they viewed you as Americans? That's what made the difference.

SHADID: I think the idea of executing three Americans and a British journalist was -- would have had implications. And there was going to be, you know, repercussions of basically executing us there at a checkpoint, that we were somehow -- I try to say this without value (ph) but we were somehow worth something.

COOPER: Did -- they don't shoot you. You find yourself in the back of -- in a vehicle. Battling continues to go on. But how violent were they with you? I mean, it seems like you were -- you met lots of different groups of militia members and soldiers. And each time you met them early on, they kind of wanted to exert dominance over you.

SHADID: That's right. I think it was always those first moments. We always experienced that. And when I was getting loaded in, there was a head butt. I know.

COOPER: They head butted you?

SHADID: In the very beginning. Others of us were getting, you know, slaps and hits to the back of the head. And then, you know, this was a pattern. As time wore on, in each of these occasions, you know, I tried to describe it to someone is, is that the society's deeper instinct for generosity or hospitality would show through.

But that initial kind of rage and fear, I think it says something about the government that's been in place for so long and disfigured that society and state. That was what we were met with initially.

FARRELL: And when you are captive in this situation, it's extraordinary how you resist change. I mean, to you, I'm bound. My feet are bound. I'm blindfolded. I'm in a car, but I'm not dead. Please just don't change that. I don't want to be moved to another car. I don't want to meet another group. I don't want to go anywhere, because I'm not dead here and now, and I don't know what will happen.

COOPER: And what the next group will be like.

FARRELL: Exactly.

COOPER: And Lynsey, you weren't spared any different treatment because you were a woman?

ADDARIO: I think I was spared. I was punched in the face twice.

COOPER: While you were bound?

ADDARIO: Yes, while I was bound. The first time was right at the beginning when they took us. They put Steve and I in one car. And they lifted me up first. Two men picked me up and put me in the car. And this was before Steve got in.

And I remember I was sitting in the car, and I'm bound. And they had bound my hands so tight they were starting to go numb. And I'm sitting there, and my hair was falling in my face, and you can't do anything. You know, it was really irritating me. And I'm sitting there, just blowing the wisps -- wisps of hair out of my face. And this guy came up next to me. And my instinct was that, oh, he's going to help me, and he just punched me in the side of the face.

And to me, I've never been punched in the face before. I mean, it actually was -- I was really surprised. I thought, wow, that's really strange. And then I started crying, because I thought, "It's only going to get worse. This is just -- you know, we're in the first 15 minutes. You know, this could last months."

COOPER: What happened when you started crying? What was his reaction?

ADDARIO: He started laughing.

COOPER: Obviously, as a woman, you mentioned early on, you were afraid about -- about being raped. They would come and sort of grope you, right?

ADDARIO: They came and groped me every -- from the minute we were taken from when we were put on the ground face down, and then they started searching our pockets. The guy flipped me over and immediately just started touching me.

And I think, for me, I've never been touched like that in the Muslim world, and I've been working 11 years in the Muslim world. So I said -- that's when I said, oh, God, I just don't want to be raped.

And so for me the entire time this went on, my one fear was that I was going to get separated from the group, because I kept thinking they might drag me off. And so every time I was blindfolded or moved somewhere, I kept saying, "Are you there, are you with me?" We all were very scared about being separated.

But I wasn't. I mean, there was one time in the prison where someone came in and picked up my leg and tried to drag me out of the cell, and I squirmed up and literally, like, spooned Anthony. And I think you were like -- you were, like, asleep or something. And the guy -- the guy put my leg down and then he picked it back up and started pulling out again. And I squirmed back up, and I basically just lie next to Anthony, and he left. He just sort of gave up and said OK.

COOPER: There was another moment where somebody was stroking your hair.

ADDARIO: Yes, it was twisted. I was sitting next to Anthony, and we were all put in the back of a land cruiser. And I was on the end, and, again, blindfolded and hands tied behind my back at this point.

And I was sitting like this, and a guy reached over from the front seat and started caressing my hair like either -- like a mother would a son or a daughter, and then he started touching my face, very sort of gently and saying this phrase over and over.

And I sort of tried to put my head down, and he picked it up and just kept caressing me in this weird sort of tender way. And I -- and he was saying this phrase over and over. And I said to Anthony, I said, "What's morte (ph)," right? Morte (ph)? Yes. I said, "What is he saying?"

And Anthony said, "He's telling you you're going to die tonight."

And I just -- I mean, what can you say? I mea, there's not -- it's so incongruous.


COOPER: Just incredible. And that was just the beginning for them. They were held for some seven days. I talked to them, I interviewed them for about 50 minutes today, so there's extensive interviews ahead. We're going to have more tomorrow night. That was about ten minutes or so. We'll have more tomorrow night and more next week, as well.

Still ahead, though, tonight, new information about the spreading threat of Japan's nuclear disaster. High levels of radiation have now been found in beef near the damaged plant. Isha Sesay has that, next.


COOPER: I should also put out we're going to put together an hour special with those "New York Times" journalists probably next week. We'll give you programming information on that when we have it. But part two of the interview tomorrow night.

Let's check the latest and some of the other stories we're following. Isha Sesay has a "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, new worries in Japan. Radioactive cesium higher than the legal limit has now been found in beef from near the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Japan's health ministry has ordered more testing and said he meat will not be sold.

Now, this comes on the heels of the highest radiation spike yet in seawater near that plant where workers are trying to cool damaged reactors. Today, rains and winds at the plants to spread water and synthetic resin (ph) around the complex to keep radioactive particles from spreading any further.

In New Orleans, a federal judge gave two former police officers stiff sentences in the killing of 31-year-old Henry Glover days after Hurricane Katrina. David Warren, shown here on the right, received a 25-year sentence for the shooting of Glover, who was unarmed. Greg McRae, who admitted burning a car that contained Glover's body, received a 17-year sentence.

The Dow today lost its best first quarter since 1999. The index gained 6.4 percent or 742 points in the first three months of the year.

The jig is up for the Bronx Zoo cobra that's been AWOL since last weekend. The 20-inch snake has been found. She turned up inside the reptile house, which she apparently never left.

Though she didn't get far, Anderson, she did manage to acquire nearly 200,000 Twitter followers while missing. Not bad, I say.

And according to "People" magazine, there will be no wedding ring for the future king of England. Prince William apparently isn't keen on jewelry and is opting to keep his ring finger bare after tying the knot next month. Kate Middleton will have a wedding band, made from Welsh gold.

She's a better woman than I am. My husband to be will be wearing a ring as big as my head.

COOPER: Are you excited about the wedding?

SESAY: I am very excited about the wedding. Very excited.

COOPER: Me, too. It will be fun. We're going to be -- we're going to be covering it. I hope -- are you going to be there? Are you going to be there?

SESAY: I am hoping to be by your side.

COOPER: I would hope that. I hope that, as well. We'll see what we can do.

SESAY: We will see.

COOPER: A note about some news we received today at CNN. We learned we won a Peabody award for our coverage of the Gulf oil spill. It's a great honor, one we're proud of, because the story was so important, was the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

For three straight months, CNN had teams of reporters in the Gulf, reporting on the damage, the wildlife, and the coast. I think we did our program from there for about two months. Eleven workers died, of course, when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded.

The survivors told us what happened that horrific night. We'll have more of their stories. The anniversary approaches.

A lot more ahead. Stay with us.