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The Revealer: Clue Number Three
August 31st, 2011
08:18 PM ET

The Revealer: Clue Number Three

After a brief summer hiatus, The Revealer returns to BackStory this Thursday!  So, you know what that means...the return of The Revealer game.  Longtime fans of the show already know the drill:  in the week leading up to the debut of The Revealer segment, we will post new photographs daily that offer visual clues to the subject of the episode.

Here's the third clue:  Archaeoastronomy brings a fresh perspective to the most studied archaeological site on the planet.

Think you know the focus of this week's episode of The Revealer?  Post your response in the comments section below.

Filed under: backstory • The Revealer
The Revealer Game... Clue Number Two
August 30th, 2011
08:14 PM ET

The Revealer Game... Clue Number Two

After a brief summer hiatus, The Revealer returns to BackStory this Thursday!  So, you know what that means... the return of The Revealer game.  Longtime fans of the show already know the drill:  in the week leading up to the debut of The Revealer segment, we will post new photographs daily that offer visual clues to the subject of the episode.

Here's the second clue:  Are you familiar with the real estate marketing phrase, "location, location, location"?  It seems the ancient people who created these iconic structures had that phrase on their minds.

Think you know the focus of this week's episode of The Revealer?  Post your response in the comments section below.

Filed under: backstory • The Revealer
The Revealer Returns
August 29th, 2011
08:28 PM ET

The Revealer Returns

After a brief summer hiatus, our featured segment, "The Revealer", returns this Thursday!  So, you know what that means... the return of The Revealer Game.  Long-time fans of the show already know the drill:  In the days leading up to the debut of this week's Revealer segment, we will post new photographs each day, offering visual clues to the subject of this week's episode.

Here's the first clue:  It's a historic site that draws millions of tourists every year.  We know a great deal about how it was created.  But, for the longest time, no one was sure WHY it was built where it was.

Think you know the focus of this week's episode of The Revealer?  Post your response in the comments section below.


Filed under: Uncategorized
August 29th, 2011
06:23 PM ET

Finding the Lockerbie Bomber in Libya

by Nic Robertson, CNN Senior International Correspondent

Nothing could have prepared me for what I'm about to see.

I'm in a fancy villa in a posh part of Tripoli, walking through the garden past a huge plastic children's swing set and a trampoline that dominate the lush green lawn. A young man is filling a large swimming pool.

All this in a city where water is running out. I've not had a shower or washed in running water for three days. The al-Megrahis, it seems, are not short of money.

This villa connects to another, equally palatial but far more contemporary. It's clad in modern ceramic tiles, like something you'd see in trendy London neighborhood.

As I walk up the grand staircase towards the front door, I'm mentally composing my questions - what I'll ask Abdel Basset al-Megrahi first. Did you do it? Did Gadhafi give you the orders?

I've been waiting for the moment for a long time.

When Pan Am Flight 103 was blown out of the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland, I spent the night trying to get the first live pictures back to London and saw the first grainy images revealing the horror of what had happened. I'd covered Megrahi's trial in Camp Ziest in the Netherlands, a tiny patch of Scotland on Dutch soil created out of a compromise with Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi to get the trial in a Scottish court and begin Libya's long slow rehabilitation with the West.

A U.N. observer called the trial "a spectacular miscarriage of justice." Al-Megrahi pleaded innocent and always has said he wanted to clear his name. He knew more than came out the trial.

When he was released from a Scottish jail two years ago, on compassionate grounds, given only three months to live by doctors after serving eight years of a life sentence, it seemed that perhaps the time had come to learn his secrets.

A few weeks later, I saw him, and officials told me I might get to interview him. It was a lie. They had too much to hide and did their best to keep him away from journalists.

Now, with Gadhafi gone, the moment had come. His family invites me inside his home to meet him.

Through the doors, after the harsh sunlight, it's darker than I expect. My eyes quickly adjust, and I'm scanning the large hall looking for the gray-haired al-Megrahi.

The last time I saw him, he was in a wheelchair. He'd looked weak, worn out by meeting so many family and friends on his return, I was told.

But I thought at least we could have a conversation. Maybe it would be a little slow, but I am ready, my questions clear. We walk towards a rather grand staircase. Then, just as I expect to begin the climb, we turn abruptly left into a tiny, high-ceilinged room lined with red and tan wallpaper, patterned in the way elderly men seem to like in their studies.

I was expecting al-Megrahi to be in a comfy armchair, but he was not.

Where the chair might have been, in the corner facing the door, was a metal hospital bed - the type with wheels that can raise and lower a patient's back. Beneath the blankets was al-Megrahi, eyes shut, inert.

At first I didn't know what to do. My carefully thought-through questions were useless. I was stunned. Was I being shown him so I would see with my eyes how sick he was? Should I try to talk to him?

I took in all I was seeing. The oxygen mask on his face, the old, sick lady - his mother, I was told - at his bedside, the drip hanging a foot from his head. His skin seemed paper-thin, his face sallow and sunken.

Was this all a drama for me? Was this real, or had they invited me after my 15-minute wait outside after the "stage" was set?

My fingers are fumbling on my camera. I'm still in shock. This was so much not what I was prepared for.

In the two decades since the bombing, which killed 270 passengers, crew and townspeople below, it seemed the secrets of the attack would die with the bombers. Al-Megrahi had promised to prove his innocence. With Gadhafi gone, I thought this could be the moment he points the finger of blame.

The air feels heavy in the room, silent aside from a quiet hissing from the oxygen bottle by the bed. Then his son Khaled speaks.

He tells me his father hasn't seen a doctor since they rescued him from a hospital before Tripoli fell to the rebels, whom he said looted all the medicine from their house

"We just give him oxygen," his son says. "Nobody gives us any advice. And some food by injection (drip) ... If you see his body he is weak."

As we speak, I watch to see if his father stirs. There is no movement. His eyes remain shut. Khaled keeps talking.

"What about demands he finish his sentence in Britain?" I ask.

"My dad, he's still in house," his son says. "If you send him to Scotland, he will die by the way. Here or there."

Although neither of us know it, at that moment, he'll soon be relieved. This evening, the National Transitional Council announces they'll leave al-Megrahi be and won't send him back to Britain.

The family wants me to leave. They are polite. We talk in hushed whispers. They'd told me when they first let me in that I had only two minutes to be with him, and it's been 10 already.

They want al-Megrahi to spend his last days in peace, they say, away from reporters and their questions. But before I leave, I must ask the toughest question of all: How much longer does he have left to live?

"Nobody can know how long he will stay alive. Nobody knows," Khaled says. His eyes droop. His face is drawn, too, his voice wavering and emotional. This is a family already grieving.

Whatever secrets al-Megrahi had will soon be gone. As I leave, I'm still shocked by what I've learned. The world is about to lose one of the few people who can piece together what really happened that dark, wintry night, 29,000 feet over Scotland.

August 29th, 2011
06:17 PM ET

Luxury, horror lurk in Gadhafi family compound

by Dan Rivers, CNN Correspondent

Moammar Gadhafi told his people he lived modestly during his nearly 42-year rule over Libya, often sleeping in a Bedouin tent.

Even if that was true for the leader, it certainly wasn't for his sons.

At a seaside compound in western Tripoli, the Gadhafi boys enjoyed a decadent lifestyle that his people could only dream about, while perpetrating unspeakable horrors on the staff that served their every whim.

CNN visited the seaside homes Sunday.

The first house we entered was apparently the "party" beach condo with an oversized door that led into sleek, modern, black-and-white rooms. It had been ransacked by the rebels, but still it was spectacular, with panoramic ocean views and plenty of evidence of the hedonism for which Hannibal Gadhafi - one of Moammar Gadhafi's sons - is famous.

Discarded bottles of Johnnie Walker Blue Label Scotch and Laurent Perrier pink champagne cases littered the floor. Much of the electronic equipment had been plundered, but instruction manuals remained for high-end Harman/Kardon stereo components. Cabinets designed to hold two huge TV screens could still be seen.

The bedroom held a circular bed, while the in-suite bathroom was complete with sunken Jacuzzi tub lined with plastic white flowers. Outside, a hot tub, a bar and a barbecue area adjoined the private beach.

Another villa contained a white baby grand piano and more expensive stereo equipment. Next door was a huge swimming pool and diving complex, a gym, a steam room and a sauna faced in white marble.

We came upon rebels furtively dividing up a huge stash of alcohol. They seemed edgy and tense - this is the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and alcohol was supposedly banned under the Gadhafi regime.

We filmed them studying the labels of Cristal champagne and fine St. Emilion Bordeaux, apparently not realizing each bottle is worth hundreds of dollars.

As we were about to leave, one of the staff told us there was a nanny who worked for Hannibal Gadhafi who might speak to us. He said she'd been burnt by Hannibal's wife, Aline.

I thought he meant perhaps a cigarette stubbed out on her arm. Nothing prepared me for the moment I walked into the room to see Shweyga Mullah.

At first I thought she was wearing a hat and something over her face. Then the awful realization dawned that her entire scalp and face were covered in red wounds and scabs, a mosaic of injuries that rendered her face into a grotesque patchwork.

Even though the burns were inflicted three months ago, she was clearly still in considerable pain. But she told us her story calmly.

She'd been the nanny to Hannibal's little son and daughter.

The 30-year-old came to Libya from her native Ethiopia a year ago. At first things seemed OK, but then six months into her employment she said she was burned by Aline.

Three months later the same thing happened again, this time much more seriously.

In soft tones, she explained how Aline lost her temper when her daughter wouldn't stop crying and Mullah refused to beat the child.

"She took me to a bathroom. She tied my hands behind my back, and tied my feet. She taped my mouth, and she started pouring the boiling water on my head like this," she saidimitating the vessel of scalding hot water being poured over her head.

She peeled back the garment draped carefully over her body. Her chest, torso and legs are all mottled with scars - some old, some still red, raw and weeping. As she spoke, clear liquid oozed from one nasty open wound on her head.

After one attack, "There were maggots coming out of my head, because she had hidden me, and no one had seen me," Mullah said.

Eventually, a guard found her and took her to a hospital, where she received some treatment.

But when Aline Gadhafi found out about the kind actions of her co-worker, he was threatened with imprisonment, if he dared to help her again.

"When she did all this to me, for three days, she wouldn't let me sleep," Mullah said"I stood outside in the cold, with no food. She would say to staff, 'If anyone gives her food, I'll do the same to you.' I had no water - nothing."

Her colleague, a man from Bangladesh who didn't want to give his name, says he was also regularly beaten and slashed with knives. He corroborated Mullah's account and says the family's dogs were treated considerably better than the staff.

Mullah was forced to watch as the dogs ate and she was left to go hungry, he said.

It seems to sum up how the workers at the beachside complex were viewed by the Gadhafi family.

"I worked a whole year they didn't give me one penny," Mullah said. "Now I want to go to the hospital. I have no money. I have nothing."

She starts sobbing gently - an utterly pitiful scene.

Filed under: backstory • Libya
August 29th, 2011
06:09 PM ET

After the Rixos Hotel

After being held hostage for five days by Gadhafi gunmen in Tripoli's Rixos Hotel, Matthew Chance and producer Jomana Karadsheh were finally released, along with dozens of other international journalists.  After the team left the Rixos, they talked about their experiences inside.

August 26th, 2011
05:46 PM ET

Leaving the Rixos

For days, the world watched nervously, as Matthew Chance, producer Jomana Karadsheh and dozens of other international journalists were held hostage by Gadhafi's gunman inside Tripoli's Rixos Hotel.   On Wednesday, the journalists were finally allowed to leave the hotel.  Matthew and Jomana kept the BackStory Flipcam rolling as they headed out. 

Filed under: backstory • Libya
August 25th, 2011
08:34 PM ET

Five Days Trapped in the Rixos

Dramatic moments this week for 35 international journalists held hostage by Gadhafi’s gunmen at Tripoli’s Rixos hotel.  The group, which included our own Matthew Chance and producer Jomana Karadsheh, were finally able to walk out free on Wednesday.

Here’s a look back at the terrifying ordeal through the words and Tweets of Matthew Chance.

Filed under: Arab World • backstory • journalists • Libya
August 16th, 2011
09:37 PM ET

California Gangs and Prostitution: A CNN Freedom Project Follow-up

In June, Thelma Gutierrez brought us the story of a police bust in Oceanside, California, where gang members were operating a sex trafficking ring out of a Travelodge hotel. Today, Thelma brings us an important update about a CNN viewer who saw the original story and went after Wyndham hotel chain, which owns Travelodge.

You can see Thelma's original reporting and read producer Traci Tamura's blog about getting the original story here.

Filed under: backstory • CNN Freedom Project • Gangs • U.S.
August 16th, 2011
03:55 PM ET

Reporting from inside Gadhafi’s “Surreal Luxury Prison”


For the past five months, Moammar Gadhafi’s government has been fighting a war against Libyan rebels operating out of three opposition-held enclaves and against an aerial bombing campaign led by NATO.

Even though the U.S., France and Britain are leading the drive to overthrow Gadhafi, his regime has allowed journalists from those countries to report inTripoli.

As CNN’s Ivan Watson reports, these journalists are under strict government control while operating out of Tripoli’s Rixos Hotel, the mandatory residence for most foreign journalists visiting Gadhafi-controlled Libya.


Filed under: backstory • journalists • Libya
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