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April 6th, 2012
08:25 PM ET

Deportation after dark

by Traci Tamura

CNN Producer

Recently, I traveled to Nogales, Mexico to work on a CNN story with reporter Thelma Gutierrez and Senior Photojournalist Gregg Canes, about what happens to undocumented immigrants who are deported from the United States back to Mexico at all hours of the night. We spent a couple of nights on the border to meet some of the recent deportees.

We first ran into Mario, who had just been deported from a detention center in Arizona. This family man with three children was living and working in construction when he was first detained in Washington state. Mario had lived in the United States for 25 years, but now all he had to show for it was a backpack filled with dirty clothes and his weathered Bible. Mario told us he has been away from his family for almost two years and one of the things he misses most is his four-year-old son. His eyes welled up when he told us every time he calls home, his young son says, "Daddy, I want to fly over in a helicopter to pick you up and bring you back home."  Mario knows that won't happen but lets his son hold on to that dream for the time being.

Next, we met 19-year-old Ariel. His mother brought him into the U.S. at the age of two, and he grew up as a typical Southern California beach boy. When we found Ariel, he was wearing his hooded sweatshirt and sitting outside a humanitarian aid office for migrants. He was a scared, dazed and confused young man who only had a backpack with a few pieces of clothes, a cell phone that had run out of minutes and a single picture of his beloved mother – who was also deported back to Mexico. Ariel was lost and not sure what he would do next since he was essentially a stranger in his strange "home" land. But as scared as he was about himself, what struck me most was how concerned he was about leaving his younger sister – who is an American citizen – behind. The love and paternal feelings he had toward his sister made him seem older than his years. But when he talked about how terrifying the whole deportation experience was for him, he seemed just like an American teenager from San Diego.

One of the last people we met on our journey was Karla, a single mother deported from Phoenix who was forced to leave her two sons – both American citizens – behind in Arizona. Without relatives to care for them, the boys ended up in the custody of Child Protective Services.  Karla was brought to the U.S. with her sister and mother when she was a teenager. She’d made a home in Phoenix for 26 years until she was detained after a domestic dispute with her boyfriend. Talking through tears at one of the few shelters for deportees, she told us she misses her kids dearly but knows she can’t offer them a better life in Mexico. She tells us that if it came down to it she would rather give them up for adoption than subject them to a dangerous life on the streets where she can’t protect them. As if to punctuate our conversation, gunshots rang out in the night as we talked to Karla. We all jumped a bit. Karla told us that happens all the time and is precisely why she would not bring her children with her.

The fear of being across the border in Mexico at night lessens when you meet and talk with people who are still in the midst of their journey. When we were done with our story we had the liberty to simply drive back across the border… but it's hard to forget the people we met.

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
06:09 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.

What's really going on in Gadhafi's Tripoli?
June 23rd, 2011
07:21 PM ET

What's really going on in Gadhafi's Tripoli?

By David McKenzie 

At first glance, "Mahmoud" would seem the perfect candidate to be a supporter of Moammar Gadhafi.

He has prospered during the Libyan leader's 41-year reign, first as a professional and later taking care of his deceased father's businesses.

But, as with many things in Tripoli, a first glance can be deceiving.

"Ninety percent of the people in Tripoli hate Gadhafi," Mahmoud told me over sips of espresso at a corner coffee shop this weekend. "All his people do is tell lies. If anyone tells you different they are just afraid."

CNN is withholding his real name for his own safety.

On an almost hourly basis, regime officials and government minders tell foreign journalists that Tripoli is a stronghold of Gadhafi and that dissent has vanished in recent months.

CNN, like other media here, is under severe government restrictions. But I recently managed to slip away from government minders to talk directly to several Libyans.

And according to several eyewitness accounts, major demonstrations were held against Libya's strongman as recently as last week.

And in the Souq al-Juma neighborhood of the capital, where anti-Gadhafi protests first erupted in February, the government's propaganda bubble is quickly burst.

While international journalists including me were ferried by government minders to a pro-Gadhafi rally at Green Square on Friday afternoon, multiple sources tell CNN that several Tripoli neighborhoods were wracked by running battles between protesters and security forces.

"They were protesting right around the corner. They streamed out of a mosque and onto the small square," said Mahmoud. "Almost immediately Gadhafi forces fired at them with live rounds."

Mahmoud and other sources say that the group was several hundred strong. He claims that three people were killed and that the area was put under lockdown by government security.

Other people in the area confirmed the death toll, but it is impossible for CNN to independently verify this account.

The government has repeatedly denied any anti-Gadhafi protests in Tripoli in recent weeks, including on Friday.

A taxi driver in his 20s also said that he took part in one of the protests in Souq al-Juma on Friday. CNN is calling him Jamal - not his real name - to protect his safety.

"We came out after afternoon prayers," he said, "we were unarmed and peaceful and they just shot at us."

He says he a bullet grazed his arm. Jamal says that unlike the rebels in the East, they don't have easy access to weapons to fight.

But he says, "I am not afraid. Even though we were unarmed, I am doing this for the future of my country."

Another protest was fired upon in a seaside neighborhood of the capital, Jamal says, citing friends who said they were at the demonstration.

Speaking to journalists in Tripoli is risky. Gadhafi's vast spying network means that almost anyone on the street could be an informer or worse.

Residents of Souq al-Juma say that hundreds, if not thousands, have been summarily arrested by the dreaded intelligence "brigades." They are never heard from again.

And it seems nowhere is safe.

Jamal says that recently, a family he knows pinned up a rebel flag out of sight in their home. Somehow the intelligence services found out.

"They stormed into the house, pulled down the flag, and arrested every man in that house," says Jamal.

But the worst indignity of all, people here say, is they can't bury their dead.

"The Gadhafi men. They come out and shoot you like cats," Mahmoud told me. "they hold their guns over you like this and shoot you like cats. We are not people to them."

Regime officials will often then take the dead away, he says, not affording people a proper burial.

"If we bury them, we must do it in secret."

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Filed under: Uncategorized
April 12th, 2011
07:49 PM ET

Unjust treatment in Bahrain

From Michael Holmes, CNN


CNN Investigations Unit correspondent Amber Lyon got more than a story when she visited Bahrain recently – she and her crew had the experience of being forced to the ground with automatic weapons pointed at their heads.

Amber and team were there working on a documentary which included telling the story of Bahrain's ongoing crackdown on pro reform protesters.   Here’s her report, our chat with her about her experience and what’s going on in Bahrain.

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Filed under: Arab World • backstory • Interviews
April 8th, 2011
05:27 PM ET

Gadhafi's son arranges CNN interview with alleged Libyan rape victim

Nic Robertson and CNN Photographer Khalil Abdallah spoke with Back|Story to describe what it was like to be in the room with Eman al-Obeidy, how the interview was arranged and who else was in the room with them as the interview took place.

From Nic Robertson:

TRIPOLI, Libya (CNN) - It has been almost two weeks since Eman al-Obeidy burst into our hotel in Tripoli, desperate for the world to hear her story of rape and torture. We had been trying since then to interview her in person and were finally able to speak to her Wednesday, against the explicit wishes of the Libyan government.

"You should not be allowed to do this," government spokesman Musa Ibrahim told me.

The interview with al-Obeidy was facilitated by Gadhafi's son Saadi and was subject to a government review. We asked al-Obeidy if she would be willing to come to Saadi Gadhafi's office. She agreed and Gadhafi sent a car to pick her up.

She came dressed in ornate black robes and with her head covered. She called herself an ordinary citizen, a good Muslim who is conservative in her social outlook. She spoke with clarity and exuded strength through the conversation, adamant about clearing her name she said Libyan state media had smeared.

"Everything they said about me is a lie," she said.

"I am well-educated unlike the way the Libyan TV portrayed me. I come from a good family, regardless of what they said, I am also not mentally challenged like they said. Just because I raised my voice and talked to the media they blamed me and questioned my sanity. Nonetheless, I want my rights, even without the media."

She spoke of her abduction, of how she was taken to one of the residences of Moammar Gadhafi's soldiers. They were drunk, she said. They tied her up, beat and raped her.

Her bruises had faded, but I could still the see the evidence of her agony around her wrists. She said in the height of her trauma, she took pictures with the camera on her mobile phone, lest people should not believe her later.

"People have blamed me for showing my body," she said. "I was depressed and there was no way to show people how I was tortured. I was brutally tortured to the point of them entering weapons inside me. They would also pour alcohol in my eyes."

She said the men who tortured her are still free, without punishment. Later Saadi Gadhafi told me: "The people responsible for raping her should face charges. She is a strong woman."

April 1st, 2011
09:11 PM ET

Mumbai streets get rowdy during Cricket World Cup

World Sport’s Alex Thomas, Photographer Beau Molloy and Producer Chris Eldergill were in Mumbai for Wednesday’s Cricket World Cup semifinal win by India over Pakistan. The mood in the street was electric. Producer Chris sent us this note, describing what it was like to be there.

"Cricket is a religion in India. Just another cliché right? Whilst that may be so, the way the people of Mumbai celebrated Wednesday’s victory over Pakistan showed a level of faith rarely seen in the sporting arena. The three of us dashed across parts of the city in an attempt to consume this ‘religion’, and from the slums to the swanky bars, the Indian people united behind their ‘Cricket Gods’. We as a team have experienced many sporting arenas and fan cultures as journalists travelling the world, but this experience is left us all with goosebumps, and had us thinking, 'How on earth are the Indian people going to eclipse this come Saturday evening against Sri Lanka?!'"

March 26th, 2011
04:29 AM ET

Gorani: "The big frustration for people in Syria is corruption"

By Back|Story staff, CNN International

CNN Center (CNN) There is a lot of focus on the historical pattern of unrest happening in the Middle East. Syria is particularly interesting and protests there are the latest focus of the wave of events where people in the region are expressing concern and unhappiness with the status quo.

We've seen protests in the southern Syrian city of Daraa where at least 15 people have been killed at the time of this recording you see in the video above. Even surprisingly, some protests in Damascus as well; but also of note are reports of protests in the city of Hema which is significant given it's history: there was a heavy attack in 1982 by the Syrian Army to shut down a revolt involving the Muslim Brotherhood. Syria isn't a culture of protests, unlike Egypt where even before their latest revolution you would still see protests happening.

Hala Gorani of CNN International has been to Syria many times. We felt we should sit down with her to talk about some of the details that stand out about Syria's brand of unrest.

It turned out to be quite an enlightening conversation about a complex yet intriguing country.

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Filed under: Interviews
March 23rd, 2011
02:49 PM ET

Reporting from dangerous places

Posted by Back|Story staff, CNN

Michael Holmes has decades of experience reporting from inside some of the world's most important events of his generation. CNN U.S. asked him to speak about the lifestyle it takes to do such a, sometimes dangerous, job. We'll let Michael do the talking here. Take a look at the video above.