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Harvard Graduate Held Hostage in Libya

By Heng Shao, Crimson Staff Writer

Clare Morgana Gillis, an Atlantic reporter in Libya who completed her Ph.D. in medieval history this spring at Harvard, was captured by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi last Tuesday outside Brega, a city currently controlled by the Libyan government and plagued by intense fighting.

The Harvard History Department issued a news brief on the incident last Friday. Gillis, who has extensively covered the ongoing Libyan civil war, was detained with three other journalists— James Foley, an American freelance contributor to, Manu Brabo, a Spanish photographer, and Anton Hammerl, a South African photographer. Libyan rebels who witnessed the scene reported that the car carrying the journalists was stopped by fire exchange at an intersection, where the loyalists arrived in two pickup trucks and took the journalists into custody. The car was destroyed with a rocket-propelled grenade, but the driver was released.

The State Department, Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and the GlobalPost have been working together to secure the journalists’ release. Human Rights Watch also claimed to have notified NATO of the potential location of the journalists. However, as of last Friday, GlobalPost said it had been unable to confirm reports coming from Libya that the journalists would be taken to Tripoli and released.

Gillis, who also received a masters from Harvard’s Germanic Languages and Literatures Department in 2003, was a history advisor in Adams House during the 2008-2009 academic year. She was a teaching fellow for nine undergraduate courses, including the sophomore history tutorial, Government 1082: “What is Property?” and History 1101: “Medieval Europe”—now known as Societies of the World 41.

“Clare Morgana Gillis was reporting on the situation in Libya on behalf of The Atlantic and other American publications,” said Atlantic editor James Bennet in an article published on the Atlantic website on April 7. “We appeal to the Libyan authorities for her immediate and safe release, and for that of the three other journalists detained with her.”

This incident came after the release three weeks ago of four New York Times journalists, who were detained by pro-Gaddafi forces for six days and received brutal treatment. Lynsey Addario, the only female journalist among the four, claimed that she suffered from beating, death threats, and sexual assault.

—Staff writer Heng Shao can be reached at

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