BALTIMORE (AP) — Instead of immediately heading home after breaking out of solitary confinement in a Libyan prison, a writer from Maryland told BBC Radio’s “World Have Your Say” program on Thursday that he wants to remain until leader Moammar Gadhafi is gone.
Matthew VanDyke, 32, was working on a book about his Middle Eastern travels in his native Baltimore, but as the Libyan uprising began earlier this year he decided to witness history firsthand.
“When I saw what was happening here, I felt like I needed to come here and that’s what I did. I decided I was going to leave when Gadhafi was gone and that’s what I’m still going to do,” he said. “For now I’m staying in Tripoli and I’m going to make sure my friends are OK and Gadhafi’s gone that’s when I’m going to leave Libya, when Libya’s free.”
VanDyke’s mother, Sharon, who was on the line with the show’s host and her son, said she wanted her son home. But she said she supports him gaining some closure just as she supported his original quest to help his friends.
“He was raised to give back to the community, whatever the community is,” she said. “I actually helped him get ready to go and drove him to the airport and would do the same again. I have no regrets.”
The mother has held strong to her belief that her son would return after his disappearance during a daytrip to Brega in March. Libyan officials initially denied that VanDyke was being held, but last month they acknowledged he was in custody.
While in Brega, VanDyke said he and his companions were ambushed and he was hit on the head. He woke up later “to the sound of a man being tortured in the room above me.” He was held in solitary confinement in two prisons and was never told what he was accused of and whether he would be released.
“They just locked me in a room and gave me food, kept me alive and no real interaction with anybody for about six months,” he said.
VanDyke spent months in prison trying to guess his fate from snatches of overheard conversations and messages that the previous residents of his cell scribbled on the wall, he said. He thought he heard there would be some kind of trial, worried that a lynch mob would come for him and was sure he’d be executed.
“All I had all day is my thoughts, and troubling thoughts,” he said. “It was torture. They did it on purpose to punish me.”
Protests began in Libya in February and after months of fighting and a NATO air campaign, rebels took control of much of the country, reaching Tripoli on the weekend.
When the prison was bombed Wednesday, fellow prisoners broke open VanDyke’s cell, allowing him to escape. The fleeing prisoners made their way to a compound. He was able to borrow a phone to call home, thrilling his mother and girlfriend, Lauren Fischer.
“Just to hear him yesterday say, ‘Hi, Mom’ was just enough for me,” Sharon VanDyke said Thursday. “It’s been a wonderful past 24 hours.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)