Killing, resurrecting, capturing or ‘un-capturing’ a Gaddafi son: Let confusion reign…

Mutassim Gaddafi has been captured. No, he’s not. He’s free. No he isn’t. Khamis Gaddafi is dead. No, he’s not. He’s alive. No, he’s not alive. But he’s not not-dead. Half-dead then? Or half-alive?

I can’t tell you the number of times over the past few months I’ve had to either kill and resurrect a Gaddafi son or capture and release him.

The other night, it was Mutassim Gaddafi – or “Mo’tassim” if you’re in a particularly fussy, colonial mood.

The circus usually kicks off with a news wire alert screeching, “X Gaddafi, ousted Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s son, killed/captured, according to NTC (National Transitional Council) officials or fighters.”

Couple of months ago, it was Khamis Gaddafi, the 28-year-old son who heads the 32nd Brigade – or Khamis Brigade, as it’s popularly called – a once-feared special forces unit.

Now that’s one brigade I’ve been monitoring for a while, especially during the siege of Misrata. Believe me, if they get Khamis – in whatever shape or form – I’m on that story.

But I do know that you can’t take the NTC’s word for it.

How do I know? Because I’ve been there before – in Benghazi, the eastern Libyan city and resistance heartland, to be precise. I’ve put in my time waiting for long-delayed press conferences to start, propping up the crumbling walls of the burned-out old courthouse that served as a media center, waiting for confirmation of the latest Al Jazeera report that rebels had indeed, yet again, “taken” Misrata.

It was pleasant enough chatting up the unfailing polite, efficient girls who ran the registration desk. But try getting through to the “big men” on the NTC – hmm…we didn’t even know all of them since some of their identities were withheld for security reasons.

The NTC press op’s lowest point so far was when their top military commander – General Abdel Fattah Younes – was killed by one of their own back in July and they couldn’t manage to either cough up the truth or maintain the official lie.

Who do you trust?

So when the “Khamis is dead” news alert flashed, back in August, I was ready, but not jumping.

In this business, you quickly learn who to trust and who to take with a giant grain of salt.

If the Pakistani military, for instance, says an Islamist militant is dead, you just wait for Mr. Late Militant to surface in some gun-firing crowd or deadly boring jihadist video interview.

In the Af-Pak region, you wait for US confirmation. If President Obama says Osama bin Laden is dead, he’s dead, no matter what the Pakistanis are saying.

So when the news wires posted alerts of NTC fighters saying Khamis was dead, I grunted.

“Did you see the latest bulletin?” someone in the newsroom hollered. “Khamis Gaddafi killed! Leeeeeela, are you on it?!”

“On it,” I invariably respond as coolly as I possibly can. I don’t want the office freak-outers to start freaking out over nothing.

Put the Italians in the press office please!

Since this is Libya, the dependable confirmation source will have to be NATO, or to be specific, NATO’s Libyan operations office in Naples.

Chances are, at this stage, they know as much as me, but in this business, you pick that phone.

On the other end of the line, there’s a charming Italian military man who knows as much as me.

I love calling NATO’s Libya mission in Naples. Their military spokesmen are so – nice. Not like those nasty growlers at the Pentagon press office, or the verbally challenged ISAF press officers in Kabul. In the future, if we’re doing international military operations, can we put the Italians in the press office please?

I invariably reach some captain – capitano – or lieutenant – no, it’s no lieutenanto, it’s tenente. They always give me their first names – Roberto or Carlo or Fabio or something.

Capitano/Tenente Roberrrrto or Carrrlo or Faaabio has just read the news flash and he doesn’t know anymore, he can’t say anything about it, but he’s so charming you make him promise to call you before NATO releases a press statement.

Like hell he will. He’s going to be scrambling the next few minutes, and he has enough on his plate handling the world’s press and putting out that statement.

But amazingly, he does call you back and reads out a statement – a full 10 minutes before your inbox pings with the official NATO statement.

So hey, I get a 10-minute scoop that NATO has heard the reports, they can’t confirm it and they’re looking into it.

That done, I waste the next hour trying to reach a long list of NTC officials in Libya who either don’t pick their cell phones or regularly change their SIM cards. The latter should be judged a criminal act since so many Libyans are still scrambling to get a hold of a much sought-after Libyana SIM card. Click here for more on the saga of trying to snag a Libyana SIM card:

The rules of the game

In the end, we settle for the time-honored pattern: Put up the story citing the news organization that has broken the news. Make sure you insert “reports say” or “reportedly” or “Report:”

Hours later, after the first denials emerge, change the headline to “Confusion over X Gaddafi’s fate”.

If you’re lucky, the non-news will be greeted by celebratory gunfire in Benghazi. In which case, try, “News of X Gaddafi’s death/capture sparks celebrations in Benghazi.”

Meanwhile, update the unpublished, but always ready obit. If Gaddafi Jr. has had a playboy stint in some European country, consider yourself lucky. There’s rich material to work with.

And then, it’s time to slip into the state we’ve been in for the past few months: wait for the next round of dead-or-captured reports and start the cycle all over again.

I’d better publish this quickly now in case someone “confirms confirms” another Gaddafi Junior report and they ruffle my sanguine state…

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Haha. I woke up down today. You've ceheerd me up!

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