MISRATA, Libya — American Matthew VanDyke, 32, who spent six months in Libyan solitary confinement, has joined the anti-Gaddafi forces based in the eastern town of Ras Lanuf.
VanDyke told GlobalPost by phone Tuesday that he is based in Ras Lanuf with the Ali Hassan Juba Katiba of rebels, and the group is advancing on Sirte from the east.
VanDyke said he had joined the rebels with full approval of the new National Transitional Council's Ministry of Defense and it was openly known among the rebels that he was an American and that he had been imprisoned by the Gaddafi regime for six months for suspected aid to the rebels in Benghazi.
He said the rebel forces were mostly exchanging artillery and rockets with Gaddafi loyalists in Sirte over the past few days. On Monday rebels in his group were ambushed by loyalist forces at a checkpoint east of Ras Lanuf and more than 10 rebels were killed, he said.
More from GlobalPost: Matthew VanDyke describes his imprisonment in Libya
VanDyke was first captured in early March in Brega and was shuttled to Tripoli where he spent 85 days in solitary confinement in one prison and then 76 days in the notorious Abu Salim Prison.
He said his interrogators told him he’d never see America again. His only human interaction was getting food through a metal slat. VanDyke speculated that he was probably accused of being CIA or Al Qaeda. He said interrogators saw video footage from the camera he was captured with of him living and working with eastern rebels.
For months Libyan officials denied that they were holding VanDyke. They didn’t acknowledge his captivity until late August, when they admitted it to the Hungarian embassy, which represents the U.S. in Tripoli.
VanDyke only escaped prison when Tripoli fell to the rebel forces and some men smashed the lock off his Abu Salim cell. He ran out with other prisoners to a nearby mosque where he was given money and a place to stay. He had been so isolated from news of the Libyan war that he initially thought pro-Gaddafi forces were coming in to execute him.
“I can’t complain I ended up in prison, I wasn’t here as a journalist, and I paid a price for it,” VanDyke told Globalpost in a previous interview. “But nobody should be put in solitary confinement no matter what they did. It’s not that you’re lonely or don’t have anything to do. Your mind goes to horrible places and the psychological effects are very bizarre … They put me in here, I cease to exist. And that’s where I’d still be if the revolutionaries hadn’t overthrown Gaddafi.”
VanDyke had made friends in both Tripoli and Benghazi from a 2008 visit to the country. Since his release he has been in regular communication with his mother and girlfriend and he has given dozens of interviews. But he also planned to get re-involved with the revolution.
VanDyke expressed his desire to “get back to work” when he was giving interviews after his release in Tripoli. He waited for a close Libyan friend from Benghazi to come and then he planned to join revolutionary forces in some capacity.
“Even if I have to man a checkpoint, I want to contribute,” he said then.
The United States State Department has said it is not in favor of American citizens taking up arms with the Libyan rebels.
In response to a question from GlobalPost, the State Department issued this statement:
"In conjunction with our Travel Warning from the Bureau of Consular Affairs, the State Department strongly discourages U.S. citizens from entering Libya for the purpose of supporting the opposition.
Various international organizations have established funding mechanisms to help the Libyan people through this period of great transition and U.S. citizens interested in helping can use those organizations.
From the beginning, this has been an opposition led by the Libyan people, and we believe it should remain so."