Gaddafi right hand man General Dhao unbowed by capture
- 24 February 2012
- From the section World
Talk to General Mansour Dhao, one time head of Muammar Gaddafi's People's Guard, a paramilitary force of regime loyalists, and one of his right hand men, and you get the impression that the late dictator's Green Revolution is still alive and vibrant.
"Gaddafi is dead, that's true," he told us, "but his ideas as a philosopher or as a thinker will live on".
Sitting in the old army intelligence prison in Misrata, Gen Dhao, one of the few senior men to survive the destruction of Gaddafi's convoy last October, was dressed in new clothes and said he was being treated well.
However he told us that he has not had access to a lawyer, been told anything about what charges he might be facing or allowed to see members of his family.
The revolutionary authorities accuse the general of complicity in the 1996 massacre of 1,200 prisoners at the Abu Saleem jail in Tripoli.
They also claim he knows the whereabouts of caches of guns and money secreted by the pro-Gaddafi forces during the recent conflict.
Given that he could easily face capital charges, and that he narrowly escaped the summary execution given to his former leader and his son Mutassim Gaddafi, Gen Dhao's calm demeanour in our interview seemed remarkable.
He appears however, to cherish hopes that the revolution may be a short lived affair, telling us: "The old regime lasted 42 years, you can't evaluate a regime that is two months old or even a year, you can't predict its future."
Gen Dhao lived through weeks of bitter fighting in Sirte last September and October. By the end of it, he told us, he could see, "the situation was terminal. There were no hospitals or doctors or power or medicine or communication, we had returned to a primitive lifestyle".
He painted a picture of Gaddafi's last days in his home town as a time of privations and isolation: "There was intention to contact people to engage in dialogue, but there wasn't any communication with the outside world."
The revolutionary brigades besieging the city did arrange a short term ceasefire to allow citizens from Sirte to escape, but it is thought this was arranged with city elders rather than the Gaddafi leadership.
Eventually, hemmed in by advancing revolutionary forces who were smashing the city, the remnants of the old regime fell in with Gaddafi's desire to breakout.
He described Gaddafi's decision to flee Sirte, as revolutionary forces as well as Nato jets pounded the city, as a desperate measure that was ruined by the inexperience of many of those who took part in the ill-fated convoy.
The group of 4X4 vehicles carrying the remnants of the senior leadership was meant to start its breakout in the early hours at 04:00, but their departure was put off several times.
"The four hour delay, of course, caused us a lot of trouble," he said.
First they were hit by a Nato strike, then, as they tried to escape on foot, they were attacked by enemy soldiers and a second Nato bombing.
Where would they have gone if the breakout had played out successfully? Gen Dhao said they were heading for the village 30km (18 miles) away where his former leader was born with the intention of fighting, "to the death" there. Some plan.
Gen Dhao, who says he was travelling in the same car as Gaddafi, described what happened:
"Nato hit us twice, once while we were moving, but the impact wasn't on our vehicle, it was two cars behind us.
"Our car stopped, the airbag deployed and the engine seized. We had to change to another car. Only Gaddafi suffered a small wound from the glass shards, not from anything else.
"All of the vehicles then grouped close to a power station and we were targeted again and attacked forcefully. Although we got out of the vehicles, the firing continued and people were shot and suffered burns."
The final, desperate, attempt to push on with their plan involved dividing into two groups on foot, the first led by Mutassim, Gaddafi's son who headed one of the country's feared intelligence operations. He was captured and later killed by his captors.
In the final moments of fighting, revolutionary fighters closed in on the remaining Gaddafi loyalists, with Dhao saying he was already faint through loss of blood.
Interview turns to interrogation
As we paused in our interview to consider whether to ask any more questions, the head of prisons in Misrata, Ibrahim Beit al-Amal, leapt to his feet, subjecting Gen Dhao to his own interrogation.
"There is some information that you haven't given us," said the prison director at one point in the impromptu examination, captured by our camera, adding at another point, "There's no credibility in your statement."
It was an unsettling experience to see our interview turning into something quite different. Mr Beit al-Amal pushed the general to answer on a variety of topics that the revolutionary authorities want explained.
Apart from one resort to the old "just obeying orders" defence, Gen Dhao took the questions in his stride, urging the authorities to send his file to the public prosecutor if they thought there was a case to answer.
There was an element of bravado on both sides of this exchange, but the striking thing was calm way with which the prisoner dealt with his accuser.
That might have been due to a faith that Gaddafi loyalists might resurrect the old regime and save him, or simply reflect the poise of a man who has faced death on several occasions in the past year and is resolved to accept his fate.