'If Gadafy had listened to us, he could have died with dignity and respect'
WEARING A bobbly black woollen cap, his face grizzled with days-old stubble, the man who helped enforce Muammar Gadafy’s brutal regime and stayed by his side until his final hours in Sirte, sits in a conference room in the compound where he is being held.
Mansour Daw, whose name once instilled fear as head of the People’s Guard, a body comprised of hardened regime loyalists, volunteers and informants, has been detained here in Misurata since his capture in Gadafy’s home town in October. He appears relaxed and chats easily with the revolutionaries in the room. The young man from Tripoli accompanying me bristles at his outstretched hand before granting him a limp handshake.
A cousin of Gadafy, Daw became one of his closest aides. He is accused of playing a leading role in the regime’s efforts to violently snuff out last year’s uprising against Gadafy’s 42-year-old rule. Lurid rumours circulate regarding the orders he is alleged to have issued for the killing, rape and torture of regime opponents.
Daw rejects these accusations, and insists he and other members of Gadafy’s inner circle encouraged the Libyan leader to step down but that their efforts were thwarted by Gadafy’s sons.
He says he remembers Gadafy’s last weeks, days and hours on the run in Sirte, the last regime stronghold, in snatches. “There are blanks in my memory,” he says. “It was a very hard time.”
Gadafy and his by then small cohort, including his son Mutassim, desperately shuttled between abandoned homes in Sirte, their options increasingly limited as the town was pummelled by Nato airstrikes allowing revolutionary forces to advance further.
“The conditions we were living in were very primitive in the last days – there was no water, no electricity, no first aid, no proper food,” Daw recalls. “We had satellite phones but we couldn’t really use them because of the risk they could help Nato find our location to attack.
“It was very difficult and [Gadafy] started getting nervous and upset. He didn’t want to show it in front of us but when he talked with Mutassim, they would argue because Mutassim was in charge at the time. He was not telling his father what was happening in Sirte.
“[Gadafy] thought at least his friends in Europe, like Berlusconi and Tony Blair, would do something at the last moment to reach a resolution. Unfortunately we had no connection with the outside world. We were only guessing, we had no idea what was going on in Sirte, the rest of Libya, or the world.”
He recalls that on the morning of the day they were captured, Gadafy’s convoy departed four hours later than planned. “This made the situation worse because the Nato planes were already in the air.” Gadafy did not say much during the drive and when Nato struck two vehicles in front of theirs, they quickly changed cars and turned on to an unpaved road. When Nato attacked again some time later, they got out of the vehicle and fled on foot, first across farmland and then towards drainage pipes by the main road.
“Gadafy was not really panicking at that stage though there was so much firing around us,” says Daw. “Suddenly there was some kind of explosion and I lost consciousness.”
When Daw woke up, he was in hospital and Gadafy was dead, having been killed at the hands of revolutionary fighters. He says his very last memory of Gadafy was of him trying to calm the terrified sons of another aide. “He was saying ‘Don’t worry, whatever happens is going to happen.’ He told them the manner of our death is already written by God.”
Daw pauses when asked how he feels about the circumstances of Gadafy’s death. “He is my cousin, of course I felt sad. We could have avoided this. If he had listened to us, he could have died with dignity and the respect of his people.
“We told him to just step back . . . and let Libyans decide their future but his sons never accepted this, especially Saif-ul-Islam, and put pressure on him to stay.”
Asked about his own regrets, Daw replies: “I feel sorry for the loss of life in Libya, for those who died, whether they were for Gadafy or against him. We could have prevented reaching this point . . . if he had stepped down as we advised him.”
He says his commitment to Gadafy never swayed. “He was my cousin; he was my family. I would have supported him to the final moment. If I had not been loyal to him, I would not have been loyal to anything.” But he is evasive and his answers are often contradictory when asked about the Gadafy he knew so intimately.
“The only thing he didn’t do right concerned his decisions during the war. He wasn’t crazy, as people thought, but it was hard to be around him . . . There were red lines we couldn’t cross and we were constantly monitored; we could have been sent to prison at any time. It wasn’t easy.” Asked what he thinks his fate may be in post-Gadafy Libya, Daw replies: “It is up to God and the Libyans. I am not afraid – why would I be if there is real law and justice in Libya? I didn’t do anything.”
But his defiance appears to evaporate as he prepares to leave the room and catches the eye of the young Tripolitanian who blanched at his offer of a handshake. In a low voice, Daw says: “Forgive me, my son.”