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My Father Was Friends With Gaddafi

My dad knows things about the former Libyan leader that he never could have spoken about publicly until now.

Editor's note: This story by North Hollywood-Toluca Lake Patch Editor Craig Clough originally ran on Sept. 11, but in light of Thursday's news , we are sharing it again with readers.

Today, on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, many Americans will be reflecting on the impact that Osama bin Laden has had on their everyday lives.

Lately, another famous terrorist and radical Muslim leader has also been in the news, a man whom long before bin Laden was one of the most feared killers in the world.

Col. Muammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi is in hiding, his iron grip on Libya having slipped away in August, just short of what would have been the 42nd anniversary of him seizing power on Sept. 1, 1969. 

Gaddafi was only 27 years old when he overthrew the monarchy of Libya, and my father knew him back when he was just a young officer in the Libyan Air Force. They were friends, and as a result, my dad knows things about Gaddafi that few in the world do, things that he never could have spoken about publicly until now for fear of death.

The fear is real. Gaddafi's hit squads and intelligence agents are believed to have killed and attempted to have killed dozens of critics and dissidents around the world, including here in the United States, according to Amnesty International. One victim was just a doctoral student at Colorado State University and was blinded when a man alleged to have been hired by a Libyan agent shot him in the face.

My father, Dr. Stephen Clough, served in the United States Air Force in the late 1960s and was stationed at Wheelus Air Base in Libya for 19 months. He was an enlisted man and worked in the accounting and finance department. His roommate and he both had extra jobs working as cashiers in the officers club. The Libyan Air Force also operated out of Wheelus, and it was there, working at the officers club, that my father met and became friends with the future dictator of Libya.

Wheelus has a fascinating history and has at one time or another been under the control of every major world power over the the last 80 years. It was first built by the Italians in 1923 after they colonized the country. The Nazis used it in WWII until the British took the base in 1943, eventually turning control over to the United States. With its 4,600 Americans, the US Ambassador to Libya once called it "a Little America ... on the sparkling shores of the Mediterranean."

After the United States pulled out of Wheelus in 1970, it was renamed Okba Ben Nafi Airfield and Gadaffi allowed the Soviet Union to share the base with his forces.

Today it is known as Mitiga International Airport. In 1986, President Reagan ordered American bombers to attack the Okba Ben Nafi as part of Operation Eldorado Canyon, a retaliation for the 1986 Berlin discotheque bombing, which was a brutal terrorist attack believed to have been ordered by Gaddafi himself ... ordered by a man my father remembered as a "peacemaker" in the time that he knew him.

Gaddafi was just a junior officer when my father was friends with him, and said he was known as a level-headed moderate.

"He was a peacemaker between the Americans and the Libyans. If one of the Libyan officers ever got into trouble in the officers' club and raised hell, Gaddafi was the one who would make everything good again," my father remembered. "He'd buy everyone a round of drinks and smooth everything over."

After taking power, Gaddafi embraced radical Islamic beliefs, Shari'a (Islamic law) and terrorism as a means to achieve it. He drew parallels between himself and the Prophet Muhammad, seized the property of Jews living in Libya and cancelled all debts to Jews that any Libyans owed.

It might then come as a surprise to many that one of Gadaffi's best friends at Wheelus was my father's roommate, a man named Glen Kramer. Kramer was an Orthodox Jew from Pittsburgh. Kramer was better friends with Gaddafi than my dad was, he said, and the two of them used to always do favors for each other. My father also said Gaddafi had no radical beliefs, or at least didn't express any, and in fact never discussed religion at all. (Kramer died in 2007.)

Kramer also had a job at a place called the "Diver's Club," which was located on the shoreline, and it was there at night that my dad said he, Kramer and Gaddafi used to hang out and party on the beach. According to my father, the great radical Muslim dictator liked to drink lots of booze, an act strictly prohibited by Islam. He also used to ask Kramer and my dad to bring the American nurses down to the beach.

My father said he used to have a photograph of himself, Kramer and Gaddafi at the beach, arms all around each other and beers in hand. My dad said he only had the picture when he was at Wheelus and doesn't know what happened to it. I asked him if he wished he still had it.

"No, not all," he said. "Until recently I think that picture could have gotten me killed."

My father left Libya in August of 1968, and after getting out of the military went to college and earned a PhD in engineering from Michigan Tech. Gaddafi seized power in a bloodless coup on Sept. 1, 1969, and immediately ordered the shutdown of Wheelus Air Base, to which the American government complied.

One night, around the time Reagan ordered a massive air assault on Libya and Gadaffi was on the news every night, my father told my brother and I at the dinner table about his connection to Gadaffi. I remember him saying that he thought all of Gadaffi's religious rants were nothing more than political posturing and that he thought the Colonel didn't actually believe any of it.

Gaddafi is believed to be responsible for the deaths of thousands of people. He outlawed dissent, brutally crushed all political opponents and broadcast public executions on state television. During the 1980s, his military had frequent clashes with the United States military in the Mediterranean Sea. In retaliation, he is believed to have personally ordered the Berlin discotheque bombing and the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which killed 270 people, mostly Americans. As his people rose up against him over the last six months, his forces are believed to be responsible for the death and torture of thousands.

According to United Nations Security Council Resolution 270, "... the widespread and systematic attacks currently taking place in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya against the civilian population may amount to crimes against humanity."

My father said he's never been able to add up the friendly, charismatic, moderate man he knew at Wheelus with the megalomaniacal mass murderer he became, and he's never felt any sympathy for him despite their friendship.

"I was just so surprised after he took power. He seemed to be so easy going," my father said. "I just wish Reagan would have gotten him."

jameswills September 11, 2011 at 01:44 PM
i know where Gaddafi is hiding presently and how to get him, for more info contact sillydog_04@yahoo.com
Don Helverson September 11, 2011 at 06:49 PM
Very interesting memoir page. Reminds me of the aphorism, "Absolute power corrupts absolutely." Not many people improve with power. Maybe this is just another case study? Thanks, Craig.
Mythbuster September 11, 2011 at 10:21 PM
Ever considered that the picture of him in the media is a lie? How can you americans believe your politicians or what the media tells you? Watergate. WMD, yeah right? Wikileaks, that got them scared. Seems that the truth scares the living hell out of your politicians. GW Bush had it all nailed down when he said "A country that hides something is a country that is afraid of getting caught". No country hides more than USA. I feel sorry for your Dad who just like Berlusconi has no backbone to stand up for his friends. Truth and honor, whatever happened to that? Gadhafi has honor and fight for the truth against the liars. He built a country which was enormously prosperous for all in it for 42 years. What a vision and perserverance. 150 tribes he kept at peace, so your father probably remembers him rightly as a peacekeeper. Now your dirty lying politicians, dictators for a term (4 lousy years) has decided that they know best and following in the footsteps of the Bush doctrine tries a third time following two catastrophic failiures to bomb a sovereign nation into your twarted kind of new world order so called democracy. Bomb everything, infrastructure, watersupplies, electricity, government, roads, everything that makes a society civilised. Do not care that they have a common religion and is a religious society, force your lifestyle, supermarkets, alcohol and steal their autonomy, money, resources and digity all in the name of your GODs that you worship, your IDOLS of democracy.
John September 12, 2011 at 05:36 PM
You have some really strong points here, but the man we are talking about is a murderer. I agree that the US Politicians are liars and all are corrupted, but it doesn't mean the Gaddafi is not a mass murderer. At the same time, let's not forget the thousands of people George Bush is responsible for murdering the first day of his war on Iraq. There are many blind people in this country, but our problem is global. Wouldn't it be nice if people could see things through other's eyes?
Mike Szymanski September 12, 2011 at 06:19 PM
This is an amazing historical piece, Craig, and thank you for sharing this... it's too bad that things fall into the morass of politics...however, I can identify... my dad was an accountant for the Shah of Iran...even in high school, i didn't know what that meant, until he was taken hostage over one Christmas... just as the shah was overthrown. I have a feeling our dad's did a lot more than they'll ever let on or we'll ever know, but more power to them for sharing what they have...thanks!
godlight September 12, 2011 at 06:22 PM
do you know the achievements of gaddafi, he has done a lot more good for his people and africa than any american leader has done for america. all the west want is the resources of libya and the blinded rebels cannot even see.meanwhile gaddafi did a lot for benghazi, water ,agriculture, free housing, free medical care , free education, that the so called richest countries in the world cannot provide for their people in oneday.did the west not say the same things about kwame nkrumah, patrice lumumba, saddam? UN is useless and down with imperialists, for karma is coming soon, shame to the west
D.w. Zatara September 12, 2011 at 07:57 PM
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D.w. Zatara September 12, 2011 at 08:03 PM
I saw Gaddafi in Los Angeles yesterday. Apparently he was there at the Sony lot with his goddesses or bodyguards to help roast Charlie Sheen. Although he got on the fat side. might be the kosher diet. but still looked in good spirits.
morris williams September 14, 2011 at 07:58 AM
-the world is a ghetto.........
Irene Gibson October 21, 2011 at 10:06 PM
Whatever anyone thinks or says, it's all over now. At least Gaddafi is dead and now the hornet's nest is open. It will be interesting to see how all the various tribes manage to work cooperatively and collaboratively. Democracies don't happen immediately. And even those in effect have their problems!

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