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."