"It could have been a cut from Sacha Baron Cohen ... but the horrors were never far away"
MAD DOG – GADDAFI'S SECRET WORLD
BBC 4. MONDAY
One of the great and terrible ironies is that for all the death, terror and destruction they like to wallow in, most dictators are essentially laughable. In fact, they all seem to be inherently ridiculous people who look like they never got picked for any team in school and spend the rest of their lives settling scores and proving to the world that they are not a big loser.
In fact, politics in general seems to lend itself well to buffoons.
The pathology remains the same whether it's some morally bankrupt local eejit in Ireland who dreams of winning his father's Dail seat so he can run his own rural hell hole like his own fiefdom, or someone in charge of his own country with a revenue of a billion dollars a week – a jumped up politician is still just a jumped up politician who deserves nothing but scorn. But only one kind can have you and your family killed.
In fact, throughout Christopher Olgiata's film, it was hard not to worry that we had walked into some deliberate fabrication by Western intelligence agencies to demonise Gaddafi before they invade his country. But, of course, the man who would be King of Africa is dead and this wasn't a pre-emptive strike against the hearts and minds of a public wary of another war. No, Gaddafi's gone, there will be no invasion and the country has descended into the kind of sectarian, militia run, feudal society that is turning most of a post-Arab Spring Middle East into a reworking of Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian.
Yet as we watched footage of a man whose increasingly disfigured face seemed to mirror his own unravelling behaviour, it was hard not to laugh at the inherent ridiclousness of a man whose dictatorial whims once saw him order all the camels in Tripoli shot because he wanted to present a more modern, cosmopolitan face to the world.
Similarly, his friendship with that other isolated despot, Idi Amin, was so surreal that it could have come from a bad sitcom – both entirely mad, both raging against a world that refuses to give them the respect they feel is their due and both determined to make the world love them.
But the programme makers were skillful enough to never let the viewer forget just who we were watching and what he had done. Interviews with survivors detailed the usual horrific crimes we have come to expect from tyrants in the region – dogs trained to bite prisoners, interrogators heating steel rods until they were white hot before going to to work on detainees. Inevitably, these programmes contain one detail that haunts you and stops any condescending snigger about those crazy Middle Eastern guys and their wacky ways – in this case, a six-year-old girl who had her lips cut off and was left to bleed to death because she didn't smile as he walked past.
Gaddafi was the State and he was the ultimate expression of State sexual abuse of children – he would stride through schools picking whichever child took his fancy – with a preference for girls, but young boys were on the menu when the mood took – before defiling them in his secret lair.
But complete madness will only get you so far – and for all the images of an increasingly petulant Gaddaffi strutting around as first the Arabs (who despised him), and then the Africans (who wanted his money), turned their back on him, the most riveting material came with the interviews of those who had worked most closely with him.
Seeming to take a strange detour down Team America way, we were introduced to a straightfrom-central-casting renegade rocket scientist, Lutz Kaisar and his exceedingly odd wife, Susi.
The scientist was still protesting that he only ever worked on satellite communications and not ballistic delivery systems while his wife waxed lyrical about all the fun times she had had with Brother Leader. In fact, she seemed to have a greater awareness, and admiration, for his Armani clothes than the crimes he committed in front of her. The inherent comic absurdity of their explanations was then given an even more surreal sheen by the fact that the two of them now live on their own private Pacific island, safe from prying eyes.
Eventually, Susi Kaysar admitted that, on balance, he lost the plot a bit towards the end, which is a bit like saying that ultimately Hitler's biggest sin was that he got greedy.
There were moments when this could have been a rough cut from Sacha Baron Cohen's The Dictator. But the horrors were never far away and there were questions that went unanswered – who replaced him and holds the power now, for instance – but if you only watch one documentary about a degenerate despot who used the same plastic surgeon as Berlusconi and who eventually looked and behaved like a psychotic Michael Jackson, then this, as they say, was definitely the one for you.
But still the question remains in Libya as it does across that region – are the people any better off now that their Brother Leader is gone?