At the end of the democracy dog-and-pony show, the organizers asked if any of the visiting journalists had a question. Not wanting to risk my visa, which allowed me to travel in Libya without an official minder, I held my tongue. Michael Slackman of the Times took the bait and politely asked Gaddafi — I can’t recall his exact words — how he could talk about democracy when his people so obviously lived in fear.
There was a flurry of distress around the Leader. His aides refused to translate the question. According to two people who worked closely with him, Gaddafi did in fact speak English, but he chose not to with most foreign visitors. In this case, it appeared he genuinely didn’t catch Slackman’s question. He looked from one aide to the other, confused, as the mood in the studio soured and we were moved into another room.