Wednesday 28 March 2012

Kevin Dawes Part Five - After Sirte

Kevin Dawes, from San Diego, California travelled to Libya in June 2011 as a photojournalist, but almost immediately became involved with assisting rebel medics on the Dafniyah-Misrata frontline, and eventually ended up fighting alongside the rebels in Sirte, where his time in Libya came to a sudden and violent end.  He filmed much of what he experienced in Libya, and has uploaded around 300 of those videos onto his Youtube Channel.

The following map details some of the locations visited by Kevin Dawes in Libya, along with videos filmed in the area:

View videos and locations visited by Kevin Dawes in a larger map

Names of journalists have been changed.

Can you explain what happened after Dr. Tameem was injured?

Well, Dr. Tameem and I were advancing up the main street. We were at this location. We were crossing the street to get a shot on a machine gunner that had us pinned down. We met with the commander there and he briefed us on the target and told us that rebels on the other side of the street could see him. Every so often a modified sedan, windshield punched out and PKT on the dashboard, would race up the street firing before rapidly reversing away. They were more wieldy than the trucks in these tight quarters.

There was a photojournalist there by the name of Frank. We'd met once before, briefly. The team and I were getting ready to begin our attack when he fucking jumps into our truck and demands a ride. We're kinda in the middle of something so whatever, we drive. We're going to dismount anyway.

Except then he starts giving us orders. Telling us to wait for more trucks (you know, bunch up in an artillery field so the mortars can kill us better) and other shit like that. I told him how dumb that was and that we were already going. He got out at the last gate after becoming scared like a small child.

So, back to that street in Sirte. There he is again taking pictures. Okay, fine.

Dr. Tameem takes off across the street. I wait a bit so we're not in a clump and am about to go when suddenly he pitches over face forward. I thought he'd tripped but he'd been shot. Tofeek and I hauled him back to the curb. I started to cut his pants off with my paramedic shears when Frank decided to push me aside to take pictures of the leg. Then Frank started telling me to "GET OUT OF HERE" and that I wasn't helping and a lot of other shit.

So Tofeek and I are trying to work on Dr. Tameem and this shithead is making trouble. I ignored him, kinda shouldered him out of the way and kept cutting. I got Dr. Tameem's pants off. Tofeek had panicked and put a tourniquet on without evaluating the bleeding. I was replacing it with one of my much better tourniquets (he was using an ace wrap) when I saw that the bleeding had stopped spontaneously so I just removed all of them so as not to cost Dr. Tameem a leg. I examined his leg and saw that his tibia was in three pieces. He had a complicated compound fracture. We were safe behind cover and I didn't want to move him. I was about to get Tofeek to head to the truck with me to get a litter and a SAM-E splint when Frank the douchebag grabbed Dr. Tameem by his floppy mangled leg and started screaming: "GO! GO! GO!"

The Benghazi fighters who were with him immediately lept to and grabbed the screaming Dr. Tameem by whatever chunks of flesh or shirt or pants were handy and began to rush him away even though he wasn't critical and all they were doing was grinding around his bone fragments which is probably why he has such bad nerve damage today.

Every time we got to an alley or were about to leave cover I'd pause to evaluate for threats. I tried, anyway. Frank is a pusher. He shoved me from behind basically all the way back to the trucks. So he could feel important. Like a big man. Every time I wondered if I was about to die. I got a burn on my left arm this way from one of the buildings he insisted we hustle past.

We got Dr. Tameem to some ambulances and loaded him, leg unsplinted. I'd put some Celox on the wound in case bleeding resumed and Tofeek and I managed to wrap it before Frank's hero tantrum. The last thing I said to him in Sirte was: "do you want morphine!?" which he said yes to and which we fixed up for him, Tofeek and I, before sending him on his way.

I had a brief conference with the others. Tofeek and Mohommed the Demo guy were staying to fight. Heitham was bugging out with Dr. Tameem.

I was going to go have a chat with a photographer. So, I marched right back up that street and when Frank saw me the first thing he did was panic. He pointed at me and said: "AMERICANSKI MUSHKARA!" followed by some more complicated Arabic that I couldn't follow. This was upon spotting me. I hadn't said or done anything yet. Not even a mean look. I didn't want to lose the initiative. The rebels he yelled this at just ignored him. They had somewhat shocked looks on their faces.

I thought about blowing his fucking brains out. Kicking him hard and knocking him into the street and letting the PKT gunner do it. It would have been so damn easy and I was so angry. I was there to do a job with my team, the one I had fucking fought and bled with to get to that place, and he fucked everything he possibly could for me. He fucked with my spotter. You don't do that. After the rebels failed to remove me, or even pay attention to him, he said: "Hey, why don't you get the fuck out of here and fight? That's why you're here, right? Go fight, go fight over there!" and pointed at the killzone of that PKT gunner.

I took a breath and the red mist passed. That's when I decided to just fuck up his ability to take pictures and force him to leave. I thought about throwing his camera out into the street but he might have gone after it and I had already decided not to grease this shit despite the fact that he had 1) involved himself in combat and 2) did shit that I can only imagine would have been done by one of Qaddafi's spies.

So I'd slap his camera whenever he tried to aim. Smacked him a few times. He was such a little bitch.

That's when about a half dozen Benghazi guys jumped me and began pounding me with their weapons. The armor worked well. I was minimally injured. The humiliating part was when they held my arms to give Frank a few licks. He bashed me over the head with his camera a couple of times before finally scoring a hit on my head through the little 'shooter's cut' gap in the back.

After the Benghazi guys grabbed me my main concern was controlling my weapons. Making sure my rifle didn't get grabbed by Frank, making sure nobody yanked the pin on my grenade, that kind of thing. Sucks just having to stand there and get your ass kicked before getting hauled off to a POW camp.

The best part was when Frank stole my headlamp as a parting gesture. He and the other photographer he was up there with gave me mean little kid smiles as I was dragged into an alley.

This guy is very, very fucking dangerous. I'm pretty sure he would have killed me if he thought he could get away with it. Hopefully he pisses off the wrong people in his next warzone and somebody takes that opportunity to orphan his children. They'd be doing them a favor. Think about how he handled Dr. Tameem. If I see him again I anticipate he might try to shoot me or otherwise kill me. He was pretty unambiguous on Facebook.

Anyway, there I was without my walking talking passport Dr. Tameem facing down... Benghazi guys. Fucking fantastic. None of these guys know me.

So, there I am in the alley and this guy says: "Give me your fighter card right now or I will send you to the jail!" except I was still a bit dazed and only managed a weak smile. I explained about Dr. Tameem and he sent me off with two fighters to a vehicle. Before they shut the door another rebel, one I knew from the advance, a guy I'd ridden with before, walked up to the window and fixed me with a hard glare. He then drew his finger slowly across his throat.

A lot of thoughts went through my head at that moment. I faced my own death well. No crying or begging or any of that shit. About ten seconds later he grinned widely and laughed at me. Then left.

Shortly after the truck I was in immediately began to get shot up by the same PKT gunner.

I still had my armor on and my escorts didn't. I remember thinking as I heard those rounds pinging off of the engine block: "Okay, if these guys get killed and I don't I'm just going to walk back to where Heitham and the others last were and catch a ride back. Misrata can deal with this shit. I'm done." except they didn't die so... I know how bad this sounds but please try to understand where my head was.

I ended up at a small FOB on the Benghazi side where my sniper credentials got gut checked. They had me fire on a few stationary targets before examining my trigger finger and determining that I was indeed the real deal. I've fired a lot of rounds through a lot of platforms. Do that for long enough and you get a calloused up finger. He smiled when he felt it.

After that I was taken to Benghazi's operations center where I met with several Sheikhs and was held for several days in pretty good comfort. I was filthy and hurt from battle. Exhausted. No way to clean myself so I just got more and more rancid smelling as the days dragged on. I was told that they couldn't let me fight because, oh my word, what if I were killed? They seemed to think the US would somehow care about this. They don't. He said I could stay as a journalist or aid worker but not as a fighter. Since Dr. Tameem was wounded and my team shattered... time to pack it up, I decided.

Ultimately they decided to send me to Benghazi but instead they just drove me to the front line in Sirte and told me to find somebody from my Katiba to drive me back. They dumped me there with no armor on and heavy incoming sniper fire. I've never gotten dressed so fast in all of my life. Dick move for such professional soldiers as you see from Benghazi. I ultimately found a guy and hitched out.

I ended up at a FOB (forward operating base) on the Misrata side from which I hitchhiked all the way back to Misrata from a numbered gate that I don't recall the number of.

I got back to the Katiba, a ton of drama happened that I don't really understand, the people there were super angry about what had happened to me and wanted Benghazi blood. They swore that they'd get my rifle back. I calmed them down and explained that I didn't want to see this turn into a second civil war and ended combat operations. I left the katiba (amicably) and spent the remainder of the war staying with a friend in the city.

After a while, as the fighting continued, I began to make plans to try to reunite with Heitham and reconstitute what we could before returning to battle. I even found a replacement PSL, though the safety was broken and the iron sights were bent. The person who bequeathed it to me told me that it shot straight. That's all you need. Qaddafi was captured not long after this and the war appeared over. I made plans to return home. I was out of cash (again) at this point but luckily one of my friends at the Katiba saw fit to pay for my air fare to Tunisia.

I know people will compare Frank and myself, but I want to point out the big difference between his introduction to medicine and mine.

I was invited. He wasn't. I followed directions. He bowled over two medics to fuck up a doctor and take some porno shots of a mangled leg. I still have Dr. Tameem's goddamned blood all over my boots and several pieces of medic kit I can't afford to replace.

I later ran into him on Facebook. He eventually blocked me but not before spewing some quality hatred about how he would fucking kill me and how he was so close to crushing my skull in and adding a war tourist kill to his belt. Then he blocked me. The comments may still be up if you're lucky. I was very professional about it and just calmly explained everything he had caused to happen.

Oh yeah, I also made 'The Tape' while in POW camp. So fucking embarrassing that I cracked up after so few days in such soft confinement. The situation seemed perfectly salvageable and reasonable, however. Ultimately it was. It's probably not very fair to call it a POW camp. None of the units present at the operations center were involved in my pummeling and honestly I did totally lie to Sheikh Ahmed about that happening (by saying it didn't) because I didn't want any more shit on my plate. For me or for his guys. I guess you had to be on that little corner in Sirte getting shot at to understand.

I need to seriously work on myself. This is not a commentary on my treatment but I may have a SERE deficiency. Hard thing to check, you know? A lot of journalists have done much harder time.

Do you still keep in contact with Dr Tameem and other people you met in Libya?

A few of them. They're doing good. A few people I don't know how to reach. Presumably they're well.

How is Dr Tameem's recovery going?

Pretty well, all things considering. It was a terrible injury. The wound channel in his leg has become a fistula. They can't fix it until the braces come off.

What injuries did you receive during your time in Libya?

A lot of blast peppering and a couple of blast concussions. Minor burns and abrasions. I'm retaining some shrapnel. One piece is pretty easy to see stuck in my shoulder. I squeezed it out of my Deltoid muscle while doing military presses at the local gym. It wasn't visible under the skin before and I think I remember when it expressed itself at the gym. It's kind of a gnarly shape. This one is from a near miss with a 7.62x54R incoming round. Clipped one of the cement cylinders Dr. Tameem and I fought from for a while and spalled me. Looks like a chunk of bullet and some jacket. I had it figured for gravel initially. It's somewhat bigger than I thought but looking at the 'scar hole'... eh.

I haven't been able to afford to have these investigated, ironically enough. Based on my own assessment and experience with these injuries I'm probably going to be okay. Shoulder is a little stiff sometimes, though. That shrapnel is definitely moving around a little, still. I can feel it burn sometimes. Who knows what other treats I have stuck in my arms.

Where you surprised when Gaddafi was caught inside Sirte?

I figured there was a VIP in the city but maybe not Qaddafi himself.  It could have just been a holding action to cover his escape but I had this feeling that somebody so obsessed with symbols and grandiose gestures and the cult of them would probably finish things out with a big symbolic gesture. So Sirte. I also couldn't imagine an overland escape working out for them. Sirte was seaside.

Did the Libyans you spoke to tell you what they hoped for in a post-Gaddafi Libya?

Almost all the time. Mostly for the things they didn't have under the regime which I detail in an earlier question.

How do you feel about recent reports about human rights abuses in Misrata and other cities?

Not surprised and now just kinda sick. Jerry Erwin and I passed through an active torture site while I was in Misrata in June. It was an accidental side stop. The place was surreal. The vehicles had 'CIA' written in dirt smudge on the running boards (like a 'wash me' on a car). I wasn't sure if some Libyans got together and decided to play CIA or what. I have no idea why somebody would mark their cars like that. Maybe to be really scary.

The screams were pretty loud. Jerry didn't know what was going on and I'm pretty sure the driver didn't think it was a big deal to drive us out to this site as he'd only be a moment.

I only got worried when a guy who resembled a "doctor" walked out and began to make for our vehicle.

I'm pretty good at thinking fast. I didn't want him to think we were human rights guys or journalists or we might end up on the table next. So I hopped out of the vehicle, pulled a scalpel out of my medic bag, and asked him if he needed some help. He looked confused, said 'La, la.' and ambled casually back into the building. Screaming resumed. The site was on the beach between Dafnia and Misurata. No geotag or anything. I was in survival mode. Again.

Our driver came back shortly after that and we were off.

Given the US military's history with torture I didn't feel it was my place to say anything or judge them.

Using the NGO to keep the interrogation going was a shit move, though. Gee, I wonder if it is because all of the Misurata docs refused in some way as to avoid political fallout? Hmmmmmm. Peculiar. ;)

What are your feelings towards the NTC?

Good luck. If you can keep this democracy from dying in the cradle you've made it. You need to address your bonus marchers. If you read US history you'll understand what I mean by this. My advice is to start issuing educational bonds and other 'people development' type things. You can't be a thewar forever.

Do you think NATO intervention was an essential part of the rebel victory, or do you think they could have won without NATO intervention?

They could have won without but it would have been so much bloodier and messier. The tactical mistake that allowed the rebels to win was not sending troops to occupy Misrata. The port was key. It is said that upon learning that Misrata had fallen Qaddafi turned to his generals and placed a glass of water on the table. He spilled the glass and said to them: 'Now put all of the water back into the glass. This is Misrata.'

You can't bomb all of them and they really were going to fight to the last man.

Have you ever received payment from the NTC, foreign governments, or any other groups?

No, I paid out of pocket for everything. I received approximately $80 in donations through my rather short-lived web portal. These funds I mark as having gone towards the huge santa-like bag of medical supplies I brought and distributed. I am honoring refund requests given how the mission changed but so far nobody has made one. I also received donations from truly random Libyans on the street which I found very peculiar. Once I was given several hundred dinars while I was just standing there waiting for a ride to the Dafniyah front line. It really helped. He spoke good English and simply said that he supported what I was doing there.  

Would you do it all again?

Yeah. Governments should serve their people's interests. They shouldn't make their people serve theirs'. I couldn't abide the things I saw.

I am not a man who reclines, when things get bad, into a nice comfy chair of shielded ambivalence. People in the US let horrible shit happen because they're just so comfortable. Seems so far away. Is so far away, much of the time. Even when it happens inside of the US.

Then they go utterly batshit over completely insignificant things when stuff gets slightly uncomfortable. "Fuck you, got mine." Should replace "In God we Trust." on the money.

I hope I helped to make a new stable African democracy. My heart is going to break if the nation fails. I hope they capitalize their wealth and trade with the world. You really can create wealth. You're supposed to do it with your brain in the form of ideas.

In the short term? Maybe if you bust up enough 'moneypot ant' dictators on the Med maybe the Eurozone crisis will go away with nobody getting screwed other than people who deserve it. In theory. You have to remember that the United States set up a lot of these guys at one point or another. Nurtured them. Maybe I'm just a garbage man.

People are not a commodity. One day I hope to extinguish this belief from the face of the earth.

You can contact the author on Twitter @brown_moses or by email at Previously posted on my Libya Voices blog.

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