Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Tivoli COE: Unbiased Military Expertise Needed

In an earlier post we posited Some Preliminary Concerns regarding the proposed Tivoli Commission of Enquiry.
With respect to the skill set of the panel of commissioners we noted the clear need for "a foreign security expert with specialized training/ experience in intelligence gathering & analysis, surveillance, and urban armed confrontation."
We argued that the exercise in Tivoli was a military operation and no doubt the security Forces are anxious to tell how they saved Jamaica, acted with considerable restraint and in so doing prevented the escalation of fatalities.

"The questioning and analysis of the operations conducted by the Security Forces in Tivoli has to be the central focus of the COE. It cannot be a public relations exercise aimed at restoring the public's confidence in the Security Forces in general and the Jamaica Defence Force in particular."

We post the original letter by Colonel Allan Douglas to the Observer : an edited version of which was published on Wednesday, April 23, 2014 under the heading  "The tale of two Tivolis"

Dear Editor,

I have just had the opportunity of reading thoroughly the Public Defender’s Interim Report to Parliament concerning“investigations into the conduct of the Security Forces during the State of Emergency Declared May 2010-West Kingston/Tivoli Gardens”. For an interim report, I found it very comprehensive, albeit very disturbing and worthy of careful study, especially before the start of the long-awaited Tivoli‘incursion/siege’ inquiry. Hopefully this interim report will help the commissioners of the enquiry better understand the real issues that need to be addressed – issues that have caused much public concern over what was primarily a military-driven operation.

The report reveals two very clear and different accounts of the events that took place in May 2010 in Tivoli Gardens, which resulted in what the report terms as “…the greatest independent Jamaica loss of life in a Single State operation in independent Jamaica: seventy-six (76) civilians and one (1) soldier.”

The security forces’ position is likely to be that they came under sustained gunfire from snipers and gunmen behind a well-barricaded Tivoli Gardens and that they returned fire. Further, that they provided every opportunity for law-abiding citizens to leave their homes under comprehensive arrangements for their safety elsewhere before the start of operations. They will also point out that mortar or mortars were fired at open lands or space as part of a diversion or deception plan and that the mortars were expertly handled and not aimed at built-up areas or civilian dwellings. The claims of ill-treatment of over 1,000 detainees will be dismissed, of course, and they will claim that the military couldn’t be expected to provide five-star treatment or three square meals over and above bread and water and ablution amenities to suspects or possibly armed combatants. All claims of beating will be sternly denied and allegations that suspects were transported along with dead bodies will be met with the rhetoric that, given the fluidity of the situation and the ‘fog of war’, this was the only option open to them. Accusations of leaving the decomposing bodies of civilian dead lying in the roads will probably be met by claims that whenever they tried to remove these bodies, they came under sniper fire. In summary, the security forces will claim “no wrong”.

Civilian accounts will claim that soldiers fired at unarmed civilians when there was no real threat to the soldiers, and that members of the security forces meted out cruel and brutal treatment to the civilians and damaged or destroyed their property.

It is in the interests not only of the future of the Jamaica Defence Force, but certainly the country itself that the inquiry determines the level of so-called ‘resistance’ that came from behind the well- ‘defended’ or fortified Tivoli during this operation. How many of those killed, for instance, were firing weapons? As the Public Defender has so correctly pointed out, the ratio of killed civilians to weapons recovered raises serious doubts and questions. We hope the security forces will be forthcoming with the amount of rounds they discharged during this operation and weapons recovered, and if any were taken from dead civilian “combatants”.

We certainly need to know more about the firing of mortars aimed at “open spaces”. What or where were these open spaces? Who or what types of mortars were employed and who are the “experts” who fired these weapons; what was their training and when was the last time they had fired these weapons using live rounds? Was the training conducted locally, and if so at which range? It is important to reveal the truth behind what appears to be the reckless use of an indirect fire asset, a mortar. I cannot understand how the use of mortars could have been sanctioned, given the nature of the threat and the proximity to the civilian population and built-up areas.

Above all, we sincerely hope this Commission of Enquiry will uncover the real nature of the Tivoli operation. Was it some sort of counter-insurgency operation, or was it an operation to assist the police against gunmen and criminals? Or was it a warlike mission, before which a commander of the JDF told his troops , “…tonight we go to war and some of you might not return…”? Determining which of these categories of military operation our troops were engaged in at Tivoli may explain whether these events will be conspicuous in military annals of how not to do it, or be recorded as one big disastrously botched operation, lacking in leadership and concern for human life. It is my respectful recommendation that an unbiased military expert be employed to advise the commission on military matters.

Finally, the public defender should be commended on a good interim report, and his reference to the British BloodySunday massacre proceedings is relevant. The Commissioner of the Tivoli inquiry would hopefully study the respective reports of that inquiry to avoid committing similar mistakes made by Lord Widgery, who chaired the first BloodySunday inquiry.
Yours faithfully,

Colonel Allan Douglas

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