Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Tivoli COE: Official Reports, Concerns, Lies & Hopes

The testimony of former Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, Orette Bruce Golding and former Minister of National Security, Dwight Nelson have raised concerns about the veracity of statements concerning the Jamaica Defence Force (JCF) and Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF)  joint operations in Tivoli Gardens (TG) in May 2010.

The former PM was concerned about the accuracy of the deaths reported to him by the security forces and particularly the reports by the JDF . He had received telephone calls from residents of TG complaining about extreme abuse being perpetrated by the security forces resulting in a number of fatalities.

Golding sent a team including the Public Defender, Earl Witter, to ascertain the true position and even enquired of the US Embassy if there was any information on the carnage that had purportedly been taking place.

In short, the Prime Minister and Minister of Defence had reason to query the information being relayed to him by the Heads of the security forces. Of note, the disparities were not  thought to be  deliberate attempts by the Heads to mislead;  instead to deficiencies of the ground operations--namely supervision and accountability.

Nelson, although a bystander as Golding had assumed total responsibility for the operation, echoed Golding's concerns. Bear in mind that the Heads never reported to Nelson during the joint military/police operation.

The Tivoli Commission of Enquiry (COE) has been made aware of specific concerns, namely the request for communication equipment and  aerial surveillance from the USA, the use of mortars by the JDF, the number of firearms recovered, the exact number of people killed during the operation, the  attendant circumstance of those deaths, the escape of the fugitive Christopher "Dudus" Coke.

The ball is now in the court of the JDF and the JCF. There have been hopes expressed that they will tell the truth. However, one must be reminded that especially the JDF  has in the past displayed a reluctance to be "more than forthcoming" and "more than economical with the truth".  They have lied.

In Jamaica there is a saying:" When fish come from river bottom and tell you sey shark down deh... you better believe it". Retired JDF Colonel Allan Douglas has been writing voraciously on the topic. He has penned a number of letters eg Unbiased Military Expertise  and  Full Disclosure and Inquisitorial Approach.

Below is the unedited letter dealing with the JDF:

"Evidence given by former Prime Minister Bruce Golding at the Tivoli Commission of Enquiry (COE) last week was of great interest. I was particularly interested in Mr. Golding’s evidence in relation to the use of mortars by the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) during the Tivoli operation. Mr Golding’s evidence was that when he asked the JDF’s Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) about their use, he was told mortars were used as a diversionary tactic, fired into open spaces and only incendiary rounds. I am sure when the former CDS comes to give evidence, he will advise the commission what “open spaces” these mortars were firing at in an urban area and whether the Coronation market and possibly police stations were classified as such.
We were also provided with evidence of US involvement in this operation with an aerial surveillance aircraft. Here again, we hope the CDS will shed some light on the use of this air support and whether and when the JDF became aware of its existence as part of its Tivoli operation. If the CDS was aware of it, we hope he will advise us why the JDF initially denied there was such an air asset involved with the operation.
It is also hoped that when the CDS gives evidence, he will  advise whether in truth and fact there were weaknesses in the command and control of operations on the ground and the obvious disparity that appears to exist between the amount of weapons recovered from so-called ‘enemy combatants’ and those killed.
I know the former CDS and his successor to be both men of honour, but I am troubled that in the same manner that the JDF’s image was seriously tarnished after the Green Bay massacre of 1978 because of lies in the initial official account as opposed to what eventually emerged, I worry about the possibility of a repeat performance.
The former CDS will recall along with many other Jamaicans that the JDF was caught out lying by reporting for instance that:
                  Fourteen gunmen were surprised conducting target practice at the Green Bay firing range on January 5, 1978, that the gunmen opened fire, and that during the ensuing firefight four of the 14 gunmen were killed. All this allegedly took place at midday on January 5, 1978. Subsequently, evidence revealed that the 14 “gunmen” were in fact unemployed youths from Southside, central Kingston, who were lured to the Green Bay range by members of the military intelligence unit in Red Cross ambulances. An ambush party of the JDF was lying in hiding there to mow them down. This killing did not take place at midday as reported but in the dark at 5 am.
                  The weapons found a day after the killing turned out to be old World War II weapons that were not only inoperative, but had been in storage at the JDF for some time.
I know the JDF is quite capable of telling the whole truth, and once again, I plead with them to be forthright in giving evidence because the future of a credible military force depends on it.

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