Attorney Joseph Harmon yesterday called on Chairman of the Walter Rodney Commission of Inquiry (CoI) Sir Richard Cheltenham to step down, accusing him of reaching his own personal conclusions in matters the commission has been tasked to determine.
Harmon, who is representing the Ex-GDF Association at the inquiry, made the call after Sir Richard embarked on an intensive questioning session of Retired Captain Gerry Gouveia and told the former army officer that he had transported a “killer”.
The “killer” he was referring to was Gregory Smith, who has been fingered as the main suspect in the June 13, 1980 bomb blast death of Dr. Walter Rodney. Sir Richard used the word “killer” at least twice and called Smith a criminal on one occasion.
Though Gouveia, who had to be subpoenaed by the commission was giving his evidence in chief, the Chairman questioned him for about 15 minutes on why he did not seek to ascertain if the man who he had transported to Kwakwani was indeed Smith. This is after Gouveia said he saw a photo in the newspaper which he said looked like the man he had transported.
The chairman asked Gouveia if it ever occurred to him that he may have assisted in Smith’s escape although not voluntarily and whether he had checked the passengers’ manifest to see if Smith’s name was there. He went on to ask if, looking back, he (Gouveia) believes that he might have been asked to do something improper.
“Was it the duty of the military to provide escape for a killer?” he asked, to which Gouveia responded “absolutely not, sir.”
Gouveia went on to state that the media reports did not describe Smith as how the Chairman was describing him since at that point nobody knew for sure his role in Dr. Rodney’s death. He stressed that Smith was not fingered in the media that he was looking at or listening to.
“But you told us that when you saw his photograph in the media… did it occur to you that that was the very man that I flew?” Sir Richard asked, to which Gouveia responded in the affirmative.
The Chairman then proceeded to say “…the implication of that and if that information is true, that you have provided escape on instructions for a killer. Did you privately ask to speak to a superior officer? …Did it burden your conscience?… It didn’t trouble you at all? …Why not?”
Gouveia responded “no” to the first three questions before going on to explain that he did nothing since he was a young army officer and it was not his business.
Sir Richard asked him if he has considered that he was involved in providing escape for a criminal and if he was involved in that sort of thing before. Gouveia responded, “absolutely not, sir. I was a military officer executing my job.”
As he was leaving after the end of yesterday’s session, the chairman told the media that he is not aware of any calls for him to step down. “I am not distracted and I am not at all aware of them. I am not going to be distracted,” he said.
He added that he cannot recall referring to Smith as a killer or a criminal and added that he has to see the records.
According to Harmon, the CoI was set up to establish the true circumstances under which Dr. Rodney died and the outburst by Sir Richard “has left us in a very uncomfortable position where he asked the witness precisely whether he was transporting a killer.”
He said that based on the chairman’s statement, “It appears to us therefore that the chairman has already arrived at a conclusion as to who in fact did kill Dr. Walter Rodney and under those circumstances I believe that the chairman should do the honourable thing and excuse himself from this commission.”
According to Harmon, the chairman has arrived at a conclusion on matters that they were trying to determine. “We are here to determine those things and the fact that he has actually said that this man has transported a killer, it is bringing out his own personal opinions on the matter…,” he added.
Gouveia, in an invited comment, told reporters that he was disturbed by the methodology used by the chairman. He also said that it is unfortunate that the military has been referred to as killers. “It probably might have been a little offensive if you think about him saying that our GDF officers were transporting killers. Our army was a place where I was privileged and honoured to serve… it is unfortunate for people to refer to our military as killers,” he said adding that the chairman has his methodology and that he was not moved by it.
He said that his intention was to come before the commission and tell the truth.