The Guyana Defence Force (GDF) was yesterday accused of orchestrating a “massive cover-up” in the death of historian Dr. Walter Rodney following the testimony of Lieutenant Colonel Cargill Kyte that a number of Air Corps documents before the 1980s could not be located.
The accusations were levelled by attorney Christopher Ram during the cross-examination of Kyte when he testified before members of the Commission of Inquiry into Rodney’s death yesterday at the Supreme Court. Ram is appearing on behalf of Rodney’s party, the Working People’s Alliance (WPA).
Former GDF pilot Captain Gerry Gouveia had previously testified that he suspected he transported Gregory Smith to Kwakwani, a day after the latter allegedly engineered a bomb blast that killed Dr. Rodney on June 13, 1980. Gouveia, long said to be the pilot who transported Smith to the Berbice River location from where he was transported to French Guiana, said he never corroborated his suspicions by investigating further.
For his testimony, Kyte, who had been the commander of the Air Corps from 1999 to 2012, was requested by the commission to enquire into the procedures of the army Air Corps between 1978 and 1980. He reported that though he had made requests into the procedure for the time period, he had been unable to find any information.
“I checked for documents that would guide me towards finding those procedures between 1978 and 1980 and none was found,” Kyte said.
He further said that he had not spoken with anyone from the Air Corps who had been present during the time period.
He continued, “Searches were conducted at the Air Corps for documents pertaining to flights between the 13th and 18th of June, 1980 and none was found.”
Kyte’s report of being unable to locate records came a day after Lieutenant Colonel Patrick West, who is now responsible for the army’s records, testified that the GDF had no records of the enlistment of Smith.
Kyte’s testimony of missing documents seemed to pique Ram. He accused the GDF of deliberately absolving itself of any wrongdoing. “Under normal circumstances…would you… consider that the army would secure all relevant records to protect its reputation and its image in such circumstances?” he asked following Kyte’s evidence-in-chief.
This question was met with objections by lawyer Selwyn Pieters, who represents the interest of the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC). Pieters opined that Kyte was in no position to answer such a question.
However, Ram persisted, “When under normal circumstances you would expect the army to secure all relevant records to exonerate itself from the implications into the death of Dr. Walter Rodney?”
Kyte eventually responded, “I would say that the GDF would make all efforts to protect the records it has in its possession.”
Continuing his questioning, Ram asked whether aspects of records concerning the flight information and the suspected murderer could not be located; Kyte said they could not. “Do you not consider, sir, that the missing records were relevant to the investigations into the death of Dr. Walter Rodney?” Ram asked Kyte before later saying, “I’m putting it to you, sir, that this disappearance of these records is not an accident; or an act of God. I’m putting it to you that the hierarchy of the army has been involved in a massive cover up of the assassination of Dr. Walter Rodney by a serving member of the army.”
This question was also met by objections on its fairness. “This witness has simply been brought here on a very narrow context and now he is being ambushed by all manners of questions,” Basil Williams, the attorney for the People’s National Con-gress Reform (PNCR), objected.
Ram soon closed his questioning after this.
Several times during his testimony, Kyte maintained that he was unable to answer questions put to him, such as who had been in charge of the Air Corps just before the 80s.
“I was very clear in my statement that I am totally unaware of procedures of operation during that time [1978 to 1980],” he said at one point.
During his time on the stand, Kyte also extensively outlined the current procedures used in the Air Corps in relation to the use of military aircraft. He was questioned at length by Commission counsel Latchmie Rahamat on the procedures used to transport passengers via an army aircraft.
According to Kyte, transportation of passengers must first begin with a flight request which must then be approved. After approval through the necessary chain of command, the preparation of the flight begins, whereby the chief pilot rosters the flight and the operation department will subsequently carry out the processing of passengers in respect to the preparation of documents.
Documents required included the flight plan, load sheet, flight manifest and voyage report and are kept for only a period of time, Kyte said.
The flight manifest, in particular, contains the details of the passengers on the flight including their names and gender. When questioned by Rahamat on what happens to the manifest after the flight is completed, Kyte said, “The filing procedure for those documents – the flight plan, the manifest and all of those – are stored on file for 30 days…then they are stored on file for an additional 30 days and then they are stored in the archive for three years.”
Kyte emphasised that these procedures are current procedures and said that he was unable to say the procedures present before his time.
Rahamat also questioned Kyte on the procedures used by the army for the transportation of a civilian or a member of the army who is accused of committing a criminal offence, such as murder.
Pieters protested this line of questioning and deemed Kyte incompetent to respond on alleged deserter Smith.
“This witness is not an expert witness,” Pieters said. “The commission counsel is inappropriately trying to get this witness to stray into territory for which he has no competence. She wants him now to be competent on William Gregory Smith and what would’ve occurred at the time in question, June 14, 1980.”
He continued, “He cannot give his opinion on what he thinks would’ve occurred or what he thinks would not occur…I will object every time a question is asked into areas where this witness has no competence to give evidence in.”
Kyte was also questioned on the logbook of GDF 8R-GER islander suspected to be used in the spiriting away of Smith. Kyte said the aircraft was bartered in 1991 to the still-functioning company Air Services Limited.
“Every aircraft has a logbook,” he said, before adding, “The aircraft logbooks are kept at the facility of the owner of that aircraft.”
When asked about the rules regarding logbooks, Kyte said, “With respect to the air navigation order of 1976, although practising engineers in Guyana would be working with the current air navigation order available at that time, the state has held on to what is called the Colonial Air Navigation Order of 1961, which indicates the same information that is in the air navigation order of 1976 and that would be the governing document that would dictate how logbooks are treated with respect to aircrafts.”
According to the colonial-era order, any person who owns an aircraft must preserve all relevant documents and, in the case of changing of ownership, that person must nevertheless preserve all documents as if the craft still belonged to him or her.
However, the log book for the plane was not found by him due to its movement during the barter with Air Services Limited, Kyte said.