Crime Chief Leslie James yesterday refused to comment on possible motives for Walter Rodney’s death, while saying that some of the work of the Guyana Police Force’s Special Branch concerned national security and is done in secret.
James, who had returned before the Commission of Inquiry into Rodney’s death to continue giving evidence on behalf of the Guyana Police Force, indicated his refusal when asked to comment on three theories being explored by Chairman of the Commission Sir Richard Cheltenham.
There were arguments yesterday over whether there was a thorough investigation of Rodney’s death. Rodney was killed in a car near John and Bent streets on June 13, 1980, after a walkie-talkie given to him exploded.
Sir Richard said a full inquiry into Rodney’s death should explore the possibilities that he may have been the victim of a planned assassination by his own party—the Working People’s Alliance— or a victim of his own negligence or he was target of a state killing.
He asked whether James, from his perusal of Special Branch files, came up with a conclusion from his examination.
But attorney Basil Williams, who represents the interest of the PNCR, the political party fingered in Rodney’s killing, objected, saying that such a demand could only be answered by the then Crime Chief Skip Roberts.
He argued that only the Crime Chief of that time could have known if a thorough investigation was carried out into the killing. “How could Mr. James be asked to make a termination on that question?” he remarked.
Sir Richard retorted that James was just being asked to speak from the records he had searched. Attorney Selwyn Peters, who is representing the interest of the Guyana Trades Union Congress, suggested that James could examine the files further and address the Chairman’s theses in writing. “No sir,” James answered when the idea was proposed to him by the Chairman. “With all due respect, no,” he added.
He stated that from the commencement of his testimony, he had made it clear that he was sworn to secrecy as the former head of Special Branch. “Some aspects of what I have been asked to justify does border on national security issues. Several aspects in what is done in that section is done in secret,” he explained.
Sir Richard then suggested that he could give his testimony in camera. “You say it is bordering on national security then we will hear your testimony in camera but you have no good reason to withhold good testimony because you think it borders on national security,” he remarked.
“I have not ever attempted to withhold any information. That’s very clear,” James, however, responded.
He said he had initially thought his testimony would be done in camera and had raised this issue with the Commission’s lead Counsel Glenn Hanoman. “The organisation which I serve is a security organization,” he further pointed out.
Commissioner Jacqueline Samuels-Brown said she knew it was sensitive evidence but added, “I don’t think any of us is here to breach national security.”
Williams observed that he thought it was very strange that the Guyana Police Force did not have a legal counsel to represent it at the inquiry. “It’s is very important,” he noted.
Peters, however, stated that the security organisation had failed to send a legal counsel. “It’s primarily their handicap!” he said.
Sir Richard then ordered a private meeting with all attorneys to discuss the issue.
However, when they returned half an hour later, the commissioners announced that the inquiry was adjourned until today without any further disclosure on the situation. James is expected to continue giving evidence.
Meanwhile, James yesterday also revealed that WPA members Karen De Souza, Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine and Miles Fitzpatrick were all under surveillance by the Special Branch. One file also disclosed a letter whereby a message was sent to someone to distribute recognition handbooks on WPA members to all police members and Divisional Commanders.
Yesterday, attorneys also complained openly about the time being wasted by the commission’s attorney with the police witness, stating that they had gone over police files for two days and that they wanted to commence cross-examination.