Ex-police ‘death squad’ member to testify in Rodney inquiry

An unnamed ex-policeman, described as a former member of a Guyana Police Force “death squad,” is slated to testify on his personal assignments to not only infiltrate the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) but to carry out acts of subterfuge and assassination, the legal counsel for the Commis-sion of Inquiry (CoI) into Dr Walter Rodney’s death announced yesterday.

The commission’s lead counsel Glen Hanoman said yesterday that nine witnesses are slated to testify. He named seven of them. He said that he chose to withhold the names of the other two because they have concerns about their safety and security. He said that one of these unnamed witnesses will testify about his membership in the “death squad” of the Guyana Police Force and surveillance carried out by this squad, including attendance at WPA meetings. Hanoman said the witness will speak of his personal assignment to infiltrate the WPA and to carry out acts of subterfuge and assassination.

He said that the former policeman will also speak of having to report to former Police Commissioner Laurie Lewis, then Crime Chief Cecil Roberts and Norman McLean and “taking directions from them.”

According to Hanoman, the former policeman will also speak about his association with Dr Rupert Roopnaraine, Gregory Smith and two other persons who were only known by call names. He said the witness will speak too about his eventual imprisonment at the Special Branch headquarters and of interventions of Hamilton Green at the time.

In addition, Hanoman said, the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) is expected to produce records relating to Smith, the movement of arms and ammunition out of the control of the GDF, and the movement of GDF aircraft during the late 1970s and 1980s

Hanoman noted that since September last year the CoI Secretariat was formed and a lot of work has been done in the areas of research and gathering material. Hanoman, who is responsible for the statements and other information to be brought before the commission, said that evidence from all parts of the world has been received. He said that previous investigations and attempts to bring closure to the case were “seemingly marred” in some way and he blamed this on not having the full participation of the witnesses. He made the point that this CoI had a lot more witnesses coming forward, thus more evidence and as a result will “achieve what those other investigations failed to deliver.”

Rodney, co-leader of the WPA and an opponent of the then Forbes Burnham-led PNC administration, was killed in a car near John and Bent streets on June 13, 1980, after a walkie-talkie given to him exploded. The PNC, the party in government at the time, has long been accused of assassinating Rodney, but has continually denied any involvement in his death.

Meanwhile, CoI Chairman Sir Richard Cheltenham said in his opening address that the commission will be conducted with thoroughness and fairness. He noted that the procedural aspects will emphasise flexibility and impartiality, “free from the legalism of the courtroom. I consider it necessary to state that this is an inquiry, not a courtroom trial.”

He said that opinion evidence as well as hearsay evidence, once relevant to the terms of reference, will be taken into account in seeking to arrive at the truth. He added that the inquiry has been set up to ferret out the facts and to identify and to describe all the circumstances surrounding the unnatural death of Rodney. “His death constitutes an unresolved issue in the recent history of Guyana,” he said, while appealing to all who may have information to come forward and share it. “This inquiry is not about investigating them. They have nothing to fear. This inquiry is about finding out how much information they had been able to gather…,” he said while stressing on the offering of an unconditional pardon.

‘Witch-hunting exercise’

In keeping with an announcement made on the previous day, the PNCR fielded a legal team at the hearing yesterday and Party Chairman Basil Williams insisted it did not conflict with an earlier declaration by the party against cooperating with the inquiry.

The party had announc-ed that the team, comprising Williams, Joseph Harmon and James Bond, would oversee the party’s interest during the inquiry.

Williams reiterated that the party could not cooperate in view of the commission’s specific mandate to examine possible state surveillance of the political opposition for the period January 1, 1978 to December 31, 1980.

“We feel it is a witch-hunting exercise that particular terms of reference. We said that we would not cooperate in the sense of sending members to give evidence…,” he said, while adding that the party must protect its interest. “So we will be representing our interest, participating in the inquiry, [in the] the conduct of the inquiry, to represent the interest of the People’s National Congress Reform,” he added.

Williams, a practicing attorney, expressed concerns about that the normal procedures of a court, as catered for under the Commission of Inquiry Act, would not be applied based on the opening remarks of Sir Richard.

He said since the inquiry is being held in Guyana, there must be some reference “to our rules of evidence” and added that that for people to just be allowed to come and give an opinion about anybody without the relevant checks and balance that the rules of evidence provide was alarming. “We will have to watch carefully to see how the commission regulates that,” he said.

He added that normally the author of a statement is required to come to a court of law and represent that statement but “it appears to us that statements are going to be tendered here where the authors of those statements would not come to represent statements….you can recognise the dangers in that.”

He also suggested that questions needed to be asked not only the amount of time that has passed but also about person’s memories and the authenticity of documents as would arise in a normal court of law. “Apparently the chairman is saying that that will be left in their discretion. So we are looking to see how it goes…,” he added.

Williams also questioned what would happen if a person who is granted immunity by virtue of testifying fingers a third party. Attorney General Anil Nandlall, however, told Stabroek News that those concerns are completely unwarranted because under the CoI’s terms of reference all persons who may be implicated in any manner whatsoever in relation to or in connection with the death of Rodney would be pardoned. “Therefore it is grossly inaccurate for one to assert that the protection which is offered is confined only to witnesses. It extends to all persons,” he stressed.

During his address, Hanoman said too a conference recording data system will enable almost verbatim records to be made in addition to the hearings being streamed live.

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