-photos of dead men leads to dispute over camouflage clothing
The internal investigation into claims against the Joint Services, which alleged that they were responsible for the Lindo Creek murders, were found to be unsubstantiated, a GDF officer yesterday testified, stating that it was the use of camouflage and presence of military grade ammunition that may have suggested otherwise.
Major Andy Pompey, appearing before the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) established to investigate the 2008 killings of eight miners at Lindo Creek, had been the head of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) team established to investigate the allegations.
The GDF was yesterday represented by attorney Roysdale Forde in association with Leslie Sobers, Michael Shahoud and Melissa Stewart.
“The investigating team expressed the opinion that the allegations of murder made against ranks of the joint services were pure speculation and accusation,” the investigating team had concluded, based on an excerpt read by Pompey.
Pompey indicated that the investigations consisted of interviewing members of the GDF who were deployed to the Kwakwani area between June 6 and June 21, 2008.
The Joint Services Special Operations Group teams, the COI later heard, were made up of 24 persons in total.
Among the findings of the report were that all the guns and ammunition issued to the teams were accounted for, and while some team members admitted to being aware of there being a mining camp at Lindo Creek, they claimed to have never visited.
There were, however, reports that ranks in one of the teams assisted Clifton Wong on more than one instance, and warned him that there was an operation in progress in the area and they should evacuate. Wong was one of the miners killed in the Lindo Creek massacre.
“The following measures could have been taken to avoid allegations which were made against ranks of the joint services: (1) The joint services members, on learning that there were miners in the area, should have visited those camps and asked the miners to evacuate the area immediately. (2) Press releases in the print media during the period after the assault on the bandits at Christmas Falls, portrayed that the joint services had covered the entire area surrounding Christmas Falls. This, without a doubt, was not true, and this had given rise to the false impression by the public since the belief, given that scenario, the joint services should have located that mining camp at Lindo Creek,” Pompey read.
Furthermore, Pompey noted that the basis of the allegations were the fact that Leonard Arokium, the owner of the camp, reported receiving information that the persons that who murdered the miners were dressed in camouflage, and because ammunition similar to that used by the joint services was found at the scene.
Asked by the Commissioner, Justice Donald Trotman why he had failed to interview civilians for the investigation, including Arokium, Pompey stated that it was because they had not been given the directive to do so, explaining that everyone interviewed had been brought before the panel.
He admitted that they had done nothing to corroborate the joint services’ claims that they were not at Lindo Creek at the time. Asked whether he did not think it would be important, Pompey, in justification, stated that he felt it would have been impossible for a few ranks to leave the group without being noticed, relating that the men work as a team.
The next witness, Colonel Omar Khan, when a similar question was posed to him later, would clarify that the GDF does not have the remit to question civilians, as that would fall under the responsibility of the police.
Asked by GDF lawyer Forde whether the intent was to carry out an internal investigation, Khan stated that the intention was not to determine culpability, but to determine the truth of what had occurred.
In support of Pompey’s evidence, Khan, gave extensive testimony yesterday about the fact that the Joint Services had reportedly recovered camouflage clothing and military-grade guns and ammunition from numerous crime scenes following encounters with the Rondell ‘Fineman’ Rawlins gang.
Khan recalled that in February 2006, it was discovered that a number of AKM rifles (which he noted are upgrades to the AK-47) were missing.
Just two months later, he stated, they received indications that the same calibre of rounds were being used in criminal activity, naming events such as the Lusignan massacre, the Kaieteur News shooting and the Berbice bank robbery of 2006 as prime examples.
This string of events, Khan related, led to the establishment of the Military Criminal Intelligence Department for the second time in Guyana’s history.
He further stated that in 2007, Rawlins became a person of interest to the Joint Services, and intelligence revealed that the gang was in possession of AK-47s from the GDF’s stolen supply.
Khan testified that when soldier Ivor Williams was killed by gunmen in an ambush on a GDF vehicle in 2008, his AKM rifle was taken from the scene. He related, however, that the rifle was later retrieved after the joint services received information from then 15-year-old Dwane Williams, who had been a member of the Fineman gang.
It was previously reported by this newspaper that Williams was captured by police after he was found wandering in the Ituni area. The boy, during a trial, had testified to being present with the Fineman gang when they carried out the Lusignan and Bartica massacres, and when they traveled to Lindo Creek, reportedly spending a night there, just hours before he was apprehended.
Attorney Sobers questioned whether it would not be pertinent to call Williams to the stand.
It was at this point that Henry related that Williams remains in protective custody, and that it was the intention of the commission to call to testify today, the officer that took his statement.
Khan had also made reference to a shooting at Goat Farm, where two criminals were killed, and identified as also being a part of the Fineman gang.
Attorney Forde questioned whether any camouflage clothing was found “on or amongst the body” of any of the two men, to which Khan responded in the affirmative.
Later, attorney Patrice Henry would present to Khan four photographs of the deceased, and ask whether the clothing they were wearing were camouflage.
Henry’s presentation of the photos caused an issue with the attorneys for the GDF, with Forde objecting that Henry had not been forthcoming with information presented to the tribunal.
An old trick
“These four photographs are only four photographs of the dead men and I’m sure that counsel to the commission is in possession of photographs which will show what was recovered and among them would be camouflage clothing. These four photographs is just meant to trap Colonel Khan without him answering properly what I asked him in relation to what is being presented here. It’s an old trick,” Forde criticized, questioning whether those photos had been the only ones presented to the commission.
“I don’t know it’s a trick. In any case, if you’re saying persons were wearing a particular clothing when they were shot, the photograph could only speak for itself,” Henry responded.
But Forde had, in fact, earlier asked Khan whether any camouflage clothing had been discovered “on or amongst” the bodies, to which Khan had responded in the affirmative.
“I said that the photographs will show that the men had on or about them camouflage clothing. It’s not something I just made up. And I was speaking in reference to the photographs and what the photographs as a totality will show—on or about them. So let us show the other photographs with the camouflage,” Forde stated.
“…to ask to be shown photographs among them, we don’t know what could be taken after—you could put anything and take a photograph after, more so military clothing. So I don’t want to deal with that aspect…” said Henry.
The back and forth ensued for some time, with Henry never directly responding to Forde’s question as to whether additional photos were presented to the commission (after a break however, the additional photos were eventually produced).
When questioned again, however, Khan replied that the photos were only partial shots, and later admitted that he saw nothing.
But Forde would later point his client to a hole in one of the deceased’s shirts, through which, shades of green and black could be seen.
Khan said that it did appear to be camouflage clothing—an opinion Trotman did not share, and said so—and noted that the belt also appeared to be one of those worn by persons in the military.
Justice Trotman questioned how long after the items, including the camouflage clothing, were found, to which Khan responded that he felt the question could best be answered by the Commander on the ground at the time, Fitzroy Ward.
There was some contention over whether it was necessary to bring in Colonel Ward, Commander in charge of the crime scene at Goat Farm to testify, as Forde stated that he was the one who took photos.
“I find it surprising that the counsel for the commission could simply just want to have such a statement read in. I find that very disturbing,” Forde opined.
Forde requested that Ward be brought before the commission next week to testify.
The Commission is set to continue today at 10, then reconvene on May 14 and 15, when public hearings are expected to conclude, pending the presentation of the report.
In the meantime, public outreaches are scheduled from Wednesday to Saturday, in Linden, Kwakwani and Lindo Creek.