Mon | Dec 11, 2017

Editorial | JDF must come clean

Published:Monday | August 14, 2017 | 12:00 AM

As vulgarly perverse as the findings of the constabulary administrative review into the conduct of their officers during the Tivoli Gardens operation may have been, they can, at least, claim that they not only did something, but shared the outcome with the public. That's an ironic nod to transparency.

We can't, on any count, claim the same for the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF), the other agency of national security that was involved in the operation to capture and serve an extradition warrant on the strongman, Christopher Coke. At least 69 were killed in that tragic exercise.

At least 20 of those deaths were, based on the conclusions on prima facie evidence presented in a commission of enquiry into the operation, the result of extrajudicial killings by the security forces. The majority, by far, the Simmons commission held, were by members of the police Mobile Reserve. But the army wasn't without taint. Soldiers, too, beat, shot and killed people.

This newspaper, as it made clear at the time of the publication of the enquiry's report 14 months ago, said it didn't support the commission's censuring of the former chief of defence staff, General Stewart Saunders, and Major Warrenton Dixon, over the JDF's use of mortars in an attempt to disorient Coke's militia. Both, they argued, should never again lead or participate in internal security operations, but as General Saunders had already retired, the recommendation's practical application would be to Major Dixon.

But our disagreement with that element of the commission's finding didn't obviate our support for its recommendations that the JDF, like the Jamaica Constabulary Force, engage an administrative review of the conduct of the two officers and, more broadly, the execution of the Tivoli operation. The commission's report, for instance, raised pertinent emerging doctrinal questions about the use of mortars in urban residential environments. Perhaps, on second thought, a review board might have concluded that a different, non-lethal method could have been used to cause shock and awe among Coke's troops.

Whether the JDF has so far engaged in this kind of introspection, we do not know. The army has not said so. This is unfortunate and potentially damaging to the brand of the JDF.

Indeed, among Jamaica's public institutions, the JDF is, by a long way, the most credible.

 

THE PEOPLE'S TRUST

 

A poll recently done for this newspaper found that only eight per cent of Jamaicans trusted politicians. The police were marginally better, trusted by 10 per cent of the population. By contrast, the people's trust in the JDF was four times better than in the police. This perception of the army is not new, for these findings mirror those of other surveys over the past decade on attitudes in Latin America and the Caribbean to democracy and state institutions. In the latest of those surveys, trust in the JDF, measured on a scale of 0-100, was 63.6, against 31.5 for religious institutions; 41.1 for the justice system; and 38.2 for the police.

This view of the JDF rests, in part, on the perception that it has a principled and educated leadership and a structure that is organised and disciplined, which can be depended on to do the right thing. Doing the right thing also means being transparent. That, in the past, may have been anathema to armies. But in one like ours that is increasingly engaged with the public through internal security operations, old paradigms must make way for new ones. The new chief of defence staff, Major General Rocky Meade, may be concerned that he was in the thick of the Tivoli operation. But he has to change with the times.