Wed | Nov 13, 2019

Garth Rattray | Was it a war crime?

Published:Monday | April 16, 2018 | 12:07 AM
The daughter of Keith Clarke is restrained by relatives as a band of soldiers prevented the family from entering the East Kirkland Heights death house.

Whenever something bad occurs, we always want to know what happened. It's not necessarily morbid curiosity, it's usually the need to have all the possible details so that we can avoid the same situation that ended in disaster for someone else.

So, when the upper St Andrew (Kirkland Heights) home of well-known, respected and, from all indications, law-abiding businessman/accountant, 63-year-old Keith Clarke, was invaded by "a heavy battalion of police officers and soldiers" and he was shot to death, we all needed to know why.

Rampant, unofficial and unsubstantiated anecdotes persist. It was thought that he was a relative of Christopher 'Dudus' Coke and was hiding him within his home. What is known is that, for whatever reason, the security forces descended on Mr Clarke's home in the middle of the night - helicopter and all. His car and home were badly shot up by the security forces and he, in full view of his family, was shot to death by 20 bullets, most from behind. Nothing was found to implicate Mr Clarke in any wrongdoing. An innocent man was killed, some say murdered.

Tales are spun when someone is killed without any obvious reason. People do this in order to find some plausible explanation for an unknown and, in so doing, to exclude themselves from similar risk of annihilation. This is sad because Mr Clarke's reputation has been indelibly besmirched and, until we have a fulsome disclosure of all the facts, nothing is going to change.




In seeking justice, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) did its due diligence and worked assiduously before issuing this statement on July 17, 2012: "The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions has carefully examined the contents of the above-captioned file which involve witness statements, forensic, pathologist and ballistic reports.

"This was a voluminous file and the investigation and subsequent consideration of this material has (sic) taken some significant time. Our examination of this matter involved the requisite legal research and a consideration of the available evidentiary and public-interest factors as outlined in the Jamaica Prosecutors Protocol."

Three Jamaica Defence Force soldiers were accused of murder. The trial was delayed repeatedly for six years, but on April 9, 2018, a bombshell was dropped without warning on the Supreme Court. Only then did the defence attorney produce the following statement about the actions of one of the defendants, "... which may have contributed to, or caused, the death of Keith Clarke, were done in good faith in the exercise of his functions as a member of the security forces' public safety ...".

This applied to all three and granted them immunity from prosecution. The certificates of immunity were signed by then Minister of National Security Peter Bunting. They will remain valid unless the DPP can challenge them successfully.




What is truly scary is the fact that what happened to Keith Clarke, supposedly tucked safely away in his upper-class home, could happen to any of us. The 'intelligence' on him was obviously seriously flawed. There was a rush to carry out the massive operation that targeted his home before substantiating the information. No efficient means, or perhaps, no means whatsoever of communicating with him were employed so that bloodshed could have been avoided.

He was shot to death from behind. Certainly, he posed no credible threat to anyone at that time.

The soldiers were granted immunity from prosecution for murder as if they were in a veritable war. However, even in circumstances where opposing soldiers, similarly armed and trained, are trying to kill each other, unreasonable actions sometimes qualify as war crimes, or wrongful death liability, at the very least.

- Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to and