Tivoli enquiry just drama?
Ian Boyne, Columnist
I cried while listening to senior citizen Joan McCarty tell her heart-rending story of losing her grandnephew and son-in-law in that May 2010 Tivoli operation. I tried not to, but I could not help myself.
Hearing her tell the story of Dwayne's body coming downstairs wrapped in a sheet, after he innocently accompanied the security men upstairs to help them search the house, broke my heart.
I could feel and touch her sincerity and truthfulness. You could never convince me she made all of that up. And I believe her when she quoted one soldier as saying if it were up to him, he would "drop a bomb in the entire community and kill down to the suckling pon the breast" and flatten Tivoli. "Unno think unno can fight solider and win?" That reflects an arrogance that is not foreign to members of the Jamaica Defence Force. There were other testimonies that I also found touching and credible.
This commission of enquiry has been high on drama, theatrics and adrenaline. Whether it will turn out to be much more than that, let alone be able to unearth new truth, is left to be seen. This enquiry has started off with a bang. People have been calling for popcorn in the days as many have been glued to their television sets. (It is also an Outameni gift to the ruling People's National Party.) This enquiry is a hit series, and star of the week was another Rosie - Adina Derby - who had me and the whole country cracking up with her testimony last Tuesday.
There have been some misguided comments about the conduct of the enquiry. Church people can be counted on to make the silliest of comments, and the response of the Reverend Orville Ramocan from the Independent Churches in Jamaica was no exception. He had a letter in last Thursday's Gleaner titled 'Unjust Tivoli enquiry', complaining about how victims were being forced by "learned lawyers ... to relive the traumatic events they experienced during the Tivoli excursion".
"The Independent Churches of Jamaica (ICJ) is appalled at the numbness and insensitivity with which the lawyers representing the Jamaica Defence Force and the Jamaica Constabulary Force have approached the enquiry. It seems that the lawyers are angry and adversarial towards the Tivoli residents."
Ramocan goes on in his unreasoned letter: "The ICJ is appealing to the lawyers to be balanced and sensitive in your quest for truth. We pray that as we move forward ... the investigations will be conducted in a more civil spirit and with respect for the residents of Tivoli Gardens."
First, did Ramocan and other critics expect that Tivoli residents would just come and make all kinds of sweeping and lurid allegations against the security forces, inflame the public, and then walk out of the Conference Centre unchallenged? Is that what they want? The security forces have a right to have the best representation (which they certainly have!), and their lawyers have a duty to cross-examine vigorously, mercilessly and piercingly. If people are telling the truth, they should have no fear about rigorous cross-examination and even impertinent "suggestions".
The Office of the Public Defender and the Tivoli Committee should have prepared people adequately to give credible testimony. They had enough time. You can't expect lawyers for the JDF and the JCF to give witnesses a 'bly' and to 'ease up' when those people's counsel have failed them.
A number of people have been criticising the State's lawyers. These attorneys, part of the articulate minority, are right to remind people of the threat the criminal enterprise in Tivoli posed to national security and the Jamaican State. Many people have conveniently forgotten about that. In our justifiable search for the truth about how at least 76 civilians (and don't forget that one soldier) died in west Kingston, let's remember the threat posed by the Shower Posse and its responsibility in spreading terrorism in other parts of the world. (I am not saying the people of Tivoli were terrorists or that they represented a criminal enterprise, lest careless readers rush to press. The people of Tivoli were victims and hostages of the terrorists who had their headquarters there).
It is good that the JDF and JCF lawyers are reminding us daily of the barricades, the burning of police stations, the demonstrations in support of that criminal 'Dudus', and how determined thugs were that the forces of law and order not enter Tivoli. These criminals felt that was sacred criminal territory and that they had to give permission for security forces to come in there. I am one hundred per cent behind the Jamaican State's taking back that part of Jamaica that had for decades been captured by criminal forces.
That criminal network should have been dismantled long before May 2010. Bleeding-heart liberals like the Rt Col Allan Douglas can continue to bury their heads in their uptown sand, safe from the inner cities where innocent residents are held captive by criminal dons who subjugate them in their garrisons.
Douglas complains in an Observer article of Tuesday last week that "it is now obvious that the commission has been set up to conduct its business in an adversarial manner". Yes, these bleeding-heart liberals were just expecting to have heartbreaking stories told day after day, tugging at our heart strings and drowning our rational faculties while feeding collective amnesia, forgetting what that criminal enterprise in Tivoli Gardens was and the clear and present danger it posed to national security all those years it was allowed to operate.
I am happy that under pressure from the United States government, the Jamaica Labour Party Government of Bruce Golding was finally forced to smash the criminal headquarters of the Shower Posse and to drive out its notorious don, Christopher Coke. What I regret is that innocent lives were lost, and this enquiry must strengthen our resolve to put in place measures to ensure that the obvious abuse and excesses that did take place never happen again. There is no justification for killing innocent people.
Professional, law-abiding, human rights-respecting security officers do not harm citizens. If this enquiry would lead to an outrage over extrajudicial killings and security-force abuse, without it spilling over into total disenchantment with our security forces, then some good would have been achieved. I am not unbalanced like Allan Douglas and others who constantly talk about human rights and civil liberties while ignoring the trampling of human rights and civil rights of innocent citizens who are under the domination of shottas in garrisons.
The mashing down of the Tivoli Gardens garrison is an objective public good. Those people in Tivoli today are freer. And when you listen to them speak at the enquiry and see the obvious fear and dread when asked questions about seeing men in their community walk with guns and knowing what Dudus was, you understand why they lie so blatantly and so transparently.
Some of those people should give their testimonies in camera, where they could really talk the full truth, for certain truths they can't talk and go back into Tivoli. I feel sorry for even grown men who have to tell incredible, ridiculous lies about Jim Brown and Claudie Massop not being dons and about never seeing a civilian with a gun in Tivoli. But I understand why they can't tell the truth on TV and feel safe. And, incidentally, if the JCF-JDF lawyers' ploy is to show these witnesses' clearly, blatantly lying about certain matters to cast doubt on their entire testimony, we who are watching know that they can be truthful, credible witnesses but for fear of their and their families' lives.
Mark Wignall, who obviously knows the street far better than the retired colonel ever did, was more realistic in his Observer column last Sunday in which he admitted how Tivoli residents will lie to protect themselves and their community.
What happened in Tivoli in May 2010 was a war between criminal forces and the security forces. To the extent that the security forces used excessive force and engaged in wanton wounding and killing of citizens, those violators must be punished, and as a society, their actions must be condemned.
But let us never forget the threat that criminal forces in Tivoli Gardens posed to this nation's security and to the lives of innocent citizens all over Jamaica. What else could have led their own member of Parliament to send in troops to capture its most wanted?