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US has a role to play in Tivoli enquiry

Published:Thursday | January 29, 2015 | 12:00 AMMattathias Schwartz
Mattathias Schwartz
FILE Soldiers on patrol in the streets of Kingston following the Tivoli Gardens incursion in May 2010.
FILE Porters take a young man who had sustained gunshot wounds to the shoulder to the Accident and Emergency Department at Kingston Public Hospital in May 2010.
FILE Smoke is seen coming from a section of west Kingston while Jamaica Defence Force soldiers conduct operations in Tivoli in 2010.
FILE Masked men barricade a street with a vehicle on the eve of bloody clashes between the security forces and fighters loyal to Christopher Coke.
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The Tivoli Gardens incident is not just a problem for Jamaica. It's a problem for the United States (US) as well. More than 70 people died. Fewer than 10 guns were recovered in the immediate aftermath. Bodies were loaded on to trucks. Christopher 'Dudus' Coke was already long gone. This wasn't an incursion. It was a massacre.

The evidence to this effect is overwhelming. I documented it three years ago, in my New Yorker article, 'A massacre in Jamaica'. This conclusion was further supported by the report from Jamaica's former public defender, Earl Witter. We know that many innocent, unarmed people died for mistakes made by people who were supposed to protect them. I mean the people who ran the country, the people who ran the neighbourhood, and perhaps most of all, Coke himself.

USNEEDSTO STEP UP

But we don't know the full story. And we can't know, not unless the United States steps up and does its share.

It was the US, after all, that originally demanded that Christopher Coke be extradited. A US plane, from the Department of Homeland Security, flew over Tivoli Gardens and relayed intelligence to Jamaican forces during the incursion. The plane shot hours of video footage from the operation, which I obtained by filing a Freedom of Information Act request in the United States, which eventually led to a lawsuit. I have hundreds of pages of documents that demonstrate just how closely the US Embassy was monitoring the situation in Tivoli, meeting with senior officials from the Jamaican security forces and positioning US military assets nearby. It was through these documents that The Gleaner first learned about the mortar rounds that the Jamaica Defence Force fired into Tivoli Gardens at the beginning of the operation.

These materials are small fragments of what the US knows about the Tivoli massacre. The Defense Intelligence Agency, which handles military intelligence for the Department of Defense, told me that it has 15 documents on the Tivoli massacre that are classified - too secret to be released. The Central Intelligence Agency, which has a long and troubled history with Jamaica, confirmed that it possesses documents related to the Tivoli operation. It did not say how many.

It wasn't only Jamaicans who died in Tivoli. Among those killed was AndrÈ Smith, a 25-year-old United States citizen. He had planned to attend a university in Maine that fall. He was in Tivoli to study and visit his great aunt. On the day AndrÈ was killed, she told me, he spent the morning indoors beside her, hiding from the shooting outside. I spoke to Smith's mother a few days ago.

"When will I get closure for this?" she asked.

Now living in the United States, she does not want her name used in this article and is too frightened to travel to Jamaica.

"I'm so scared of that place," she said. "There's no justice in that place."

In 2011, when I was reporting my New Yorker story, a spokesperson for the US State Department told me that the Tivoli operation "was a Jamaican Government operation" although they also acknowledged that Jamaican forces on the ground received information from the surveillance plane. There was also a "tactical-operations centre", staffed by Jamaican and possibly US officials, where video from the US surveillance plane was viewed in real time. After the killings, US officials deferred questions about what happened to the public defender's investigation. Now the job of conducting a full and complete investigation has been passed to the commission of enquiry.

A US State Department spokesman told me yesterday that the United States has not been asked to assist in the commission of enquiry.

The spokesman said: "As observers, we commend the commission of enquiry for serving to investigate the events that occurred during the May 2010 state of emergency in Tivoli Gardens and west Kingston.

SHOULD PAY FAIR SHARE

The commission should ask the United States for help. First, they should ask for money. Investigations like this are expensive. The United States had a major role in what happened and

should have to pay its share. But more importantly, the commission should ask the US government for information. Working through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, they should ask the United States to turn over all the material - documents, cables, and video - that it has relating to the investigation of Christopher Coke and the killings that took place in Tivoli Gardens at the end of May 2010. These materials are part of Jamaica's history. Without them, the full story of the massacre will never be told. Both Jamaica and the United States need the best possible understanding of what happened and who was responsible. The more we know - both Jamaicans and Americans - the more we can do to prevent this from happening again.

n Mattathias Schwartz is a freelance writer who contributes regularly to the New Yorker and the London Review of Books.