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EDITORIAL - More questions from the Keith Clarke case

Published:Thursday | July 19, 2012 | 12:00 AM

THIS NEWSPAPER welcomes that Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Paula Llewellyn has now made a ruling in the Keith Clarke case, ruling that three junior soldiers should stand trial for murder.

We welcome, too, Ms Llewellyn's decision to file a voluntary bill of indictment to bypass many of the time-sapping procedural hurdle of a preliminary enquiry and go directly to the Home Circuit Court. For she is right that "high public interest in the matter", as well as the larger issue of justice, demands that the case be dealt with expeditiously.

However, we believe that the DPP and the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), the agency that probes allegations of the excessive use of force by the security forces, owe the public more, including an explanation of how they arrived at their decision.

Justice, in this case, is not only about holding to account the three soldiers who have been accused of firing the shots that killed Mr Clarke in his home more than two years ago. It includes, also, placing the spotlight on the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF), so that it can view itself, hopefully with dispassion, and conclude whether it operates in a manner worthy of the public's trust.

Mr Clarke, it is recalled, was not the victim of random circumstance. His death happened during what was supposed to have been an organised military operation.

Soldiers were searching for Christopher Coke, the crime boss, days after gunmen at his Tivoli Gardens redoubt had fought the security forces to prevent the arrest and extradition of the drug dealer and gunrunner. Sometime during, or before, the firefight, Coke escaped.

In the aftermath of Mr Clarke's killing, his home, where he was with this wife and daughter, resembled an area of sustained battle; the walls and ceilings of a number of rooms were riddled with bullet holes. Mr Clarke himself, the forensic analysis indicates, was shot in the back at least 15 times.

Unclear command procedures

What is not clear is the command and control procedures that governed that operation and the rules of engagement to which the junior soldiers were subject.

The point is that Mr Clarke's killing happened at a period of heightened tension in Jamaica. Coke was on the run and, in the face of the challenge from his gunmen and supporters, a state of emergency was in force in several parts of the island.

Against that background, we would be surprised if the search for Coke in Kirkland Heights would have been entrusted only to two JDF lance corporals and a private, without the previous knowledge of a significantly more senior commanding officer.

Should we be right, the obvious question that we expect would have been the subject of an internal review by the JDF, as well as part of INDECOM's investigation, is what role did the commanding officer play in the sequence of events and whether he carried out his duty appropriately. In other words, are there matters for which he should be held accountable?

We believe that these are appropriate questions for which the public deserves answers, lest the cynics claim that juniors have been made fodder after an incompetent execution of an operation.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.