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EDITORIAL - Beyond Mr Witter's windy diatribe

Published:Friday | May 3, 2013 | 12:00 AM

Those who endured the windy, defensive diatribe and pompous rhetoric in Earl Witter's interim report into "the siege" of Tivoli Gardens will come upon what seems to be compelling prima facie evidence that there could well have been extrajudicial killings by the security forces during the tragic incident of May 2010.

Mr Witter concludes that at least 76 civilians - against the previously reported figure of 73 - died in the action by the Jamaica Constabulary Force and the Jamaica Defence Force to capture the then fugitive drug dealer and gunrunner Christopher Coke, who wielded significant influence, economic and political, in that western Kingston community and elsewhere in Jamaica.

But whether Mr Witter, the public defender, likes it or not, it remains incredulous to this newspaper, and to most right-thinking persons, that it would have taken three years for him to arrive at that conclusion and to so declare, notwithstanding any shortage of resources in office and technical deficiencies, and stalling by others. The samples from 1,295 complaints from the 688 complainants received by his investigators in the aftermath of the affair are stark and compelling, though not proof of illegal behaviour by the security forces.

In that context, we support his call for a public commission of enquiry into the Tivoli Gardens killings. For we agree that the scope of what happened in Tivoli is beyond what would be expected from a coroner's jury, whose responsibility is to determine how someone died and whether someone should be held accountable and charged for the death.

Indeed, Tivoli transcends possible criminal actions by individual soldiers and police offenders. It encompasses the nature of politics and governance in Jamaica and how these converged with criminality for the toxic mix that erupted in Tivoli - a potion that exists in other garrison communities.

Airing this stench, and the probing of a permissive political culture from which evolved the dysfunctional state which hit back against the beast spawned in Tivoli, would give value to a commission of enquiry, with its greater breadth of action.

That it took so long for Mr Witter to deliver this interim report, whose substantive information might have been contained on a few, rather than the 257 mostly blowhard, pages calls into question Mr Witter's managerial competence, focus, energy and, ultimately, suitability for the job.

Given the difficult procedural hurdles for revoking the appointment of a public defender, that is a question that Mr Witter should himself seriously consider and act upon. The answer, even to him, ought to be obvious.

Questionable COMPETENCE

One other point gives us cause to question the suitability of Mr Witter for this job. It has to do with the second significant recommendation in his report - that the Public Defender Act be amended "expressly to exclude investigations related to allegations of infringement of any constitutional right or freedom, or any criminal action".

We could understand that criminal investigations be excluded, but the other matters Mr Witter would like to divest are precisely the raison d'├ętre of the public defender - protecting citizens whose constitutional rights are infringed by the State.

Mr Witter complains about the burdens of the Tivoli investigations even as he boasts that it was "the Office of Public Defender that decided upon its own independent investigation", which was joined by the Government.

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