Sat | Dec 3, 2016

Mortars shock Bruce - Former PM 'extremely surprised' by JDF's admission

Published:Thursday | February 12, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Livern Barrett, Gleaner Writer

FORMER PRIME Minister Bruce Golding yesterday pointed to differences between information given to him by then army chief Major General Stewart Saunders and a statement later released by the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) on the use of mortars during the 2010 police-military operation in Tivoli Gardens.

Golding, in his third day on the witness stand at the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry, said Saunders informed him, during the May 2010 operations, that the devices being used by the army "were not mortars that would have the effect of disruption".

"But [that] these were devices used to create an impression ... to cause a diversion," he recalled of Saunders' description of the devices.

However, the former prime minister testified that he found it "quite significant" when, more than two years after the operations, the military issued a statement confirming that mortars were used in the west Kingston community for two purposes.

"One is to dismantle obstacles that restricted their entry into the area, and secondly, that they were fired into vacant areas where nobody was," Golding recalled of the JDF statement, which was released in June 2012 after the publication of a US cable report.

The statement by the army explained that mortars were fired into open areas to create diversion and that at no time were persons and buildings targeted.

"I was extremely surprised at that statement coming out of the Jamaica Defence Force," Golding underscored.

"I found it extremely surprising because when I specifically asked the chief of [defence] staff [during the operations] 'were mortars used?', he advised me that what was used was not mortars that would have the effect of destruction," he testified, during cross-examination by attorney-at-law Linton Gordon, who is representing the JDF.

However, Golding, who was also minister of defence, sought to make it clear that he had full confidence in both Saunders and retired Police Commissioner Owen Ellington then and still repose confidence in both men.

REPORTS OF 'BOMBS'

At least two Tivoli Gardens residents have testified before the enquiry that they heard "bombs" go off in their west Kingston community during the massive police-military operations to capture then fugitive Christopher 'Dudus' Coke.

Coke was wanted in the United States on drug and firearm charges. After waiting nine months to convince American authorities that aspects of the extradition request was in violation of Jamaican laws, Golding used a national broadcast to inform the nation that he had given then Attorney General Dorothy Lightbourne the authority to proceed.

Responding to a question from Independent Commission of Investigations boss Terrence Williams on whether this broadcast, days before the operations, removed the element of surprise for the security forces, the former prime minister conceded that "there is some validity to that argument".

"But I think that it has to be looked at in the context of the circumstances that existed at that time … . The need, I felt, for the society to be advised that an issue that had led to almost a state of paralysis of governance was being resolved," he explained.

"As to whether the security forces would have been able to execute that warrant without incident had there not been that announcement is really an adventure in speculation. History doesn't disclose its alternative," he explained.

To bolster his argument, Golding pointed to the 2001 operation in Tivoli Gardens in which 27 persons were killed.

"They [security forces] were not in search of such high-value target and yet 27 persons, including women and children, were killed … and they went in by complete surprise," he argued.

"Therefore, for us to seek to draw some conclusion that if the security forces had been allowed to sneak into Tivoli Gardens we would not have had the outcome that we had, I think is broad speculation," he added.

The former west Kingston member of parliament said he felt no personal responsibility for the events in 2010, but said he had regrets about the number of persons killed or injured in the operations.