TRRC produces first witness confession to torture; but not without missed opportunities

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Gambia’s historic Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) has produced it’s first star witness who has publicly admitted to committing crimes and gross human rights violations by torturing former agriculture Minister Omar Amadou Jallow alias OJ. The witness, Captain Bubacarr Bah of the Gambia National Assembly who is currently a member of the training team at the Army training school was named by OJ in his testimony as someone who personally tortured him. OJ single out Mr. Bah as one among many other soldiers who tortured him and other detainees at the Faraja Baracks after the 1994 military takeover.

Mr. Bah appeared at the TRRC on February 12th as a witness in full military gear showing his rank as a Captain. His testimony revealed that he was a major player in defending the military dictatorship climbing through the ranks to his current rank as a Captain. He disclosed that he first joined the default Gambian National Gendarmerie in July 1991. He did his military training in Turkey on two occasions, one of which lasted for a period of two years. The annexation of the Gendarmerie happened while he was in training in Turkey and upon his returned to the Gambia, he decided to join the Gambia National Army and was attached to the Army training school until his transfer to Farafenni, then to Bakau Barracks when the training school was moved to Bakau. Captain Bah said his expertise is in ammunition and explosives.

Captain Bah’s testimony which took more than two hours was briefly interrupted when NAWEC power went off. Throughout his testimony Mr. Bah displayed some military pride which many civilians may describe as some usual arrogance display by most uniform men. He occasionally came across as a highly intelligent military officer by using his head and experience to rationalize his surroundings before he makes his next move. Some of his testimonies were sometimes scanty as he was focused more on his own role and how he maneuvered around the Barracks. His narration on the November 11th 1994 incident was less detailed as the situation appeared more consequential than a mere firing at unknown enemies. He said he was one of those firing but at what he couldn’t say except that he was defending the “Barracks, himself and his comrades”.

Mr. Bah’s witness testimony after the first break took a turn when the deputy lead counsel Horeja Bala Gaye asked him about the alleged torture of Omar Amadou Jallow at the Faraja Barracks. She explained that the commission have heard testimonies that he was among the men who was involved in torturing OJ Jallow. Captain Bah took almost fifteen minutes explaining how he got involved in the alleged tortures. He said he was called upon by one of his superior one Almamo Manneh who asked if he Captain Bah knows the people who were detained. Mr. Bah said he recognized OJ Jallow who was “the most fair colored among the group”. Bah knew OJ as a minister and just listening to what Almamo told him about the alleged threat OJ and others pose on the security of the nation, he got angry. He said “because of my age and level of maturity at that time really, I was gullible and I believed him and  that is what led me to join in torturing uncle OJ”. Suddenly it appears you shocked air and life out of the room as everything went dead quiet and feels numb including the deputy lead counsel who has unusual calming voice during her questioning of witnesses. She took a deep breath with a sad face staring at her computer screen and she said to the witness “Can you tell us what you did to uncle OJ”?

Captain Bah explained that the detainees were already undressed and when he got close to OJ, he “punched him in the stomach and started beating him all over”. He wasn’t satisfied with beating OJ with his bare hands, he looked for a physical weapon around which he used to continue his torture of OJ Jallow. Bah appeared emotional at this point and put his hands in his face attempting to conceal his face from what could only be described as humiliation. In comforting the witness, madam counsel said “Take your time Captain Bah take your time”. The sadness on her face couldn’t be described. Bah said his actions were very regrettable as he continued to hit OJ mercilessly on his feet and body. OJ then fell to the ground but Bah continue to hit and beat him and this continued for a while he said. Attempting to explain his rationale for torturing an innocent civilian, Bah said that time his maturity was not there and that any human being should have thought about his actions. Feeling guilty of his actions with no rationality whatsoever, Bah turned to the Quran and started quoting verses from the Holy Book. Apart from turning to the holy book, Bah attempted to blame his youthful age and the trust he had in his commander who he said he knew and grew up with.

Observing the people sitting in the room, one could feel that something unthinkable that many Gambians denied or only heard by hearsay are listening to a living participant of one of the numerous tortures that was inflicted on innocent Gambians. Many couldn’t believe what they were hearing from Captain Bah – a military officer supposedly professionally trained and wearing his full uniform with pride. Bah with a straight face said he has no one to blame but himself because he had the responsibility to verify the information before acting the way he did. He said he was in fact involved in beating OJ several times . He said he deeply regretted his actions and anytime he see OJ on TV or think about it he feels guilty. He said he had thought about apologizing to OJ on several occasions. He said he couldn’t get around to apologize to OJ because he feared about the reactions of the former dictator Yahya Jammeh and how he would have reacted. Bah said he consulted family members to help him face his victim one day and apologize for his actions. He said he takes full responsibility of his actions and has pledged not to lie about what he did.  Bah appears genuine in his testimony. He said “I want to accept that I am guilty hundred percent and regretted doing what I did” He said I urge the indulgence of the TRRC Commission to establish the truth and help him apologize to OJ and his family. Before narrating his own ordeal “down the pages of history” Bah said “I am sorry for what I have done”.

It took almost 20 minutes into Bah’s admission before the lead Counsel could have the stamina to say something to the witness. She thanked him the witness and said that when the TRRC contacted him, he was cooperative and not only admit what he did privately but was willing to come forward and testify publicly on his actions. She ask what the Captain was willing to say directly to OJ and his family. Bah said “Wonlai I will not sleep comfortably until I face Uncle OJ and apologize to him personality for what I have done to him” That he has accepted the responsibility and apologize to OJ and his family for the pain he has inflicted on OJ and by extension his family.

Mr. Bah’s admission of guilt to torturing OJ was devastating to the audience and commission members including online audience, one must congratulate the TRRC for turning in their first witness who admitted guilt knowing fully well the consequences of his public admission. Captain Bah stand to lose his job and his credibility for the rest of his life. He could potentially face prosecution unless his case qualifies for amnesty for coming out first to publicly admit his actions. Mr. Bah without a doubt was courageous to come out and admit his actions and guilt.

There was however a great missed opportunity for the lead Counsel and the rest of the commissioners to further probe if Mr. Bah had in fact been involved in any other tortures of other citizens. As much as his admission of harming OJ was important, it was essential that the commissioners further ask questions if Mr. Bah has tortured or participated in any other human rights violations during his tenure. Here is why it was important for the commissioners to take advantage of Bah’s admission, perhaps they will have the opportunity to recall him.

However, Captain Bah during the narration of his own unfortunate ordeal, established that he had deeper links to the Junta or at least one or two of the main operatives of Dictator Jammeh’s oppressive machine. He mentioned his relationship and trust between him and Jammeh’s notorious State House Commander and right hand man Major Saul Badjie and NIA Director Yankuba Badjie. It is somewhat unusual for someone of his rank to have such close relationship with these people without knowing much about some of the most gruesome human rights violations that were carried out by the Jammeh regime. The commissioners had the opportunity to ask if Captain Bah witnessed or knew about any other tortures, human rights violations, disappearances and or extra judicial killings. At the very least it was an opportunity to establish whether Bah had tortured any other Gambian soldier or civilian who he could also apologize to like he did to OJ. Again, perhaps the commission investigators have more in store for us as it relates to this witness and that they probably doesn’t want to preempt further testimonies. We will give them the benefit of the doubt. The commission is commendable for the work it is doing so far and Gambians though terrified of what could come in the future appreciates their professionalism.

The final comment on this matter has a larger implication if Gambia is never to go through this again. Chairman Cise’s question whether there is protocol or curriculum to train soldiers on the Geneva convention on war conventions and human rights was spot on. Mr. Bah’s admission that the military doesn’t have such a training except for those exposed to International peace keeping should give us a window of the level of professionalism and training of our army. It leaves much to be desired for immediate security reforms or possible total elimination of the military and other security sector. It is hope that this government will take security seriously and appoint a minister of defense who can expedite the security sector reform. We also hope that more Gambians will be bold enough to come out and admit what they have done to their fellow citizens just like what Captain Bah did. Bah is commended for his courage to set the bar high for other witnesses. For Gambia our home land “Never again”

By Demba Baldeh Associate Editor. Video and pic courtesy QTV

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