KINGSTON, Jamaica, Tuesday February 10, 2015, CMC – Former prime minister Bruce Golding Monday said he had no prior knowledge that mortars would be used by the security forces as the Commission of Inquiry probing the events of May 2010 in West Kingston that left several people dead resumed after a break of almost two months.
The security forces had gone into the area in a bid to arrest Christopher “Dudus” Coke who was facing extradition to the United States.
At least 76 people, including 73 civilians were killed during the operations as the security forces battled gunmen loyal to Coke, the reputed leader of the notorious Shower Posse gang.
Golding, who was prime minister at the time of the incursion, told the Commission chaired by the prominent Barbadian jurist, Sir David Simmons, that he had received numerous reports from residents that mortars or bombs were being used in the operations.
The former prime minister said he had raised the issue with the then Chief of Defence Staff Major General Stewart Saunders, who informed him that “these were not incendiary devices.
“That they have more bark than bite,” he reported Saunders as saying, adding that the army official had also indicated that the motors were being used as a distraction.
“My understanding was that it was more a shock and awe effect that the military was seeking to get,” Golding said telling the Commission that his lack of prior knowledge of the use of mortars by the military was not within the remit of the Defence Board, which he chaired at the time.
“The Defence Act places the operational functions of the Force squarely on the Chief of Defence Staff”, Golding told the three-member Commission.
Golding told the Commission Monday that said he had emphasised the importance of avoiding at all cost any injuries to law abiding citizens, especially women and children during the operation.
Golding said that at the start of the operation residents called in to complain about the activities of the security forces.
“Some of the complaints were quite hysterical,” he said, adding “complaints of people being killed and being murdered and that continued until Monday.”
The former prime minister said that the number of casualties reported to him by then Public Defender Earl Witter, head of Red Cross and Bishop Herro Blair, was “significantly higher than what was being reported to him by the police”.
He said he asked the three officials to visit the area because he was concerned about the discrepancies in the security forces’ report and what was being reported to him by the Tivoli residents, some of who were heads of churches and whom he considered to be credible.
Golding told the Commission that the three officials, at a meeting on May 25, briefed him and had expressed concern about what they had seen in Tivoli Gardens.
He said as a result, Witter wanted to immediately investigate possible human rights breaches, the Red Cross head offered to provide motor vehicles to take the injured to hospital and to provide medication, while Blair agreed to mobilise food for the people still in Tivoli Gardens.
During his testimony, Golding acknowledged knowing Coke, and that they spoke on a number of occasions prior to the issuing of an extradition request.
He said he had last spoken to Coke in December 2007. He said he had stopped talking to Coke because the security forces had informed him that men from the Stone Crusher gang were seeking refuge in Tivoli Gardens.
“I cut off all communication with him (Coke) and stopped supporting his community programmes,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Office of the Public Defender has said it now has a copy of the video footage taken by a United States aircraft during the May 2010 Tivoli Gardens operation.
The Commission will sit for two weeks and the secretary, Maria Jones, said “the Commission is proceeding to call witnesses in a chronological order relating to how the events of May 2010 unfolded in West Kingston, starting with the former prime minister, going back to the residents”.
Former national security minister Dwight Nelson, will also testify before the Commission.
The Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) which missed two previous deadlines last month, has now submitted a significant number of statements to the Commission.
The Jamaica Constabulary Force has provided 164 statements regarding activities during the search for Coke, who was wanted in the United States on drugs and gun trafficking charges.
Coke waived his right to judicial proceedings in Jamaica and was transferred to the custody of the U.S. Marshals service and the DEA. Coke was flown to New York on June 24, 2010.
Last month, the main opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) criticised the high cost associated with the Commission, but the government dismissed the statement.