Monday, July 27, 2009



Posted By Stabroek staff On July 26, 2009 @ 5:01 am In Editorial | 11 Comments

Events in the Co-operative Republic are taking a sinister turn. If it wasn’t bad enough that the Ministry of Health was destroyed by arsonists, we now have the mysterious death of David Leander, called ‘Biscuit’ in a public hospital, and the torture of Mr Troy Small by a group of persons unknown, one of whom he alleges, was in GDF uniform. And this, it has been reported, was because the torturers seemed to think that Mr Small was in some way connected to the Ministry of Health fire. From the video footage shown on the local newscasts, his injuries looked horrendous, and even the most uninformed citizen would have no difficulty in concluding that he should have been admitted to hospital. But at this point Mr Small won’t go to the Georgetown Public Hospital for treatment because, this newspaper was told, he is afraid. And why shouldn’t he be, considering what has happened to him and given that there are unanswered questions surrounding Mr Leander’s death – and, it might be added, the earlier one of phantom squad member, Mr Mark Thomas, also in the GPH.

In fact, Mr Small is even nervous about seeking in-patient treatment at a private hospital. That too is understandable, since which institution public or private could guarantee his safety in these times? He has now reached the stage where he is afraid to speak further to the media, and what this newspaper learned had to be gleaned from a relative. It is testimony to the extent of the decline in the rule of law that those charged with protecting us not only lack the capacity to do so, but harbour some among their ranks who themselves constitute a real danger to citizens’ safety.

In this particular instance, the police have said they had nothing to do with dragging Mr Small while he was half out of a vehicle, and beating him in an attempt to extract a ‘confession.’ The finger, it seems, has again been pointed at the army. If the GDF was indeed in any way connected with this torture, it would not be the first time, since there have been allegations previously involving the torture of their own ranks as well as of civilians.

The first thing, therefore, that the government has to clarify is exactly who was involved in the torture of Mr Small. Was it only members of the army, and if so, how come they took it upon themselves to arrest a citizen in the course of an investigation when they have no powers to do so? If only one (or some) member (or members) of the army was present, then who were the other men dressed in mufti? Were they plain clothes ranks from the police force? If they were, it would legitimize the apprehension of Mr Small, but certainly not his treatment. And if there were persons there who were not from the military or the police, just who were they? Are we back to private forces operating outside the law? The identity of Mr Small’s torturers, among other things, is a matter of immediate concern to the citizenry, and if the government seeks to restore any of its credibility, it needs to ensure that the public receives answers and that appropriate action is taken thereafter.

The identity of the torturers should also be a matter of immediate concern to the hierarchy of the GDF, since it is hard to imagine that the senior officer corps could possibly condone torture committed by any of their personnel. If they do not, but it turns out that in defiance of orders there are men under their command who are guilty of it, then it suggests they might not be fully in control of the force. If they are fully in control, then they should investigate these allegations right away. If, however, there are persons at work inside the military who are answering to elements outside the military, then Commander Best and his team have a problem, and so does the public in general. A fragmented army is one which ultimately will not be subject to central control, with all that that implies. And an army which becomes associated with torture at the very least will lose respect, will suffer a decline in morale and will be ill-equipped to do the job it is supposed to do.

Unfortunately the government has a very poor record in terms of addressing the nation’s questions about gross violations of this kind. The President routinely at press conferences when this subject is raised harangues the independent media on their obsession with the rights of criminals, rather than the rights of victims. Never mind that his remarks leave him open to a charge of disinterest in how suspects are treated by law enforcement, which could be misinterpreted by some members of the agencies concerned to mean an implicit sanction for maltreatment.

And the matter has not been handled any better by other ministers. In instances where both army personnel and civilians were the victims of torture at the hands of the GDF, government spokesmen have simply refused to acknowledge that the cases had substance. Minister Robert Persaud on the strength of an internal defence force report on the army ranks who were tortured in the course of an investigation into missing weapons, got up in Parliament and talked glibly about ‘roughing up,’ not torture. It was a disgraceful performance for a minister in a democratic state, not to mention the fact that no one satisfactorily explained to the public what the Minister of Agriculture was doing speaking for the government on security matters. Exactly when was his agriculture portfolio, one might ask, expanded to encompass the Guyana Defence Force?

The government has given the impression – perhaps unintentionally – that they believe thorough investigations may have to involve extra-legal interrogation methods. If they do not, now is the time to make their position clear. Human rights issues aside, it is acknowledged by experts in the Western world that torture is a most ineffective method of obtaining accurate information, and if that is true everywhere else, why on earth is the administration appearing to hang on to outdated assumptions? The Ministry of Health fire must be thoroughly investigated, but if the only method of inquiry law enforcement has at its disposal is torture, then the likelihood of the arson being solved is remote. Furthermore, it would just indicate that there is little willingness on the part of the authorities to do what is necessary to make law enforcement truly effective in confronting crime.

Needless to say, there has been no official investigation into the earlier civilian cases involving torture, including that of Mr Leander himself, who was beaten so badly – allegedly by the police in that instance – that he could not walk into court. The least that can be said is that it is extraordinary that the party now in office, which came through the Burnham years, seems not to have a grasp of what constitutes a violation of human rights, what constitutes torture, and what is required of a government in a democracy. How is it possible that things which were unacceptable to the PPP under the PNC, are perfectly acceptable now that they are in office? Just what is going on?

It is not as if they have not been voluble on the topic of mistreatment and torture in other places. Go through the back issues of the Mirror and there will be endless column inches on the Pinochet regime and its torturing ways in Chile as well as those of right-wing military governments elsewhere, and even more recently, on US treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo. This latter example, it might be noted, was given space in the late Mrs Jagan’s weekly columns on more than one occasion. So here we have a total disconnect requiring some kind of psychological explanation: why can the governing party recognize torture when it occurs outside our borders, but cannot recognize it within? Is this a case of some strange dissociative disease, or is it something more familiar? Is it, after all, just old-fashioned hypocrisy?
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