Angles to investigate
February 2, 2004
At a meeting organised by the Women's Progressive Organisation at Annandale two Sundays ago, President Jagdeo made his first public remarks on the controversy swirling around the Home Affairs Minister and the allegations made by a self-professed death squad informant. In the course of his intervention and in response to calls that an independent inquiry into the allegations be convened and that the minister should step down to facilitate this, he accused Stabroek News and other media houses of appearing to be engaged in a campaign to bring down the government. While we are not in a position to speak for other media houses we can safely say that Stabroek News is not part of any campaign to supplant the government and the President's charge should be put down to fighting rhetoric rather than a serious attempt to respond to the crisis before him.
The president, the state media and some other outlets have also made much capital out of a story which was carried in the Stabroek News and which had stated that the informant, George Bacchus, had taken a lie detector test and passed. Based on the assurances of the US embassy Stabroek News has accepted that the story was erroneous and this was stated in the Sunday Stabroek the day before the President accused the newspaper of not recanting.
Another headline in this newspaper which has been derided was the one which said that the police had been advised by the DPP's Chambers to charge suspected death squad member Axel Williams with murder for the shooting to death of food vendor Rodwell Ogle. It now turns out as reported in yesterday's Sunday Stabroek that the DPP's Chamber had indeed recommended that a murder charge be laid against Williams but this was countermanded later in that day and altered to advice that a Coroner's Inquest be held.
It is quite clear that the government and its supportive media have embarked on a twin-track strategy: attack media houses which are making an effort to uncover the truth behind the death squad allegations and insist that an investigation is predicated on the informant going to the police with a detailed statement on what he knows. A component of the strategy is to shift attention from Bacchus' claims by focusing on errors that the media might have made.
With each passing day this strategy seems more and more misplaced. While the murder of George Bacchus' brother, Shafeek, may have been the pebble that caused the ripples in the water, the waves have been crashing ashore all along. Starting with the death of the notorious criminal Andrew Douglas, for ease of reference, the activity of shadowy gunmen had raised serious questions which the government had ignored. It appears that this group comprised two distinct sets of gunmen: those doing the bidding of the drug kingpins and those operating in support of the police force. Beyond a half-hearted suggestion many months ago by the Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon that the phenomenon would be investigated there has been no attempt by the authorities to explain the killing spree. In the intervening period, dozens of men have been gunned down on the street, kidnapped and found dead or have simply disappeared.
How can any government or segment of society feel comfortable in this milieu? Forget George Bacchus. Wasn't this prima facie grounds for the state to seriously investigate whether a death squad was at work and how it should be smashed? Because the activities of these killers intersected with a lessening of crime and the mindset that the February 23 escapees, who were terrorising the citizenry should be taken out no matter the price, a significant section of society preferred to find convenient excuses for the carnage.
Try as it may, the government cannot avoid answering the serious questions it faces based on the allegations made by the informant against Minister Gajraj. Its credibility is on the line and already several of the influential western missions here have seen it fit to add their voices to the clamour that the claims be seriously investigated.
There are numerous leads for the government to investigate. The obvious one is George Bacchus. His giving of a statement to the police would be the easiest way to initiate the process. However, his handling by the authorities raises doubts about the government's and the police's intent. Because of the seriousness of his allegations it was the government's duty to seek him out and have him give a statement while offering whatever protection was available. During the occasions he visited the police in relation to the investigation of his brother's murder, why didn't the police ask him for a full statement on his allegations about the death squad? Enough has been said by him already in his disclosures to the media to warrant serious scrutiny by the authorities. Mr Bacchus is keeping a low profile at the moment. Why is anybody's guess though it is not unlikely that he has been subject to a variety of pressures to keep his mouth shut. Both he and the government have an obligation to get to the bottom of these sordid allegations.
And there is more. Why was Axel Williams not charged with the murder of the food vendor? Was it because he was already hired for a killing task or could be enticed in this direction? How could Williams be in possession of a firearm licence considering his previous problems? Why was Williams in such frequent contact with the Minister of Home Affairs and at odd hours? The minister has shrouded questions about these contacts in a national security blanket. There must, however, be a delineation of what is reasonable for the minister to categorise under the national security rubric and what is not. Who was behind the clinical execution of Williams and why?
What do the three men held for Shafeek Bacchus' murder know about any of this and have they been questioned by the police about it? Why don't the police begin re-examining alleged phantom murders to see if any new evidence or testimony will come to light considering the recent revelations?
These elementary questions should be the focus of attention of the President and his government if they are serious about putting the various allegations that have surfaced to the test.