Denying the obvious
February 15, 2004
So what does the Government have to say now? Two weeks ago, in our edition of February 1, we reported that shortly after the DPP's Chambers had issued a recommendation that death squad suspect Axel Williams should be charged with the murder of food vendor Rodwell Ogle, this was recalled, and a second DPP recommendation was made that a Coroner's Inquest should be held into the shooting instead. While we were not in a position to say whose signature was on the first recommendation, or who had tendered the second, we were able to report that the only official record at the DPP's office was for a charge of murder to be instituted. This recommendation was dated September 12, 2002, and had been made during the tenure of former DPP Dennis Hanomansingh, while the second recommendation was to be found on the case file at the Brickdam Police Station.
Ogle was shot by Williams in front of eyewitnesses on August 8, 2002, some of whom gave statements to the police. It should be added that the food vendor did not die immediately, being hospitalized in the Intensive Care Unit for two weeks following the shooting. In the first place, therefore, it is difficult to see how Williams could not have been charged with murder given the circumstances, and in the second, it is equally difficult to see how a recommendation for a murder charge could then have been changed to one for an inquest. It might be noted that in any case almost 16 months after the last recommendation had been made, no such inquest had been held.
One might have thought that a Government concerned with the rule of law would have wanted to investigate this strange matter with its implications of interference at some level, but even its more loquacious spokesmen have been overcome by silence. But the saga of the now notorious Axel Williams does not end there. On Monday we reported on the contents of a letter bearing Police Commissioner (ag) Floyd McDonald's signature authorizing an upgraded firearm licence for Axel Williams some eleven months after the shooting of Ogle. The copy of the letter seen by Stabroek News was dated July 18, 2003, and approved an alteration in the calibre of weapon Williams was permitted to carry from a .32 pistol, to a 9mm pistol/revolver.
When approached by this newspaper for a comment, Mr McDonald declined, saying that after more than three decades in the police force, he did not deserve to be harassed. There surely can have been no more inappropriate response from the head of a law enforcement agency to a legitimate enquiry on a matter of public interest. It does not matter that tomorrow, Mr Winston Felix takes over from Mr McDonald as Commissioner of Police; the latter still cannot evade his responsibility to give an account of how it is that a man who had been involved in a shooting incident for which the DPP's Chambers had recommended a Coroner's Inquest, not only did not lose his gun licence, but actually had it upgraded. If asking questions about this issue constitutes harassment, then Mr McDonald deserves to be harassed.
And why is the Government silent on the matter? Is an administration so ostensibly committed to accountability and transparency unconcerned about the implications of these revelations? What conclusions are citizens to draw, when despite this disturbing evidence in the public domain, the Government continues to be fixated on procedural matters? Dr Luncheon with Dr Bisnauth and Ms Teixeira in tow, recently went bounding off to North America to carry the message of 'procedures' to the diaspora - and American offialdom, no doubt. They have been clinging desperately to the formula that Mr George Bacchus must give a statement to the police about his allegations concerning Minister Gajraj and a death squad, following which the force will mount an investigation. Correct procedure, apparently, will brook no more common sense alternative.
But other objections to this mode of proceeding aside, we have moved well beyond Mr George Bacchus and his allegations. How can questions about a recalled recommendation from the Chambers of the DPP be addressed by Mr Bacchus giving a statement to the police? And how will queries about why Mr McDonald upgraded Williams' firearm licence be answered by Mr Bacchus making a statement to the police - or by the police asking the former chief policeman about it?
Here, quite independently of anything Mr Bacchus has said, we seem to have tangible evidence that Axel Williams, alleged death squad member and known murderer, had guardian angels somewhere high up in the system, protecting him from the consequences of his actions prior to his assassination at the hands of an unknown gunman on December 10, 2003. If this does not cry out for an independent inquiry, then what does?
The older objections to a police investigation, of course, still stand, even where Mr Bacchus's allegations alone are concerned. It has been claimed that there was some level of police involvement in the death squad, and that several members of the squad were themselves ex-policemen. In conjunction with the allegations against Minister Gajraj, who is, after all, Home Affairs Minister, such claims make the police the least suitable body to mount an inquiry, a point which to date has been blindingly obvious to everyone except the governing party.
Last week, Mr Bacchus's claims about the existence of a death squad were given support by a woman whose husband had been abducted and killed by the group. She will not speak to the police now, because she fears for her own life and for the safety of her family, but she did say with reference to her dealings with them immediately after her husband was shot, "The police know who killed [him]; we told them what we knew and they didn't do anything."
The Government and PPP/C's position on a police investigation has been untenable from the beginning; now, however, it is looking increasingly absurd in the light of the evidence emerging in relation to Axel Williams. How long do the powers-that-be think they can go on denying the obvious?