Death squad panel finalising rules
-Work could start in a month
Stabroek News
July 21, 2004

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The commission appointed to investigate the death squad allegations is nearing agreement on its rules of operation and plans to invite statements from potential witnesses who would also be examined at hearings.

Head of the presidential Commission of Inquiry, Justice of Appeal Ian Chang confirmed yesterday that members of the panel met over the weekend and discussed the rules under which they will operate. And he said if the other members agree on a proposed draft at a meeting today, the rules might be published in the national newspapers as early as this weekend.

The other members of the commission are former army chief-of-staff Norman McLean and former chancellor of the judiciary Keith Massiah, who were appointed by President Bharrat Jagdeo.

The Head-of-State set up the panel on May 14, to determine if there is any credible evidence to support the allegations that Minister of Home Affairs Ronald Gajraj was connected to a death squad.

Gajraj was implicated in the scandal at the start of the year when George Bacchus, who claimed to be an informant for the squad, went public, saying the minister knew of its killings. Bacchus was later murdered and two people have been charged by the police. Among them is the wife of one of the men charged with the murder of Bacchus' younger brother Shafeek, whose killing had prompted him to go public.

The minister, who is now on leave to allow for an impartial investigation, has always maintained his innocence in relation to the claims.

Chang said the commission hopes to begin its work in a month, notwithstanding unforeseen impediments.

He added that the commission also plans to invite statements from people who have evidence relevant to the terms of reference, which its critics have described as limited.

One criticism is that the inquiry is centred on Gajraj's alleged involvement in killings rather than the existence of a group responsible for a series of unsolved murders. Critics have also expressed concerns about the arrangements for witness protection, or the lack thereof. These fears were heightened after the murder of George Bacchus, whose death is seen as connected to his public statements.

But Chang explained that insomuch as witness protection is the responsibility of law enforcement, i.e., the police, the commission will work with what is available to it. Although, he admitted that the commission does not have the power or capacity to enforce it.

Meanwhile, arrangements are also being made to organise support staff for the commission. Chang said a possible candidate has been identified to serve as the legal counsel to the commission, which will require a secretary as well.

He added that the commission would function in a manner similar to the historic Disciplined Forces Commis-sion that recently completed a ten-month review of the armed forces. Chang explained, however, that there would be features to cater for the peculiarities of the subject matter.

The commission was first announced in the second week of May, but appointments were only made at the start of this month.

Police Service Commis-sion Chairman Ivan Crandon was originally named as a member of the commission, but his nomination attracted criticism from several groups, including parliamentary opposition parties. He was subsequently replaced by Massiah, who was appointed last Monday.