Jamaica – Tivoli plane mystery
Golding testifies he never asked US for surveillance aircraft
KINGSTON –– Former prime minister Bruce Golding testified in the Tivoli Inquiry yesterday that a United States surveillance plane was in the sky over Tivoli Gardens a day before he spoke to United States Charge d’Affaires to Jamaica Isaiah Parnell about America providing surveillance in the operations to apprehend then area don Christopher “Dudus” Coke.
Additionally, Golding, who was defence minister at the time in May, 2010, said he never requested an aeroplane, but satellite surveillance of Tivoli Gardens to assist the security forces who had gone in to arrest Coke and restore law and order to the community.
Golding made the disclosure while being questioned by Queen’s Counsel Garth McBean, the lead attorney for the commission, about footage of aerial surveillance from an American aeroplane of the May 24, 2010 operation.
“I wasn’t aware of it at that time. I became aware of it based on reportage that came out of New York by a journalist, who claimed to have access . . . to information from Homeland Security,” he said.
“What I found significant, as well, is that from his reporting . . . a plane was in place from Monday 24th. My request was made through the charge d’affaires on Tuesday afternoon the 25th,” Golding added.
He said that when he heard that footage was available, he thought it was from the request that he had made.
At another point during his questioning from McBean, Golding said he thought that his statement in Parliament that the authority to go ahead with extradition proceedings against Coke, who was wanted in the United States on drug and gunrunning charges at the time, exacerbated the situation in Tivoli Gardens prior to the start of the police/military operation.
More than 70 people, including members of the security forces, died in the operation.
Golding later said under questioning from Deborah Martin, who is representing the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), that he was satisfied, based on his briefings with the police, that what was happening in Tivoli Gardens was a “calculated attack” on the state, which could not have been allowed to continue.
Fielding further questions from Martin, Golding said the police didn’t inform him of gunmen dressed in army fatigue with helmets and ballistic vests and police denim uniform.
He said he wasn’t given footage or pictures by then police commissioner Owen Ellington.
During his examination-in-chief led by Queen’s Counsel Ransford Braham, Golding said he instructed commissioner Ellington, and Chief of Defence Staff Major General Stewart Saunders to “avoid at all cost” any injuries to law-abiding citizens, “especially women and children”, ahead of the security forces going into the barricaded Tivoli Gardens.
But he testified 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,” Golding told the commission, “complaints of people being killed and being murdered and that continued until Monday.”
He said he spoke with some of the residents himself and that some of his staff members took other calls from residents of Tivoli Gardens.
Golding added that having received the information, he spoke with the police commissioner and the head of military operations about the residents’ complaints.
The former prime minister said he was led to ask the then public defender Earl Witter, the head of the Red Cross, as well as Bishop Herro Blair to visit Tivoli Gardens and report to him what they had seen and heard of the operation.
He said he made the decision based on discrepancies between the casualty figures being reported to him by both residents of the community and the police. He said the three men reported to him, during a meeting at Vale Royal on May 25, 2010, higher casualty figures than those given to him by the police.
He said Witter had arrived late at the meeting because he was at the morgue counting bodies that were, according to him, “piled up”.
Golding said the men were concerned 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 mobilize food for the people still in Tivoli Gardens.
The officials reported seeing bodies in the street and said someone complained that they did not receive treatment after being shot and that people were being killed unjustly.
During the afternoon session, Golding testified, under questioning from McBean, that Witter had raised concerns to him that some 56 bodies had been taken to May Pen Cemetery to be buried without being identified or autopsied.
The bodies were eventually recovered, Golding said.
He’s to be questioned further today by Martin.