By Nelson Manneh
A staff of the National Intelligence Agency on Wednesday testified that former deputy editor of the defunct Observer Newspaper was tortured by the Special Operation Unit of the aforesaid spy agency.
Mr. Kebba Secka, who appeared before the truth commission on Wednesday 13th January 2020 was born on the 28th September 1972 in Banjul and joined the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) in 1998.
The witness said after completing his training, he was posted to the NIA headquarters as an operative officer and his responsibility was to collect information for the NIA political department.
Secka said the political department at the NIA was responsible for all political activities in the country and they also served as spies to opposition parties and even the ruling party.
He said they mainly focused on the big opposition political parties and they used to attend their meetings, record the procedures of the meetings, transcribe the audios and send the report to the analysis unit of the NIA.
He said the analysis unit would then forward the report to the office of the president because the NIA was working directly under the office of the president.
“At that time, we serve the interest of the president first before any other person,” he said.
The witness said at that time, the NIA officers’ mindset was to serve the interest of the president first.
The witness said in 2014, he served as an investigator under the investigation unit at the NIA.
As an operative, the witness said his responsibility was to collect information and send it to the NIA headquarters. He added he did not arrest anyone when he was an operative.
The witness said torturing at that NIA started in 1994 when the investigation unit was established, adding the investigation unit used to arrest and detained people at the NIA.
“Most of the arrests were executive directives that came from the president and we acted as per the directives,” he said.
The witness said some of the directives came to their office orally and in some instances they were written directives and the Director-General passed them to the operation unit.
He said when the Director-General received directives from the president; he used to send the message to the investigation unit who then carry out the investigation as required.
He said during those days, Foday Barry was the officer commanding the investigation unit of the NIA. He added Bamba Manneh, late Musa Kinteh, Lamin Joberteh (former Minister), Lamin Darboe, Omar Cham, Lamin Fatty and Jawneh were among the officers at the investigation unit who were involved in torturing arrestees.
He said torture was a routine at the NIA. He testified that those arrested in connection with politics were tortured at the NIA.
He said in those days, tortures were carried out in the conference centre of the NIA and it was normally carried out after working hours.
He said the tortures were carried out at night because they did not want people to be aware of what was going on.
The witness said the special operation unit was established in 2014 and it was headed by Tamba Mansary, Lamin Darboe and Babucarr Sallah.
He said at that time in the NIA, torture was a routine whether one admits it or not.
Secka said according to the constitution of The Gambia, nobody should be detained for more than 72 hours without releasing him/her or arraigning him/her in court. But he was quick to add that people were detained for more than 72 hours at the NIA.
“Detainees were mostly kept in the cells at the NIA and all the officers who were working at the headquarters were aware of the tortures and detentions at the NIA,” he said
He said if an NIA Officer is posted outside the NIA headquarters; he/she may not be aware of the detention and torturing, but as far as he/she is at the NIA headquarters, he/she you must hear the stories about the tortures carried out there.
The witness said there were instances when people were brought in by the special operation unit and their details were not recorded at the gate.
Secka said when he was deployed to the Tourism Development Area, he was once called to go and answer at the NIA headquarters. He said when he went to answer; Musa Kinteh came and told him that he received directives that he should be detained.
He said he complied and he was taken to Bakau police station where he was detained. He said he spent three days there; Musa Kinteh again went for him and took him back to the NIA headquarters where he was detained again.
He said whilst he was detained at the NIA, one of his colleagues told him that he would be tortured. He said he was not surprised because he was expecting that he would be tortured.
“Late in the evening, I was taken to a hall before a panel where I met some NIA Officers and Police Officers and they received me very arrogantly especially one Babucarr Jallow who told me that I was working with some rebels,” he said.
The witness said he was surprised with that information because at that time he was at the Tourism Development Area far from the borders.
Secka said one Edrisa Jobe (Alagie Morr) walked towards him, stripped off his clothes naked and started to beat him and called Lamin Darboe to join him.
He said whilst this was happening, none of the panel members asked them to stop what they were doing to him. He said Edrisa Jobe and Lamin Darboe used wires to beat him.
The witness said Babucarr Jallow was the one who headed the panel where he was tortured. He said after torturing him, they give him his clothes and told him to write his statement.
He said he was arrested together with one Lamin Star Badjie and Victor Demba. According to him, Lamin Star Badjie was also tortured, but Victor Demba was not tortured.
Secka said there was a day while the officers were transporting him to Mile ll he met with one Sam Kambai who was seriously tortured.
The witness said after torturing him, they took him in to a cell and in that cell, he met four other people there.
He said in the cell, they were not given any medical assistance, adding they used their clothes to nurse their injuries.
He said every prisoner at the NIA headquarters was given seventy-five dalasis for his daily ration.
The witness said there was a day when he requested to see his wife and the Director-General granted his request, and the following day while he was waiting for his wife at the conference hall, one Alagie Morr told him that they want him to change his cautionary statement to a witness statement and the State will use him as a State witness which he said he refused.
The witness described Alagie Morr as an evil person because he (Alagie Morr) used to go and drink before torturing people.
He said he spent 45 days at the NIA detention centre before he was transferred to Mile ll. He said he was transferred to Mile ll together with the alleged rebels.
He said in Mile ll, he was taken to the maximum-security wing in cell number five and Sam Kambai was taken to cell number four.
He said Sam Kambai was arrested in Farafeeni by the ‘Jungulers’ and he was tortured from Farafeeni to the NIA headquarters where he was handed over to the NIA Officers.
The witness said at Mile ll, he was detained for two years before he was charged. He said he was first arraigned before Magistrate Pa Harry Jammeh at Brikama Magistrates court.
He said whilst he was still going to court in Brikama, Magistrate’s Court, Pa Harry Jammeh was redeployed and one Magistrate Mahoney took the case and his lawyer Counsel LS Camara told the Magistrate about the charge that was levied against them was not within the jurisdiction of the Magistrate’s Court. He added the case was later transferred to the High Court in Banjul.
The witness said at the high court, he was acquitted and discharged. He said after he was discharged from the court, he was dismissed from the NIA and after one year he was reinstated.
Secka said after the 30th December attack, some soldiers were arrested and kept at the NIA headquarters.
“At the NIA, these soldiers were called one after the other, they will first take the person to the torturing room, torture the person first before the person write his statement and if they are not happy with the statement, they will torture him or her again,” he said.
He said at the time, Bahorreh Jaiteh was the legal adviser to the military and he was present at the NIA when they were taking the statement of the soldiers.
The witness said it was the ‘Jungulers’ who tortured the December 30th attackers, adding the statements of the suspects were obtained at night in the absence of an independent witness.
Secka said the Deputy Editor of former Observer Newspaper Alagie Jobe was tortured by the operation team and Tamba Masireh, Lamin Darboe and Babucarr Sallah were part of that team.
He said when the UDP Protesters were arrested in April 2016, the Operation Commander gave them ten questioners and told them to interview them (arrestees).
“When these people were brought in, I was among those who were interviewing them and those who appeared before us were seriously tortured,” he said.
Secka said it was Tamba Masireh and Babucarr Sallah who tortured the April 2016 demonstrators and they were the ones who were bringing them to the place where their statements were taken.
He said when Lamin Darboe was redeployed, Haruna Bojang was the commander of the special operation unit and Tamba Masireh and Babucarr Sallah were part of the special operation unit.
He said Fatoumatta Camara and Fatoumatta Jawara were seriously tortured and were not able to talk during the investigation.
The witness said at that period, they did not trust each other at the NIA.