By Mustapha Jallow
The Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) has found the Special Operations Unit (SOU) of the Gambia’s National Intelligence Agency (NIA) to be extremely brutal under the reign of former president Yahya Jammeh.
“The SOU carried out its operations with extreme brutality and enjoyed impunity. By the NIA’s own brutal standards, the SOU was so extreme in how detainees were subjected to various forms of torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment that even the other units of the NIA viewed the SOU as the ‘Junglers of the NIA”, said the commission in most of the abuses it documented in its final report earlier submitted to President Adama Barrow.
The truth body indicated that the NIA special unit was established in 2007 only to satisfy Jammeh’s rule by going after its citizens, especially those who opposed or questioned his rule.
“The NIA Special Operations Unit intimidated and persecuted all persons who were perceived to be in opposition to Jammeh’s agenda including close associates and business partners who had fallen out with him,” TRRC said.
The commission also revealed that the NIA special unit was engaged on spying, arresting and torturing members of the public and fabricating evidence to maintain a false narrative that favoured Jammeh’s agenda for self-perpetuation.
“Exhibit 193 C shows that about one hundred and fifteen (115) people were arrested and unlawfully detained by the SOU Officer Command (OC) Lamin Darboe of NIA,” said the commission in the report
In addition, the truth body added the personnel of the unit became thugs for hire to private citizens engaging in enforcing agreements and debt collection. Over the years, it reported that the unit in particular and the NIA became synonymous with fabrication of evidence, cover-ups of illegal activities, instilling fear and torturing detainees.
“At the latter part of Jammeh’s regime, the NIA’s work was synergized with that of the “Junglers” (a shadowy paramilitary group who used to carry out unlawful killings, tortures and forcibly disappear people) and the Bulldozers,” the TRRC said.
It stated that SOU used to report directly to NIA Director General through its officer commanding and their operations mainly involved matters that Jammeh had interest or issues that threatened his power.
“210 Detainees at the SOU were routinely taken for “VIP treatment” which ironically meant severe torture in cases where a detainee failed to confess or generally where the NIA are instructed to torture certain individuals to inflict pain and suffering, especially in cases that Jammeh has particular interest,” it said.
The TRRC added that the SOU was also involved in the unlawful and prolonged detention of public officials at the request of Jammeh, saying by virtue of the unbridled powers given to the unit, they enriched themselves by turning into “guns for hire” to harass and intimidate businesses and debtors, often on the instructions of those with economic and political connections.
Basiru Sey, a member of the NIA SOU, testified before the commission that the NIA extorted money from people and also acted as debt recovery agents in private civil disputes that have no bearing on state security.
The initiator of NIA, Jammeh, was viewed as a ruthless leader in the tiny West African country since he took power in 1994. He was accused of constituting an intelligence agency and a secret hit squad in the army described by human rights watch as the “shadowy paramilitary groups”to eliminate his opponents.
The commission report also indicated that the NIA special unit and “Junglers” have tortured thousands of civilians, government officials, members of security forces, elders, youths, women and even carried out assassinations, executions as well as committed perjury.
However, several victims have described torture methods before commission that included severe beatings, suffocation with plastic bags, rape, electroshock of body parts- including genitals, stripping naked to pay with private parts and dripping melted plastic bags onto the body
Since its establishment, the intelligence special unit has used violent interrogation methods on its detainees. In the report, top NIA agents and other junior agents, a paramilitary group known as black-black (“Junglers”) and senior members of The Gambia Police Force have been implicated in the report to have participated in dark operations.
Political leaders, supporters, journalists, government employees, activists-critics, juridical staff, lawyers, members of security forces and ordinary citizens became the targets of the NIA and Junglers, who carried out several arbitrary arrests, detain and extrajudicial killings, and forced hundreds to flee their home country to either Europe or neighbouring countries.