By Nelson Manneh
Ousman Sowe, the Director General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), has on Thursday 7th January, 2021, informed the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) that the torture center at the NIA is now transformed to a simple office.
Sowe explained the nature in which he met the NIA headquarters when he was appointed as the Director General. He admitted that people were tortured at the NIA in order to extract evidence from them.
DG Sowe on Wednesday promised the TRRC that he will be able to produce decree 45 and code of conduct- the legal documents at the NIA office. He produced and submitted them to the commission on Thursday. He said the code of conduct is the administrative document of the NIA.
Sowe said collecting bribes by NIA officers from the public has been widely said and that has indicated that it may be happening at the NIA but he was not aware of it. The witness said when he was appointed as the DG of NIA, requests made by the public that their vehicles were confiscated by the NIA officers and he carried out investigations and they are processing them in order to return them to their owners.
Lead counsel Essa Faal put it to the witness that there were many witnesses who testified at the Truth Commission, saying that their monies, mobile phones and other materials were taken from them by the NIA officers and they were not returned to them.
Responding to the charges, Sowe said there were instances some vehicles and compounds were impounded by the NIA officers, but some of the materials were returned to the owners while others are in the process of being returned to their rightful owners.
The witness said the NIA is no more taking part in arresting and detaining people and that he is not aware of NIA officers’ involvement in drug dealings. He said one Lamin Karbou, commonly known as mosquito, who he worked with at the Drug Law Enforcement Agency was accused of being involved in drug dealings.
“In the case of Lamin karbou I was not expecting that he would be tortured by Alagie Morr,”he said.
Sowe agreed with Counsel Faal that torturing people was a culture at the NIA to an extent that they inculcated it as part of their responsibilities. He said nobody will say that he has tortured a person, saying at the NIA any officer who tortures an individual, the code of conduct should be applied to the person. The witness admitted that torturing was happening at the NIA, but in the case of Lamin Karbou, he was not expecting him to be tortured.
Sowe said he led the NIA team that arrested some Guineans in The Gambia and Lamin Karbou, but he was not present when they were tortured. He said they just arrested them and handed them over for investigation to continue.
However, Sowe said he is ready to apologize to Karbou and any other person who was subjected to torture at the NIA, noting that he knows torturing was not the best way to obtain evidence from suspects. The DG said he was not part of the team that investigated and tortured Ebrima Barrow. At that time, he was at the analysis unit at the NIA, according to him.
The witness further said when General Bubou Nachutto of Guinea Bissau came to the Gambia, they held discussion regarding the conflict that was in Guinea Bissau but there was no form of negotiation among them. General Bubou then left the Gambia for Angola, he said.
About the ‘talk true machine’ at the NIA headquarters in Banjul, DG Sowe said he was not aware of the existence of the aforesaid machine used for torturing people. He said he came to know about the existence of such a machine when he first saw it in 2003.
“I never saw the ‘talk true machine’ until 2003,” he said.
When the Truth Commission visited the NIA headquarters for a fact finding mission, Counsel Fall said DG Sowe told the Commission that torture was not taking place at the NIA. But the witness said Thursday he now knows that torturing was taking place at the NIA.
“Torture was taking place at the NIA. If I have said another thing different from this during your fact finding mission, I am now saying that torture takes place at the NIA,” he said.
The witness said he was aware of the presence of the ‘talk true machine’ at the NIA, but he has not seen anybody who was tortured with the machine. He said he never used the ‘talk true machine’ to extract information from witnesses when he was head of investigation at the NIA and he has never asked his men to use it.
Sowe said he would take the responsibility if the machine was ever used by his men to extract information from witnesses, but he cannot remember giving such directives. He said when he was appointed Director General of NIA, he did not inherit any equipment used for torturing people including the ‘talk true machine’, nor did he destroy any torturing equipment to cover up evidence.
Mr. Sowe said he met a room at the NIA that was called Torture Room, which has a metal bed fixed in and the color of the room was red, signifying danger. He said when he became NIA boss, he ordered for the bed in the torture room to be removed, the chains to be cut off and the room to be painted white. He said at that time, he didn’t see the equipment as evidence of torture.
Sowe said the first time he saw the torture room he was shocked and decided to change the room to a simple office. He said ‘Bamba Dinka’ room was rehabilitated, but inside the cell was not changed but preserved as it was. He said ‘Bamba Dinka’ has no torturing bed and chains.
Sowe said at the time he was renovating the torture room, he never knew that the materials in the room will be substantial evidence to the Truth Commission. He said the destruction of evidence can likely be illegal if the motive is to hide evidence.
“The reason why I conserved the NIA was because it was fearful and to me all kind of torture and violation of human right should not happen at the NIA again,” he said.
The witness said prior to his appointment as the DG of NIA, he left the service for seven years and when he was appointed in 2017, he did not change the torture room to hide evidence.
He said at the NIA, they don’t see the detention record book of the year 2004 when he was the head of investigation.
“We have about seventy-four correspondences between the TRRC and the NIA and we were able to produce some of the things requested by the NIA; the detention record book was not requested by the TRRC but if the Commission is still interested, we will continue to search for it,” he said.
Lead Counsel Fall said records have indicated that about five hundred and seventy-one people were detained at the NIA from 1991 to 2017, 271 were detained more than the seventy-two hours of detention stipulated in the Constitution, while others’ detention period was not recorded to indicate their length of detention at the Agency.
The witness said he has never destroyed documents at the NIA by burning them. In the case of the Late Louies Gomez, the witness said he has no idea about the documents in Louies Gomez’s office.
The commission made an order for all the files and materials that were in the office of Louies Gomez to be submitted to the Truth Commission.