By Nelson Manneh
Lamin Cham, Officer Commanding the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) at Brikama Police Station, Tuesday told the Truth Commission (TRRC) that the principal witness in the criminal trial of Lang Tombong Tamba, Modou Gaye and others was tortured by State Security Agents.
Mr. Cham said in normal investigations, there should not be any cause of threats but that was not happening at the NIA in those days. He said their investigations on suspects accused of committing treason were not conducive, but intimidating. He told the Commission that some of the suspects that were brought to the NIA were always tortured, saying one Pierre J. Mendy was tortured.
“When I was obtaining Pierre’s statement, he told me that he had an encounter with Malick Jatta,” he said.
The witness admitted that some of the suspects were beaten before they gave their statements. He said to allow Pierre to speak to a relative and lawyer respectively was in line with standard practice, but that was a problem.
On whether the Panel was allowing suspects to speak to a lawyer before their statements were taken, Cham responded in the negative.
“They were not accorded the opportunity to speak to a lawyer before their statements were taken,” he expounded.
Testifying further, the witness alleged that senior police officers knew that suspects should be given the opportunity to talk to their lawyers before taking statements, but that was not happening.
“I saw serious lacerations on Pierre’s body,” he said.
On the issue of the Independent Witness, Cham said he wanted to have an independent witness just to meet the standards, but he was not given the opportunity. He said after hustling for an independent witness, they eventually succeeded in getting Babou Loum and Tijan Bojang.
Mr. Cham confirmed that the most notorious ‘Junglers’ were present during the course of their investigations and they usually wore the Black-Black clothes and put on mask.
He said he was never told that the Junglers were the killer squad, but he later knew that they were the killer squad of the former president, adding that the soldiers knew the killers better.
“I was supposed to take the statement of one Faring Sanyang, but blood was oozing from his head as a result of a ‘Pistol hit’ on his head by Malick Jatta,” he said.
The witness said the environment was not only threatening to the Suspects, but to the Police as well. He said there was a time they were taking statements of the suspects at the NIA and GRTS went there- at the tail end. Cham said it was Momodou Hydara who suggested GRTS to come, but they argued over it before the panel because it may have a negative image on the proceedings. He said the panelists had no choice than to accept.
Cham said ultimately, Ousman Sonko, Lang Tombong Tamba and Harry Sambou have the legal responsibility to account for all the rights violations at the NIA. When they were briefed by former Director General, Harry Sambou, that Daba Marena and four others had escaped from State custody, he said the panel was wondering and asked him questions.
He said Sambou later advised them that anyone who further asked questions should write to them and sign, but none of the panelists did that. According to Cham, they did not do so because they were afraid of the former president’s Junglers and the directors.
On the second Panel, the operation was the Freedom Newspaper saga. He said his Operation Commander called him to join Sainey Ndure at the NIA. During the course of the investigations, he said they advised the panel members that those people should not be beaten.
“Mr. Abdoulie Kujabi, former Director General of the NIA, could not give statement to the Investigators because of his torture,” he said.
In 2009, on Lang Tombong Tamba’s treason trial, the witness said the panel members were 17, namely, Louis Gomez, late Lamin Sanyang, Lt. Borra Colley, late Sukuta Jammeh, Solo Bojang, Jerreh Gomez, Yankuba Badjie, Buba Biyai, Edrisa Jobe, Sheriff Gassama, Lamin Manneh, Sainey Ndure, Lamin Cham, Assan Badjie and Botto Keita.
“Mr. Ebrima Marreh who was the principal witness was tortured before he gave evidence in the case,” he said.
ASP Cham confirmed that Marreh was brutalized before he served as a Principal witness in Lang Tombong and co trial. On whether the investigations report stated that Ebrima Marreh was beaten before he served as a witness, Cham said the reports were usually written by the NIA.
The witness notwithstanding agreed with Counsel Fall that it should have been in the report, but he said at that time no one was there to put that in the report.
He said they were afraid of the government of the day then- Yahya Jammeh in particular. He added that it was false when his superiors said they were nice to suspects by giving them tea and coffee.
On how he feel for having participated in a process which should have exonerated them, but landed the accused persons in jail, Cham said he felt very bad in doing that, saying it was a crime which determined the investigations.
On the issue of manufacturing evidence, Counsel Faal told him that beating Marreh was a clear indication that they manufactured evidence from him because they were not happy with what he said. Cham said he felt very bad and if he could have stopped it, he would have done so. He said this was all happening at the NIA and he felt let down by his superiors.
Testifying on the issue of the West African Migrants, Cham said the Ghanaians were intercepted at Barra when they received complaint from Barra that they were seeing unknown people there and as a result they were arrested by the Police in Barra.
“The Police in Barra described them as illegal migrants who were going to Europe.”
After arresting them, they took them to the Navy that night, he said he was called to join the Navy, which he did. Cham said upon arrival, there were lot of service chiefs and they detained them in a hall and later transported all of them to Baba Jobe’s residence.
During this process, the witness alleged that Musa Jammeh alias Malia Mungou was there and he (Cham) was the most senior police officer on the ground. He said the NIA and the Military were in groups when the West African Migrants were apprehended.
He said these people were alleged to be mercenaries despite unarmed, saying he did not receive any information concerning weapons. Lamin Tunkara, Echen, and Eric Yaw were the three he took to the Major Crime Unit, but he said they were later discharged by the court, but Lamin was rearrested and killed.
Cham said he later heard that those transported to Baba Jobe’s residence were killed on allegations that they were mercenaries. On the panel on Chief Ebrima Manneh, Cham said he was called by his boss that people were coming to find out about the disappearances of Chief Manneh.
However, he said he did not join the panel because he knew that the report for the delegates would just be another cover up which he did not want to be part of. Mr. Cham apologized to victims he contributed in sending to jail.
Born in Sukuta in 1971, Cham attended Sukuta Primary School and joined the gendarmerie in 1992. In 1998, he was transferred to Serious Crime until 2002 when he was transferred to Farafenni in charge of the Criminal Investigations Department. He said in 2005, the Major Crime Unit was established by former IGP Ousman Sonko. The unit specialized on capital offences and Executive Directives.
“We were investigating directives given to us by our superiors and crimes such as treason, rape cases and murder cases respectively,” he said.