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A call for transparency

Published: Aug 29, 2013

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Today The Nassau Guardian has published excerpts from an initial report into the alleged beating of Cuban detainees at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre by Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) guards.

The allegations are at the center of a domestic and international firestorm, including protesters in Florida, who are demanding answers from the Bahamas government.

The details contained in the report, obtained exclusively by this newspaper, are gruesome and disturbing.

According to the interview of a marine, which was included in the initial report completed by an RBDF senior intelligence officer, Cuban detainees were severely beaten at the detention center for almost two hours by RBDF guards after they attempted to escape the facility in May of this year.

A portion of the abuse took place in front of other detainees, including women and children, the report says.

The detainees were brutally kicked, punched, hit with a baton and dragged, and pepper sprayed into their eyes and wounds, according to one of the RBDF marines interviewed as part of the initial investigation.

The report details testimony from the Cuban detainees allegedly beaten by the guards. One of them claims that detainees paid money to defence force guards to use their uniforms in a video they made reenacting the abuse and paid the guards to provide cell phones with video recording capacity.

In addition to the alleged abuse, these claims of payments to guards are also disturbing.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell has said that a retired Court of Appeal judge and a cleric are investigating the matter, although little else has been revealed, other than the report is expected within 30 days. It is expected that this initial report will be considered by investigators, given the Cuban witnesses have been deported and may be unavailable to be interviewed.

Prime Minister Perry Christie has said the full report, once completed, may not even be released to the public, if it would violate people’s rights.

Notwithstanding the prime minister’s concern, we must ask why? Does the government have something to hide?

Given what has been revealed so far in the initial report and its implications for The Bahamas, the results of the full investigation must be made public. If not, questions of a cover-up may gain considerable currency.

Not only should the report be released to the public, if in fact any offenses were committed, any one who was involved or knew about the offenses should be held fully accountable.

Every country has to deal with issues of abuse, and anything less could weaken the government’s position here and abroad. In this case, it also helps to fuel the actions of certain irresponsible Cuban-American special interest groups.

The Bahamas is an open and democratic country. The suppression of information such as this could seriously damage our reputation as a nation respectful of human rights including the rights and protection of migrants.

Photos and other evidence should be released as soon as possible; the government-run detention center should be opened to international inspection, and better mechanisms should be put in place to better monitor conditions at the center. These are just a few of the measures that may improve conditions and stem abuse.

The Bahamas’ credibility could be on the line. The government must do everything possible to ensure transparency and show the Bahamian people and the world that abuse will not be tolerated, nor any cover-up of abuse.

Not only should the truth be told it should be seen to be told. It is not only the country’s reputation at stake.

At stake also is the credibility of the prime minister and the minister of foreign affairs and immigration, whose conduct and previous statements on this matter will now be viewed in light of this report.

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