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After the leak

Abuse probe should be swift, transparent
  • Randy Rodriguez.

  • The Carmichael Road Detention Centre. TNG FILE PHOTO

  • Fred Mitchell.

  • Ramon Sanchez.

CANDIA DAMES
Guardian News Editor
candia@nasguard.com

Published: Sep 02, 2013

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The details of the alleged abuse of Cuban detainees at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre have come to light, providing a shocking look at the beatings reportedly administered by defence force personnel at the facility back in May.

The leaked report outlining witness statements has been a game changer in the controversy that has pitted The Bahamas against unrelenting Miami activists, and the opposition Free National Movement against Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell.

The report provides a black and white account of the claims made a week earlier by leader of the Opposition Dr. Hubert Minnis, who alleged a cover up in the matter.

Save for a few brief comments made to reporters in the last couple of weeks, Prime Minister Perry Christie has seemingly taken a backseat to the issue, choosing instead to allow Mitchell to guide the public relations on the debacle.

As in other foreign affairs related issues in the past, Mitchell appears to be a force unto himself, driving policy direction and the tone of governmental response.

Although the Cuban abuse claims remain unsubstantiated, the admissions made by marines are chilling and bothersome.

The reported accounts of corruption among detention center guards are also disturbing.

Reported human rights abuses at the detention center and the alleged participation by guards in selling or renting uniforms, and selling cell phones to detainees, should cause all right-thinking Bahamians to pause.

The publication of the report by the press on Thursday raised more questions on how the government has handled this matter.

Mitchell has defended his approach to the issue with claims that he had sought all along to protect the integrity of the investigation.

The foreign affairs minister had repeatedly branded as baseless claims made by Miami protestors that Cuban detainees were abused in The Bahamas.

Since the first statement he released on this issue on June 17, Mitchell had focused most of his public statements on a “fake” video purporting to show detainees being abused at the facility.

As has been widely reported, the airing of that video on a Spanish language radio station in Miami sparked weeks of protests by the activist group, Democracy Movement.

While Mitchell had for many weeks said the government of The Bahamas does not condone abuse of detainees, he had stayed clear of any specific indication that a reported violent incident at the detention center was under investigation.

 

Disturbing

The abuse accounts provided by the detainees in the July 19 Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) report are disturbing on their own. The admissions of abuse made by Defence Force marines only added to the shock.

As reported by The Nassau Guardian last Thursday, one marine told investigators that Cuban detainees were severely beaten for almost two hours after they attempted to escape, and one even appeared to have temporarily lost consciousness as a result of the abuse.

One marine who detailed the beatings claimed that most of the guard watch at the detention center participated. He reported to investigators that the detainees were also pepper sprayed in their eyes and wounds in front of women and children detainees.

In the face of what it viewed as weeks of stonewalling from Mitchell, Democracy Movement welcomed the emergence of what it called “the truth”.

The group opted against greeting the report’s release with further protests or violence. It seemed more relieved than anything.

It has urged Christie to take decisive action to make sure the “guilty” parties are punished.

“We are not looking for revenge, sir,” the group said in a letter addressed to Christie.

“We are looking to impede those same people [so they won’t] commit the same acts in the future when everyone goes about their daily lives and forgets this tragic episode.”

Democracy Movement spokesman Ramon Sanchez read the letter to reporters in Miami on Friday.

Upon arrival in Miami on Friday, one former detainee recently granted asylum by the United States, said he had a “hellish” experience at the detention center.

"I have no words to describe the experience," Randy Rodriguez told reporters. "This is something that has no comparison with anything else."

He claimed that while at the detention center, he was "mercilessly" kicked on the floor by guards, pepper sprayed and doused with water.

 

Probe

The issue of reported abuse at the facility has long gone beyond local political

banter.

The country’s good name has been sullied and it is taking too long to bring conclusion to an episode that allegedly transpired in May.

Here we are now in September, and we are still discussing finalizing the parameters of the final probe.

According to Mitchell, it will likely be October before a final report is available. Christie has said there is no guarantee it would be made public.

In the interest of accountability and transparency, swifter action ought to have been taken.

We do not yet know who the former Court of Appeal justice and cleric are who will lead the final investigation.

Mitchell, not surprisingly, reacted angrily and with a good dose of annoyance to the publication of the detention center documents last week.

He said, “Even if the government is in possession of all the facts as they are known in a matter, if the matter is going to end up as a court case or some kind of disciplinary hearing, the government has to be very careful what it says for fear that the evidence in the case is contaminated by what it says in advance about the case.

“Suppose the so called confessions are untrue? Suppose they don’t exist. Suppose if they did exist they were improperly obtained? Supposed the photos are doctored?

“This is not tested evidence now in the public domain. Courts carefully guard these kinds of things and a government must deal carefully with the matters at hand.”

At his hotel in Miami on Friday, Mitchell would not comment on the leaked report into allegations of abuse.

“I have no idea what those things are in the newspaper and I don’t have any comment to make on them whether they are true or untrue,” he said.

“The fact is that an investigation is going to be conducted. There is a bit of delay because the cleric we were trying to [get] could not do it because he has other responsibilities so we are trying to find someone else who is also out of town. But as soon as that’s settled the announcement will be made on the team.”

Democracy Movement has rightfully called for swift action on the matter.

If the final report recommends further action, like prosecution, that too should be speedy, but our justice system does not often provide for speed.

As an example, a Supreme Court judge on Friday set a trial date two years from now for three inmates accused of murdering a prison guard during an escape in 2006.

That would be nine years since the incident happen.

Should wrongdoing be substantiated in relation to the Cuban detainee fiasco, there must also be a complete overhaul of the Carmichael Road Detention Centre.

An RBDF investigator who completed the preliminary report has already recommended that standard operating procedures at the facility be reviewed and restructured.

Even against the recommendation of the RBDF’s senior intelligence officer, up to the time we spoke to Royal Bahamas Defence Force Commander Commodore Roderick Bowe, the detention center guards were not on suspension, but had been transferred.

The report has also called for guards to take mandatory courses for training and refugee handling. It is surprising that this is not currently now the case.

Even in the absence of a final report, the defence force has recognized the need to put in place certain reforms related to the detention center.

The facility has long been a powder keg for foreign affairs fiascos.

The government’s handling of the final investigation into the abuse reports is being watched now in many circles: By Bahamians who feel they have been kept in the dark over what appears to have been disturbing acts at the facility; by activists in Florida who are at a moment’s notice prepared to resume protests, and by U.S. officials, whose silence ought not be taken for non-interest.

Whether or not the claims prove to be true, our good name has already been tarnished to some degree. The next chapter in this saga could determine whether it is further stained.

 

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