When Baba Galleh Jallow and Samba Doro Bah arrived in Mile II in 2004, they had already suffered enough after experiencing the worst forms of tortures in their lives.
At Mile II, they were left in handcuffs and dumped into shielded confinements for one-year-six-months –only going out to empty their excretory chamber pots.
The two and their colleagues went ahead and were prosecuted and sentenced to both life and death. When they appeared before the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission Monday, they frequently broke down using tissue papers to wipe tears.
They were denied their basic human needs for sixteen years in all forms – including medical attention, poor food causing disorder and the worst forms of continuous torture.
“When I reached Mile, Lamin Sowe [now the operations commander at Mile 2] took us to the toilet and asked us to undress plain. Three of us entered at the same time. He asked us to bend down and he put his finger inside my anus,” Baba Galleh Jallow, 60, tells the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) during his revealing testimony on Monday.
The commission was set up in 2017 to investigate the human rights abuses that were prevalent between 1994 and 2017 under the repressive regime of Yahya Jammeh. It’s currently probing the Gambia’s Prison Service (GPS) regarding its role in aiding and abetting in rights violations.
Jallow said Sowe told him he was conducting screening on him that was why he inserted his finger in his anus.
“They then took us to different cells and I was taken into Security Wing Number 1 confinement. We were supposed to be taken to the remand wing but instead they took us to the security wing.”
He was accused of murder and armed robbery but he denied the accusations. According to him, he was picked up in Vellingara, a town in Southern Senegal by Gambian policemen Omar Dumbuya, Famara Jallow, Modou Pika Jallow and others and brought to the nearby Basse for a crime he knew nothing about.
“They took me to a gendarmerie camp there in Senegal. They asked me about certain weapons that I never heard of. I told them I am not a soldier so I could not have a gun.
“When we reached Basse, I was the first to be taken out of the car as Jallow had ordered others to stay. They brought two people from the cell and asked if I knew them, I said I never saw them. They told me I was not willing to tell the truth.”
He said they went to another cell and brought one Serahuli person and asked if he knew him, but responded in the negative. But the guy, however, said he knows him [Baba Galleh Jallow].
“At this time, Dumbuya was behind and hit me until I fell. Jallow then asked others to be removed from the car and took me with one Samba Doro Bah and taken to a police line. They asked me to undress. One boy held my shirt and tore it apart. Jallow told me to remove my trouser and shoes. The boy standing behind whipped me with a chain and on my ribs. I removed my trouser. Famara then ordered me to remove my underwear. I told him but why [cried].
“Omar went to bring broken pebbles and spread it on the floor for me to kneel on the stones. Famara brought a car-tyre for me to hold it up by my hand. I did that and they used truncheons to beat me. He told me if it falls, I will be killed. They were all policemen. They started beating around half 6pm until when they called for 7pm prayer before they took me back to the police station.
“They came for me on the second day and beat me again and brought me back but I was not undressed this time.”
Jallow told the commission that he was taken away the third day and subjected to beating in a dark-old building in Basse around the police-line.
Like Jallow, Samba Doro Bah, 59, has also alleged being severely tortured around Kossemar in the Upper River Region.
“They took me to the bush, tied my hands with rope. They turned me upside-down and separated my legs and opened my private part. When they did that, Famara Jallow took the bottle of acid and dropped it into my anus. The pain went straight into my head as if you slice inside my head. Dumbuya was present and Konyaji and others who I don’t know. I suffered a lot. If you look at it you see marks of injuries,” he told the commission.”
Bah refused to write statements but they allegedly forced him to sign and thumbprint the statements written by Momodou Pika Jallow. They threatened to break all my fingers if I refused to sign it. I told them to read the statement to me but they refused. They made me sign it by force and took my thumbprint also.
They were taken to Basse Magistrates’ Court and the magistrate ordered them to be remanded at Mile II. They were briefly detained at Janjanbureh prison.
“From Janjanbureh to Mile II it was very difficult. We were jointly handcuffed and shackled in two. The paramilitary officers were beating us turn-by-turn until we reached. We were all accused of the same crimes. We were all arraigned before the same magistrate Baldeh and remanded at Mile II.
“It’s only by God’s mercy we’re surviving today but all of us could have been killed. Famara Jallow would take a plier and grip someone’s teeth and pull it out. Just like that. We all suffered.”
Why the beating
“It was wickedness because they didn’t find me doing anything inconsistent with the law. They were beating me because they said I wasn’t telling the truth. My statement was collected and they charged me. When they charged us, they took us in the cell for two days.
He said the magistrates ordered them to be remanded at Mile II prisons. He alleged that on their way to Mile II, they were beaten by the paramilitary personnel in the truck.
He named one Sergeant Alagie Jobe and Chief Kalilu Sanneh as the prison’s escorts present when the paramilitary officers were beaten and said nothing.
‘No peace at Mile II’
When we arrived at Mile II, we had no peace. We remained handcuffed and shackled for 1 year and 6 months. We had no freedom. We were permanently shielded. We only go out to empty our chamber pots,” Samba Doro Bah also testified on the conditions of the prisons.
“That place is not fit for human habitants. At that time, we were mixed with mad people who were completely insane. You will be sitting and someone would come and pour his entire chamber pot on you and you couldn’t do anything about it.
The deadly food
Mile II has been operating on diets including steamed coos ‘chereh’ or ‘kuskus’ for dinner and ‘pap’ for breakfast. According to inmates, many of their colleagues have died due to beriberi as a result of these diets.
“They will be bringing the ‘pap’ for breakfast, afternoon lunch and dinner they will bring ‘kuss kuss’. I will now give the food at Mile II to even my domestic dog. But I have no choice but to eat it because that’s what I found other inmates eating,” Jallow said.
“The pap is too much salt content and the water they use to mix it causes beriberi. The ‘kus-kus’ also contain sand and even if you go to the prison today you will see that. I know so many people in confinement who died of beriberi including Sulayman Ceesay, Sunkaru Kanteh, two Guinean boys, one Senegalese.
He said he was not provided with any medication except paracetamol in one of his sicknesses.
Samba also described the food as very bad, adding that there’s nothing good in the food they serve.
“In those days except Sundays, they will make ‘pap’ for us. It’s very bad because they will cook it a day earlier. The next day, they would pour a bucket full water in it and stir it and then dish it among prisoners.
“Sometimes you would see people having their faces swollen and I would tell them they are suffering from beriberi. The moment somebody has beriberi their legs and face are swollen,” he testified.
Robbing the ration
“They were not stealing but it was a robbery. A thief would hide and take what he wants but these people were deliberately coming and taking the food away. David Colley [former prison director general] would come as well as Ousainou Colley [former operations commander and store keeper] and take the ration.
“Whatever David Colley wanted nobody could deny him. In those days, when people heard that David Colley was coming it was like an angel was coming. He was called ‘mansa’ Colley. I saw him with my eyes [taking the ration]. The entire household consumption of David Colley comes from the prison,” Jallow alleges.
Baba Galleh Jallow recalled a time when officers including Sunkary Jarju and one Muhammed came to the confinement and found him, Omar Sey and Mbalo Kanteh smoking.
“They took and severely tortured them until they were satisfied and brought them back. But before taking them into their cells, they poured water into their respective cells until they were flooded and locked them in. They were there for two weeks.”
He named Ebrima Jammeh alias chief torturer or E Jammeh, the then chief officer Tamba and other recruits as torturers in the prison.
Trial and conviction
Jallow and Samba were convicted on both armed robbery and murder charges. Consequently, they were jailed for life, sentenced to death and seven year respectively.
Samba said: “Up to day and until I die, I will never accept these allegations.”
In his testimony last week, Sorriba Conde, a Guinean national said “Mile II is not a prison but a concentration camp,” when asked to describe the place.
Prison Director’s confessions
The Director general of Gambia Prisons Service (GPS), Ansumana Manneh has admitted to several abnormalities including poor record keeping, confessions to torture of prisoners and denial their right to medication. He also confessed to some cover-ups committed by prison management in deaths and torture cases.
“All of them could happen. It happened,” he told the lead counsel of the TRRC Essa Faal. He said he came to learn about the death of Baba Jobe, a prisoner at the hospital by strangulation and suffocation in the presence of prison escorts. Ebrima Joof was also tortured by prison officers before he died two days later.
“It was the same conspiracy by all entities because the doctors’ examination should have shown that it was caused by torture. No prison officer would confess to causing the death of someone and admit to it. It was done but it shouldn’t have been done.”
Although he was not the head of prison at the time, Ansumana was still a senior official in the department.
One Lamarana Jallow was also tortured and died and the document showed he died of cardiac arrest, a case he admitted was a cover-up.
“Brutality was prevalent in the prisons but even the prison officers were victims of torture. This was all done during the time of Commissioner of Operations Ebrima Jammeh who would get his orders from the then prison’s Director General David Colley.
“He used to say to us that he hailed from a royal family [related to president Jammeh]. He was showing power and also showing more than the expression that he was above the law. He did a lot of illegal activities in that regard. I being his superior could not have done anything like that.”
“If you don’t want to dance to the tune of David, you won’t be at peace. I know female officers also suffered from David because he deals more with them. In fact, his orderlies were female officers. I wouldn’t know how female officers suffered from them but I believe they can share their own stories.”
Ansumana also admitted to a mantra in the prison that ‘It’s better for a prisoner to die in prison than to escape.’ “I have never seen any prison officer who has been accused or charged for the death of a prisoner.”
He said when death in the prison occurs nobody is responsible but when there’s escape all of the officers will be responsible. “We are always disturbed by the escape in prisons.”
Meanwhile, Lamin Sowe who has been accused of pushing his fingers into prisoners’ anus is still serving as the director of operations.