Major Wassa Camara was part of a group of soldiers who were arrested following the March 21, 2006 abortive coup intending to dislodge the iron-fist ruler Yahya Jammeh. They’d soon be paraded on the national television -GRTS- confessing to their crimes and pleaded with their commander-in-chief to forgive and release them.
But Wassa told the truth-seeking Commission – TRRC- on Tuesday that they were severely, physically and emotionally tortured to make those televised confessions. According to him, by those confessions and pleas to the president, they were promised freedom and forgiveness, after which they later realised it was a mere trick.
The then Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Lieutenant Colonel Ndure Cham led the coup. Several others including former Director General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) Daba Marenah, Captain Bunja Darboe, Captain Yaya Darboe, Wo2 Alpha Bah, Malafi Corr, Alieu Bah etc. were all victimized. Throughout out their 90 days incommunicado detention at Mile II, Wassa and his colleagues were regularly taken to the NIA headquarters in Banjul, where they were confronted by a special panel of investigators who were placed to extract the hardcore evidence from them in connection to the coup regardless of how the process should be done.
“I went into the conference hall and I saw a long table placed in the centre surrounded by chairs and I was asked to sit and face the east to face the panellists,” Wassa said, as he recalled the first night he was picked from Mile II to the NIA. Prior to NIA visit, he said he was taken from his detention cell by one Omar Colley, alias Jah Guides before being taken into a waiting vehicle with his hands tied from the back and his face was covered with a sack.
Among the panellists, he named one Hydara as the then head of the NIA, Demba Sowe, a police representative, Lang Tombong Tamba, former CDS and the then Inspector General of Police and later Minister of Interior Ousman Sonko. He also named some members of the jungulars who took part in the process such as Foday Barry, Musa Jammeh alias Malia Mungu and Tumbul Tamba.
“When I was asked to sit down, I sat facing the east flanked by the panellists. They were asking me about my involvement in the coup. Initially, I told them that I knew nothing about the alleged coup. I saw broken teeth on the table with blood and hammers and they told me look, what happened to others will happen to you. I later accepted that I was part of the coup.”
While questioning continued, he told the TRRC that Baba Sawo who was sitting far end of the table, came behind him and slapped his face leading to his difficulties in viewing after he denied that he was the ringleader. “I told him it is not true. Hydara also told me, “Camara, did you know we are following this case and know your roles.”
According to him, he only came to know the name of the person who hit him as Baba Sawo when someone called his name out as he attempted to beat him again.
“From there, I was asked to go and write a statement to say that I am involved in the coup. While this is going, there’s a soldier sitting with a heavy weapon and pointing the gun at me. He told me if you don’t talk, I will blow your head. I can’t recognize him because he was in black dress with a face mask. My statement was changed several times. They said we should write in the tail end of the statement that we are pleading to the president to release us. This was not what I intended to do.
Wassa said he was detained incommunicado for 90 days with no access to family and lawyers, as they were told that it’s a decree that empowers the NIA to keep people for 90 days incommunicado.
“I could remember one night, Malick Jatta stood before me and said Capt. Camara do you remember that you were the people who were training us in Farafenni; that we should defend and protect the sovereignty of The Gambia and now that you are against us, I am going to treat you as an enemy. He [Jatta] pointed his pistol on the direction of my face. I told him that many people were called before me, and now that I am here, it’s destiny. Who knows tomorrow? These were the exact words he told me.He was very serious. You could see frustration and anger in his face.”
He said that Malick Jatta and one Amadou Badjie came after him again and this time they hit his head repeatedly on the wall while his hands were tied from behind. After that, they took him away to torture him ‘mercilessly.’
“My legs were cleared under me. No sooner I felt down on the grounds, sticks were raining on me and I was beaten mercilessly. It was as if the place was surrounded by soldiers and they’d beat me anywhere I moved.”
According to him, the jungulars
have wires covered by plastics that have metals on both ends that they use to beat people. “This is what they were using, and I was beating seriously up to an extent that I could no longer shout. There’s laceration all over my body.”
Wassa narrates that while beatings were being done, some photos and videos were taken that were sent to the president as a way of showing heroism to the president. Apart from the top security officers that formed the panel, he said jungulars presence at the scene was to ensure that they inflict psychological and physical torture against accused persons just to extract confessions. But he confirmed that senior security officers including the then army chief Lang Tombong Tamba were aware of him being tortured when he passed him while his face was swollen, and the blood was all over the body and his clothes.
The commission played a recorded video to witness Camara during his testimony in which he confessed to have committed treason and asked for forgiveness from Jammeh. But the army officer says they were forced and had their statements repeatedly rewritten reluctantly.
“We were told to say the exact way like this so that the president can forgive us, sympathise and release us. Because every one of us were eager to leave the Mile II Central Prisons to reunite our families. I was disappointed [not to have been released after this decision].”
The video was later part of the evidence used against them in court which saw them convicted for several years in jail. While Wassa and others were tried and jailed for life prison terms, others like Daba Marena, WO1 Alpha Bah, 2nd Lieutenant Ebou Lowe, Malafi Corr etc. were summarily executed. It was initially reported by the state that they escaped while the vehicle that was transporting them to Janjanburehprisons somersaulted. Wassa described this as a fantasy.
Fortunately for Wassa, he was part of the presidential pardon that saw him only a little more than 9 years in jail.
Wassa regretted his action to engage in flouting the Constitution by being part of a coup and admitted that the military by virtue of the Constitution should be under a civilian administration. He also announced that he has forgiven all the people who subjected him to torture including the jungularsMalick Jatta, Amadou Badjie and Omar Colley, who he said went further to torment his family while he was in jail.