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The Power, the Blood and the Bitter Truth: Sana Sabally’s Remorseless Confession

When Essa Faal, the Lead Counsel at the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission announced on Tuesday that there’d be ‘a very important hearing’ Wednesday, it went viral on the social media. The followers of the commission’s hearings guessed the identity of the expected witness.

By 9:30am Wednesday, the hearing hall at the TRRC was already full. An hour later, the room went completely quiet as the witness, Sana Bairo Sabally walked in. Dressed in traditional flowered robe and a red scarf with stripes, Sabally quickly looked around one half of the room as if he was searching for something.

For six months following the July 1994 coup, he was the second most powerful person in The Gambia and the most fearful. As the Vice Chairman of the then ruling Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council, he was loved and loathed. To his associates, he was a firebrand and an authoritative young soldier and leader. But to his critics and victims, he was just a ruthless brute and power-drunk arrogant man.

So when Sabally took the witness stand, there was no doubt it would be a very important hearing. Before Wednesday’s hearing, every single TRRC witness who testified about the November 11 execution of alleged coup plotters implicated Sabally as a primary figure in the killings. Others implicated in the killings include Yankuba Touray, Edward Singhatey and Sadibou Hydara.

Sana Bairo Sabally testifying at the TRRC

With confidence Wednesday, Sabally accepted full responsibility of the summary execution of the alleged coup plotters. “I accept responsibility because I was the commander,” he said.

He however showed no remorse for the killings, arguing that the victims would have killed him and his colleagues in the military junta if their alleged coup plot had succeeded. He even called them enemies.

In his testimony about the November 11 incident, Sabally said he received information from the then intelligence chief Samba Bah that there were disturbances at the Yundum Barracks. He testified that after discussing the issue at the ruling AFPRC level, it was agreed that he and other council members would go to the barracks to address soldiers.

“I made it clearly that anybody who comes against us will be crushed. We left Yundum Barracks for the residences.”

Sabally said he received further information after his visit to the barracks that the soldiers were going ahead with their plans after having access to weapons. He told the commission that he and the other AFPRC members held a meeting at State House where they unanimously agreed to crush the plot. “We cannot allow them to come and attack our house. So we had to attack them and that is at Yundum Barracks.”

“We went with our body guards and four council members. I was in command. When we attacked the camp, we went to the signal office and found Ebrima Beyai, we found him sleeping, I used the telephone to call Jammeh that we have taken over the barracks.”

While still in the signal room, Sabally said a call came from a Binneh Minteh of Fajara Barracks notifying the operator that Basiru Barrow was coming to the barracks. “I was right behind him. I told him to speak normal. We then knew that they were coming and we laid an ambush.”

He admitted that Barrow, the perceived leader of the alleged coup plot was beaten mercilessly upon his arrest.

“Those who were arrested were beaten. This was a moment when we were very angry because they have listed our names for execution. Their clothes were removed. We boarded them into a truck, sent them to Mile 2 and then to Fajara Barracks. I was responsible. Collectively we all have responsibilities.”

At Fajara Barracks, the captured soldiers were paraded. “I ordered that Barrow and Dot Faal be killed because they were the ring leaders. I opened fire at them. I am responsible. I was the commander. Jammeh was in agreement with the killings.”

He admitted that killing the suspects was “wrong and illegal”, but maintained that they were enemies who would also have killed him and his colleagues if they had succeeded. 

Sabally also confessed to the arrest, detention and torture of former security officers at Mile 2 Prison. He used the TRRC appearance to ask for their forgiveness.

Outside the TRRC hearing room, Gambians have taken Sabally’s testimony to the social media. Some called him brave for his confession, and others referred to him as a remorseless killer who should be caged.

For Basiru Barrow’s son, Abdoul Aziz, watching Sabally’s testimony was depressing.

“Here is a man who killed his comrades in cold blood, knowing well that his actions were sanctioned by hate and that the act in its entirety is wrong and illegal on all accounts. Yet still, he carried them out and is in fact proud of his actions,” he said. “Speaking the truth was a most because he had evidence stacked up against him and he knows it’s the only ploy he had to be able to get a chance in acquiring amnesty.”

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