The testimony of Edward Singhateh is proof yet again of why the TRRC is the worst option the government could have taken to address the crimes of the Jammeh regime. As I argued before, and I will never be tired of making the same argument until the government gets it, commissions of inquiries like the TRRC are a distortion of the rule of law and the worst way to deal with criminals. We did not have a polarized society that needed reconciliation. We had a bunch of criminals brutalizing the Gambian people that needed to be dealt with through the criminal justice system. The TRRC is just a ploy to allow confessed killers to go scot free and not be held accountable for their crimes.
The Attorney General should have never delegated his duty to prosecute criminals to a commission where perpetrators of crimes can appear and tell lies willy-nilly. These cases should have been thoroughly investigated in order to give prosecutors the upper hand when they examine witnesses in court. Every lawyer should know that that is the best way to get to the truth. We can never rely on pathological liars and psychopaths to come in and volunteer the truth. They are always looking for ways to escape liability.
As demonstrated by both Sana Sabally and Edward Singhateh, promising witnesses amnesty does not get you to the truth. The little truth that came out from these witnesses came through skillful cross examination.
But the problems of this TRRC, in light of Edward Singhateh’s testimony, goes beyond its inability to get to the truth. The testimony undermined the integrity of the TRRC mechanism. Clearly, Edward Singhateh gave statements that are directly contradictory to statements made by more credible witnesses such as Ebrima Chongan. A case in point is evidence given by Chongan that Edward Singhateh brought Sana Sabally to Mile Two on Friday, January 27, 1995. This is one among several incidents where Edward Singhateh sought to discredit the public record before the TRRC.
Because Edward Singhateh does not want to bear direct responsibility for the arrest, torture and subsequent murder of Sadibou Hydara, he denies having anything to do with Sana Sabally and Sadibou Hydara’s stay at Mile Two. He could not even remember the day the duo were arrested.
Whenever he was confronted with contradictory evidence, he nonchalantly told the commission that he is only giving his version. He recognizes that others have their own version; and he urges the commission to make its own conclusion. This betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the law of evidence and the shifting of the burden of proof, even in a commission of inquiry setting. What the commission has is solid evidence. He cannot equate that to mere assertions coming from someone who has an incentive to lie to protect his skin.
If you go back to the example above, Chongan narrated that in his book in 2009. The book was based on manuscripts he gathered in real time while he was in Mile Two. He had no incentive to lie. These statements have been corroborated by multiple witnesses, including Alaji Martin who testified that he was with Edward Singhateh. Now, how can you compare Chongan’s testimony to Edward Singhateh’s? Sadly, both versions are in the public domain and accorded equal weight, thanks to the flawed design of the transitional justice program. And saying that the lies will be sorted out from the truth when the TRRC prepares its report is no solace. How many Gambians are going to read the report?
But the impact of this contradiction pales in comparison to the impact of Edward Singhateh’s testimony on the murder of Koro Ceesay. Not only did Edward Singhateh deny his participation in the murder in the face of overwhelming evidence saying that he did it, Edward Singhateh also inserted himself in the murder trial of Yankuba Touray. If Edward Singhateh is telling the truth about the killing and burning of Koro Ceesay, then the government should drop its case against Yankuba Touray, because Edward Singhateh would have just given Yankuba Touray a solid alibi.
If on the other hand Edward Singhateh is not telling the truth, then the government has no choice but to charge him for lying to the commission and the murder of Koro Ceesay. There is nothing in the law stopping the TRRC from recommending that course of action to the Attorney General as we speak.
Edward Singhateh might have a right against self incrimination, but he does not have a license to lie to the commission. As a lawyer he should know how to invoke that right without lying to the commission, and in the process jeopardizing a live criminal case against another person. This government owes it to the family of Koro Ceesay and the citizens of the country to safeguard the criminal case against Yankuba Touray by bringing Edward Singhateh to book forthwith.
Muhamad Sosseh, Esq.
October 23, 2019