Justice for Keith Clarke?

A short note on the ruling in the Keith Clarke case which found 3 soldiers guilty of killing him along with two artworks depicting Clarke and the scene of his killing.

Poster of Keith Clarke by Michael Thompson
Artistic rendition of Keith Clarke’s murder by Hubert Neal Jr. June 2010

FINALLY there is some resolution of one of the horrific killings of citizens at the hands of agents of the state. The wanton murder of Keith Clarke, an accountant whose home in the hills of  Kingston was mistakenly believed by the security forces to be harbouring the fugitive Christopher Dudus Coke in May 2010, shook Jamaica. Now two years later the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Paula Llewellyn has ruled that three members of the Jamaica Defence Force are to be charged with the murder of businessman Keith Clarke. For details read this Gleaner article.

In my blogpost of May 27, 2010 I noted details of the attack on the Clarke home:

Well, the Gideon (local slang for Armageddon) continues. Last night it seemed as if things in Kingston had simmered down but this morning i checked into Twitter to hear that the armed forces were lobbing grenades and perhaps bombs at a house in E. Kirkland Heights, a very upscale neighbourhood in Red Hills, Kingston. “The template of violence in jamaica has changed ova d las week. Its now an insurgency with all the relevant weaponry” tweeted one of the people i follow. “I wanna see the police deny this one. Grenades an bombs are the new weapon of choice for the state now.”

While the DPP’s ruling may bring closure to the members of Keith Clarke’s family none is forthcoming for the Tivoli 73, the 73 (some say more) civilians killed during the military incursion into West Kingston on May 23-24, 2010. According to a news interview i heard with Terrence Williams, Commissioner of INDECOM, the body authorized to look into police misconduct, none is likely to be forthcoming either because unlike the Clarke home which was treated as a crime scene and immediately scoured for all evidence available, the environs of Tivoli Gardens were not designated a crime scene (because some claim, the civilian casualties were treated as war crimes), making it impossible two years later to identify the culprits in that massacre.

Of course as Mattathias Schwarz has indicated in his New Yorker article titled A Massacre in Jamaica the US government should be able to help by supplying video footage shot from the air on the day of the massacre by its US DEA Lockheed P-3 Orion plane.

But who knows when that will happen? It seems people in Tivoli Gardens may have to just hug up their losses and move on as far as the government is concerned. For an interesting interview with Mattathias Schwarz on the matter see here.

And in the meantime the DPP’s ruling raises more questions. Concerned citizens are asking how holding three low-ranking soldiers accountable for such a hgihly orchestrated military operation can be considered a credible outcome in this prolonged court case. The Daily Gleaner’s July 19 editorial, excerpted below, says it best:

Justice, in this case, is not only about holding to account the three soldiers who have been accused of firing the shots that killed Mr Clarke in his home more than two years ago. It includes, also, placing the spotlight on the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF), so that it can view itself, hopefully with dispassion, and conclude whether it operates in a manner worthy of the public’s trust.

Mr Clarke, it is recalled, was not the victim of random circumstance. His death happened during what was supposed to have been an organised military operation.

…What is not clear is the command and control procedures that governed that operation and the rules of engagement to which the junior soldiers were subject.

The point is that Mr Clarke’s killing happened at a period of heightened tension in Jamaica. Coke was on the run and, in the face of the challenge from his gunmen and supporters, a state of emergency was in force in several parts of the island.

Against that background, we would be surprised if the search for Coke in Kirkland Heights would have been entrusted only to two JDF lance corporals and a private, without the previous knowledge of a significantly more senior commanding officer.

Should we be right, the obvious question that we expect would have been the subject of an internal review by the JDF, as well as part of INDECOM’s investigation, is what role did the commanding officer play in the sequence of events and whether he carried out his duty appropriately. In other words, are there matters for which he should be held accountable?

We believe that these are appropriate questions for which the public deserves answers, lest the cynics claim that juniors have been made fodder after an incompetent execution of an operation.

And so say all of us….