By Lamin Cham
On his second day of testimony, SIS director Ousman Sowe has been told that despite a public spat with a former legal adviser Badjie (covered in the media) who had warned him against altering the character of some of the places in the NIA because it is evidence, he had in fact gone ahead to award eight contracts to Gigo’s Construction which transformed the character of the premises from what it used to be.
This followed a lengthy exchange during which Mr Sowe admitted repainting a room used for torture, after shockingly discovering an iron bed and shackles in the room.
When told that by this action he has effectively tampered with evidence and therefore broke rules in his book as director of such an institution, Mr Sowe said he didn’t intentionally conceal any evidence as could be seen that he had preserved the bed and shackles as well as Bambadinka, a well-known horrific torture chamber.
Mr Sowe had admitted feeling shocked when he sighted the room and its content and instructed for it to repainted and the items removed. But he did not know at the time and had no intention of destroying evidence.
Lead Counsel Essa Faal had to take different angles to pin the spy chief to accept that his actions tantamount to changing the character of what was effectively a torture chamber. Sowe had initially denied inheriting any torture material when he took over in 2017.
“You knew by the pronouncement of the new government that they are going to investigate all the human rights violations of the last 22 years and by being a seasoned intelligence officer, you could not have said you did not know that the NIA would be the center of such an investigation,” Faal told Sowe.
“I had no motivation to conceal any evidence,” Mr Sowe said.
Earlier, Mr Sowe was shown evidence on video of a witness who claimed he was among those he faced in a room when he was being interrogated but the DG said he could not remember that even after Counsel Faal reminded him that the panel the witness alluded to was similar to the one faced by Lamin Kaabu, the operation of whose arrest Sowe led.
Mr Sowe was also asked about the whereabouts of documents in late senior NIA officer Louis Bass’s office, he replied they would check and if there are any they would be forwarded to the commission. The TRRC then ordered for the documents to be delivered from 5pm yesterday.
Mr Sowe said all reported cases of torture are regrettable. He confirmed that the courtyard (which many witnesses said they were taken to be tortured) still remains even though the landscaping has changed.
Sowe also dismissed suggestions that most staff of the NIA are semi-illiterate. He said on the contrary, the management of the services has more than 10 master’s degree holders while some are currently undergoing courses.
He spoke at length about the reforms undertaken by his administration which has repositioned and redirected the institution. ”The service has reoriented itself towards its core mandate of intelligence collection, analyses, and dissemination of our product. Our product is so enhanced that if it was a cheaque, one can be assured to take it to the bank to be cashed,” he said. Sowe said the new SIS has also regained a lot of respect domestically and internationally.
”We are currently the chair of the Ecowas region’s intelligence organisation. No one in The Gambia gets arrested by the service any more and no one among us is missing the handcuff as we have focused on the security of the nation domestically and internationally,” he said.
Mr Sowe made a short but dramatic presentation of his own arrest and detention at the NIA. The experience, he said, which lasted two weeks, had taught him to continue to be humble. “During my detention I saw a cat jump from the Ministry of Justice compound to the NIA premises and back, and I marveled at its freedom to move about which I did not have at that moment. That was a great lesson I came out with and which still guides me,” DG Sowe commented.