By Lamin Cham
Tamsir Jasseh, a seasoned security expert and former US soldier, yesterday appeared before the TRRC to give a riveting testimony on the 2006 failed coup in which he was implicated and jailed, for helping ring leader Ndure Cham to escape. Jasseh, who also holds a US citizenship, was released after civil rights defender Jessie Jackson visited The Gambia in 2013.
He told the TRRC that contrary to widespread belief, Ndure Cham has always stayed in The Gambia until his capture and subsequent summary execution. “Throughout my time in jail, I was in communication with him on an Africell number and he even sent me money,” Jasseh told a somewhat surprised audience. He said well before the coup, Cham had often casually been telling him at a restaurant they both frequented that it was time to remove Jammeh.
“I never took him seriously and even when he told me his choice for a leader, one Alieu Jobe, I told him that the guy is not experienced enough for such and even suggested the late Bishop Tilewa Johnson because of his standing in the society,” Jasseh said.
He said sometime on March 22, 2006 he received a call from Cham informing him that the coup he had told him about was attempted but it had failed and he wanted his help to facilitate his escape.
“I collected him from his hideout in Farato and drove him across the border and even offered him about D1500. We even stopped and bought drinks at Brikama Market and proceeded to the border and went up to Kujube, where I dropped him off. I told him that I will contact one Mrs Corr for him to apply for asylum in Germany,” Jasseh recounted this daredevil adventure 14 years ago.
He further discussed his arrest and torture at the NIA while being investigated by a panel. He recollected that they handcuffed him from his house where they severely beat his watch man, and took him to the NIA and on their way, some tortured him until he sustained bruises.
Upon arrival at the NIA, Jasseh said he scanned the room to know who were present, recognising ASP Lamin Ceesay, a senior investigator and head of the police in the panel, Harry Sambou and Momodou Hydara of NIA, Junglers Nfally Jabang, Tumbul Tamba, Musa Jammeh and former CDS Lang Tombong Tamba.
He confirmed that soldiers were armed in the room and the investigation room was chaotic, tensed and unorganized .
“It was difficult to identify who was who and what role they were playing.
The investigators were not interested in procedure because people like Foday Barry said they did not have enough evidence to go to court and the best thing to do was to release us but this statement did not go down well with Musa Jammeh and as a result of that, Foday joined us in Mile 2 shortly after,” Jasseh said.
Jasseh said the investigation panel had two objectives. The police would look for evidence to take to court while the soldiers would torture you and take the evidence to President Jammeh.
“There was even a bizarre incident when a phone was put to by mouth as I was being beaten while Jammeh listened from the other end. The late Musa Jammeh who did that said he needed to prove to Jammeh that I was being tortured because Jammeh had thought that the torturers would spare me because I am an American citizen”, Jasseh said. He said he recognized among the panel former CDS Lang Tombong Tamba who later found them in jail charged with his own alleged coup as well as involvement in the 2006 coup.
“But Ndure Cham had told me that Lang Tombong was not aware of the 2006 coup, so I felt for him when I saw him in jail apparently tortured,” Jasseh said.
At this juncture, lead counsel Faal asked him whether Lang Tombong, who had claimed he was not touched was tortured, Jasseh said Tamba was tortured and everyone knew that. “I even went to his cell, (as long-term prisoners often enjoy the freedom to roam around the yard) and suggested to him that he should now rethink about Jammeh who had caused his fate. But he told me that Jammeh had a right to stay in power even up to 30 years as Jawara did. So I came to understand that Tamba and others take it to be matter of family that should be protected against outsiders. So I am not surprised that he would not publicly criticise Jammeh,” Jasseh alleged. However, yesterday Lang Tombong commented on a friend’s Facebook comment on Jasseh’s testimony by saying: “My brother, I will advise not to take all what is being said at the TRRC. Please don’t take all, and let Allah judge. Tamsir confessed from the beginning of being part of the coup and told the panel without anyone touching him that he transported Ndure Cham across the Casamance border through Darsilami”.
Jasseh concluded by observing that Gambian soldiers eat each other.
“I would never raise a hand against anyone wearing the same uniform with me,” he said, advising the country to fully implement the security sector reform.