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Dissecting Halifa’s Rebuttal of Gen. M. O. Cham’s Testimony

In the wake of the rebuttal offered by Hon. Halifa Sallah following the testimony of Gen. M.O Cham, we present here a transcribed version of the relevant parts of the General’s oral testimony as it relates to the issue that warranted the rebuttal. This is by no means an attack on the person of Hon. Sallah but an effort to assess the testimony and the claims thereof.

Counsel: “Who else was contacted?
Gen. Cham: “I think on that Saturday [07/23/1994], for the position of Justice Minister we also shortlisted the present Vice President Ousainou Darboe and then I went to his house unfortunately he didn’t come out and then we had no dialogue. So after we persisted for some time, he didn’t come then I advised that, you know, maybe he was not interested and therefore I proceeded to the residence of Hon. Fafa M’bye.” 

Counsel: “He refused to see you?”Gen. Cham: “Yes, that’s correct”…

Questioning continued further with the details of the meeting with Fafa M’Bye and more issues regarding the decision on who was considered and on what criteria.

Counsel: “You were given the opportunity to decide ultimately who gets the position?”

General Cham: “No I was given the decision to approach people and offer them, okay? If I get a “yes” – an approval, then I will convey to the Council and then you know, when we sit the final decision would have been done then.”

Counsel: “Was any other civilian offered a position?

Gen. Cham: “Yes, certainly. Um, we looked at the political spectrum in the country and then since, you know, we wanted some very broad participation, we also shortlisted two members of the then PDOIS who is Hon. Halifa Sallah and Sam Sarr.”

Counsel: “Where they informed of their selection for appointment?”

Gen. Cham: “Yes, certainly, I went to their RESIDENCE in Churchill’s Town, uh this was around midnight; and then I first spoke to Halifa Sallah. Em, the position we eye marked was the Minister of Health and Social Welfare and then (makes an exasperated sound) though he didn’t definitely say yes he was coming on board; but then there was like “okay let’s, let’s; let’s; let me sleep over it and then get back to you tomorrow.” So as I went out of his house, I went to Mr. Sam Sarr whom we have shortlisted for the position of Minister of Agriculture, the same conversation. When I came out of the house of Mr. Sarr, Halifa was coming out also and then we met, you know, in the corridors there and then I left them to talk and then I went.”

Counsel: “Did you get a response on that day from Sam Sarr?”

Gen. Cham: “No, with them I think they were asking who else was going to be in the cabinet. In principle, to be fair to them, they were not very keen to participate in a military government. But I thought; this is my own impression, you know, with our insistence and our conversation, they were not also, you know, they didn’t reject it outright so we gave them the time to think and then report, or come to State House the following day, you know, and then tell us their position.”

Counsel: “Did they eventually tell you their position?”

Gen. Cham: “Well if I can remember, by the time they ultimately came to the State House, which was Monday, the deadline for them to report was Monday, latest by twelve. So by that time, they didn’t come until after 2 going to 3. We have already finalized on the decision on who will be in the cabinet. And then I think they were received and then told that well (grunts) we; the offer was no longer on the table.

Counsel: “So it was not some outright rejection by them?”

Gen. Cham: This is my own understanding of the then situation. But certainly, maybe it was a nice way of saying “well no.”

Counsel: “That’s the sense you have, that they were going to say no, right?”

Gen. Cham: Not really, because when we gave them that period I was anticipating that they will ultimately come. But when they failed the deadline, which I said was 12 o’clock, then we took it that well, it was a no. Ultimately they show faced but then as I said, the offer was off the table…”

Testimony continued, but for the purposes of the rebuttal, these are the relevant points of contention. Below is the rebuttal presented verbatim (source is Foroyaa newspaper) and each point followed by a personal commentary. The commentary is italicized.

STATEMENT IN REBUTTAL OF FABRICATED EVIDENCE BY EX- CAPTAIN MAMAT CHAM

Having more facts to testify than most Gambians regarding the injustices perpetrated against the people; having languished in Mile Two Prisons at the Maximum Security Wing in both the First and Second Republic, in those very cells which petrified those men in uniform but not one like me who dared to continue to speak truth to power, over and over again, risking being taken to the same dungeon, I still chose not to appear before the Commission because I have no pain in my heart to heal.

Honorable sir, the TRRC is mandated to catalog the injustices of the former regime, injustices you fought against. With that much information share, would it in fact not be unfair to posterity and depriving the records of history of all that relevant information? Despite the fact that you have no pain in your heart to heal, the TRRC’s mandate is, among other things to provide healing to the nation. “Those men in uniform” may be petrified of cells of Mile 2 but can we say with absolutely certainty that the torture they endured, both psychological and physical was equal to or less than you endured? Multiple witnesses speak of mock executions, guns shoved in mouths, beating prisoners with gun butts while they were handcuffed and immobilized. Is that enough to petrify someone, have you encountered a similar fate in those dungeons? Military prisoners are certainly not in the same league as political/civilian prisoners. No need to trivialize the sufferings of General Cham, that was a low blow. Your bravery and commitment to defend the values you uphold are well noted and undeniable. 

Duty compelled me to do everything I had done to combat injustice. I do forgive Ex Captain Mamat Cham even though I have no choice but to prove his guilt of outrageous fabrication of evidence.

GENERAL Cham is the person we are speaking of, his former rank was captain but as he made the statement, he is a General. He deserves that respect. No doubt you are a patriot and I will defend you on that in any fora. But General Cham did not make any “outrageous fabrications.” He is recounting events from memory, events of nearly a quarter of a century ago, certain details may escape anyone’s mind, reason why a written record is preferred. 

Being a symbol of national reconciliation I would not want to undermine the spirit of the Commission by discrediting the testimony of Ex Captain Cham in the press alone without subjecting myself to inquiry before the Commission .That would not be credible.

Indeed, the very fact that you recognize the potential of undermining the “spirit of the Commission” by your attempt to discredit the testimony of GENERAL Cham, an alternate route would have been more ideal. I would suggest presenting yourself as a witness to relay your own interactions with the junta.

I would want the witness to be recalled to tell the truth. If there is any provision for confrontation between us for the truth to be known I hereby declare my readiness for the exercise.

With all due respect sir, there is no need for confrontation at a commission seeking to establish facts. Where your own recollection of facts does not corroborate another witness’s recollection, serve as a witness and present your own account. I am sure the points of divergence will be minute, such as dates, location and exact verbal utterances.

No soldier has ever met me in my home. A group of soldiers came to the PDOIS office where I was buried for days monitoring and receiving intelligence report on the situation.

Again, recounting events of nearly a quarter of century ago can leave gaps in memory. Yes GENERAL Cham did say he met you at you and Sam Sarr’s residence in CHURCHILL’s TOWN. A simple response clarifying that Churchill’s Town is the location of your office and not your residence would have sufficed. If the counsel pressed him on clarifying that I would bet he would not say with absolute certainty that he knows that to be your house. Like you did not know him then, it is safe to say he knows you as a public figure but not your residence or much else; granted he should not have assumed but then again that falls to the counsel to have that material fact clarified. What is clear is that no malice was intended and that the other party named did in fact have his home at that location.

The share [sic] number of senior Military officers who came with weapons should have frightened any light-hearted human being. They met me composed and contemplative of their mission.

Honorable sir, we know you are no coward and I don’t think the General made any such assumptions. That was an unnecessary point. How senior were they? What were their ranks? How many were they in number? What kinds of weapons did they wield?

My interaction with a soldier whom I did not know was brief since I wanted them to leave the premises with speed. A Ministerial post was offered and I told the person that they will get my reply.

General Cham alluded to the same in his oral testimony. He stated, in response to a question from Counsel as to whether you were informed of your selection as a potential cabinet member to which he replied; “yes, certainly, I went to their RESIDENCE in Churchill’s Town, uh this was around midnight; and then I first spoke to Halifa Sallah. Um, the position we eye marked was the Minister of Health and Social Welfare and then (makes an exasperated sound) though he didn’t definitely say yes he was coming on board; but then there was like “okay let’s, let’s; let’s; let me sleep over it and then get back to you tomorrow.” Those may not be your exact words but as you both stated, there was an offer for a cabinet position you certainly did not give them an answer there and then which facts you both converged on.

They visited Sam Sarr who lived next door to the PDOIS office and stayed a bit longer than expected. I advanced towards Sam’s house to find out what was going on and met him bidding them goodbye. Sam told me that they were trying to convince him after rejecting the offer outright.

Again, the General stated in his oral testimony just as much; “So as I went out of his house, I went to Mr. Sam Sarr whom we have shortlisted for the position of Minister of Agriculture, the same conversation. When I came out of the house of Mr. Sarr, Halifa was coming out also and then we met, you know, in the corridors there and then I left them to talk and then I went.” The point of divergence here was whether Sam Sarr offered a response to them on the spot. You said he rejected the offer “outright.” The General said; “No, with them I think they were asking who else was going to be in the cabinet. In principle, to be fair to them, they were not very keen to participate in a military government. But I thought; this is my own impression, you know, with our insistence and our conversation, they were not also, you know, they didn’t reject it outright so we gave them the time to think and then report, or come to State House the following day, you know, and then tell us their position.” That certainly is a point of divergence, but you did not decline outright, so if he misrepresented the response of the two of you, then we can doubt the credibility somewhat, but clearly one of you did not give an immediate answer. You both stated that there was some persistence in trying to convince to join up, that too is relevant and they corroborate each other.

The clear evidence we had that the coup makers were working to form a Government compelled me to put a dent to their plan by writing a letter to reject the offer and also state the principles of its rejection based on the sovereignty of the Republic and the sovereignty of the people.

I am not sure how writing a letter would put any dent in their plans, but it certainly could serve as a reference point as to what your position was on their offer. Subsequent events showed that they DID in fact form a government and the positions they hoped you’d fill were given to other civilians. It was an honorable thing to reject the offer and stick to your principle for constitutional order. We are grateful and thank you for your stance in defense of the republic.

This was done so that the letter would circulate in order to prepare the base for resistance should they go against our recommendations to open up discussion with the political parties and other National stakeholders.

Again, that was a noble call and one for the records.

The next day, a Sunday the letter was given to Sam Sarr to deliver at the State House. They would not allow him to see the coup leaders and he left the letter with them and called Captain Kanteh to inform him of the letter. This letter was an open one which was published by the Foroyaa newspaper for general information.

General Cham stated; “Well if I can remember, by the time they ultimately came to the State House, which was Monday, the deadline for them to report was Monday, latest by twelve. So by that time, they didn’t come until after 2 going to 3. We have already finalized on the decision on who will be in the cabinet. And then I think they were received and then told that well (grunts) we; the offer was no longer on the table.” Here again, based on one’s perception, many things could be deduced from the above. Your statement of fact that “they would not allow him [Sam Sarr] to see the coup leaders…” indicates a presence at State House, which you stated. It could be that the refusal to allow Mr. Sarr to see the Council members was because of what General Cham stated; that “[they] have already finalized on the decision” which means that “the offer was no longer on the table.” General Cham had no way of knowing what Sam Sarr’s purpose of visiting the State House was (yes or no), absent the contents of the letter which were published in Foroyaa on Monday July 25, 1994. That was a day after it was attempted to be delivered to the junta. Whatever the contents of the letter would later reveal (which in hindsight we know is a rejection of the offer), at the time it is safe to say that the reaction was “oh the PDOIS duo have sent a reply” and the junta leaders having no further need for their response stated “the position we wanted them for is filled, so we don’t need them anymore.” That is not to say “the PDOIS duo came to talk about/accept the offer.”  

Not only were the coup makers aware of our outright rejection of their offer, the whole nation was also informed of the grounds of rejection by publishing the letter for all to read.

The rejection was made, yes. But it was not outright; as stated already, you told them that they will receive your response, which came the next day and then published in Foroyaa the following day for the general public stating your decline of the offer and the principles that advised such a decision.

When Ex Captain Cham and Ex Captain Samsideen Sarr were arrested, our publications showed that we came to the defence of their human rights.

Which again is noble and the right call as is expected of defenders of human right and constitutional order.But here it is irrelevant as neither General Cham no Samsideen Sarr allude to anything remotely resembling you condoning abuse. As it turned out, the two were arrested 2-3 days after your meeting by which time the then Captain’s identity was known to you. 

His testimony is evidenced by a total disregard for truth, good faith and the National Interest at this most crucial stage of our history.

Dismissing the General’s testament in its entirety, to events most of which you were not privy to amounts to discrediting a witness on grounds that are not so convincing in that regard. Yes, the General may have missed dates and mistook your office as a residence, but none of that shows lack of good faith. If sincerely assessed, one can conclude that it is a lapse in memory and not a deliberate attempt to mislead. The events are over two decades old and being recalled from memory, allowances have to be made in that regard. This is the part that I find most disheartening. Your deduction that the General had malicious intent because in your estimation he betrayed the national interest disregarded the truth and lacked good faith. That statement alone is enough to discredit his entire testimony and seriously put the whole commission in disrepute.

I am a hundred percent sure that if I am confronted with Captain Momar Cham he dares not say that he saw me at the State House not to talk about being late for a ministerial appointment.

The GENERAL did not say either of those things. What he stated was “Well if I can remember, by the time they ultimately came to the State House, which was Monday, the deadline for them to report was Monday, latest by twelve. So by that time, they didn’t come until after 2 going to 3. We have already finalized on the decision on who will be in the cabinet. And then I think they were received and then told that well (grunts) we; the offer was no longer on the table. In essence saying we do not need your response. But received by whom? The GENERAL must have told his colleagues of his impression that you would decline hence the assigning of the position to different entities. Counsel could have pressed him on that part to clarify whether he saw you in person or if the “they” who were “received” were received at the gate and who “they” were. But that question could not be asked if your statement as a witness before the commission is not forthcoming.

A truth and reconciliation commission deserves something better from an officer in Gambia Armed Forces. It is dishonourable to fabricate evidence and it is more dishonourable to do so against an honourable person.

Indeed, but as we have enumerated thus far, the errors could be alluded to as more of an oversight rather than a deliberate attempt to mislead the commission and the public or to besmirch the character of two very honorable men.

My head will remain unbowed and I will forever be absolved by history. Deception is no longer possible. I am ready to resign as Secretary General of PDOIS and retire from seeking political office should any evidence emerge from his testimony under confrontation which remotely resembles the truth not to mention the whole truth.

Honorable sir, there is a lot of truth to his statement as corroborated by your own testament; You met a soldier who was unknown to you at the time but representing the junta with an offer of a ministerial post. A soldier by the name of Capt. Momat cham, in July 1994 claimed he met with Hon. Halifa Sallah on behalf of the junta with an offer of a ministerial position.

You stated that the meeting was not at your house but your office in Churchill’s Town. He claimed to have met you in Churchill’s Town, at what he said was your home. There is one truth to that at the barest minimum, the fact that meeting was in Churchill’s Town.

You claimed that the said group of soldiers met you first then proceeded to meet Sam Sarr at his residence next to the office. General Momat Cham stated exactly the same thing.

You went to Sam Sarr’s house after what seemed like a longer than usual meeting and found them bidding farewell on their way out. The General said he met you on his way out of Sarr’s house and left you in the company of Sam as he left. That too resembles the truth.
Your character is intact and no one will question that, there is no need to resign from your party position or from national life. The country needs you. This is a matter of setting dates and descriptions of locations straight and everything will be fine and dandy. Write to the Commission and request it be a matter of record or better still, appear before them as a witness so that those who will mention your name in the future will have their statements cross referenced against your statement.

The truth will prevail and, to get to the bottom of it, I now challenge the Commission to recall Captain Momat Cham and invite me to face him so that through exposing his fabrication of evidence the Commission will know the truth and nothing but the truth.

Again, that will not help the healing process; to turn the Commission into a debate hall where witnesses can be discredited as liars with arguments and counter arguments. The learned men of counsel are capable and competent of assessing the evidence presented to them to verify the truth from falsehood and what accounts are conflicting of what facts and most importantly, to make accommodations for gaps in memory.

If the Commission fails to do this, I will not forgive the Commission!!!!

As you have already forgiven General Cham, it beats the purpose of forgiveness to hold the commission to ransom for something that a simple statement of rectification can address.

HON. HALIFA SALLAH

We celebrate your patriotism!

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