Defense Lawyer Challenges Witness on His Knowledge of LRA Communications

A member of Uganda’s Internal Security Organization (ISO) told the International Criminal Court (ICC) it was not possible to impersonate a commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) over the radio.

Witness P-059 said on January 31 that no one in the LRA would dare impersonate a commander. He was speaking in response to a question from Dominic Ongwen’s lead defense lawyer, Krispus Ayena Odongo.

Ongwen is facing 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity including his alleged role in attacks on Pajule, Odek, Abok, and Lukodi camps for people displaced by the conflict in northern Uganda. The attacks took place between 2003 and 2004 when, the prosecution says, Ongwen was a battalion commander and then a brigade commander in the LRA.

The charges against Ongwen also include forcibly marrying seven women, who were girls at the time, and committing sexual crimes against them.

On Tuesday, Odongo asked Witness P-059 about the possibility of others impersonating LRA commanders on radio because the witness has been intercepting LRA radio communications since 2000 as part of his work with the ISO.

“Mr. Witness, I put it to you that, yes, people within the LRA, or whomsoever you think, were guarded. Suppose there was somebody out there who was doing intercept just as you were doing? Is it possible? Could it happen?” asked Odongo referring to the possibility of someone impersonating LRA commanders on radio.

“In line with the work that I do, it is not possible,” replied Witness P-059.

“Mr. Witness, I put it to you that you are living out of this world. But that is for you. I leave that to you,” Odongo said.

Sometime later Odongo asked the witness about whether his record of the LRA radio communications he intercepted was faithful to what had been said. Witness P-059 said he did not change what was said, but he only interpreted what was said because some of the conversations were in code.

“Mr. Witness, is it possible that that intelligence of yours could have changed the context in which those statements were made?” Odongo asked.

“I don’t think I can change it. Whatever I said is the truth,” replied Witness P-059.

“But remember witness that you’ve just told court coded messages are not so plain. So it takes an intelligent person to make meaning out of it,” continued Odongo.

“That is why I said I interpret it. I do not change [what was said on radio]. I interpret it so that lay people would understand because it is coded,” the witness answered.

Odongo also questioned the witness about whether he indicated in his reports of the intercepts to his superiors which information was based on codes the LRA used and which information was based on ordinary conversation. Witness P-059 said he did not indicate in his reports what information had been coded and which one was not.

Ongwen’s lawyer then asked the witness about Acholi proverbs and what the witness had identified as proverbs, jargon, and slang that the LRA used.

“In regard to Acholi proverbs I do not pay attention to it. What I know is the jargon and proverbs of the LRA. I do not claim authority on Acholi proverbs, but I claim authority on LRA proverbs because it was my duty,” said Witness P-059.

“Can you shed [light] on whether those things that you call proverbs are actually proverbs, or they could be slang, or for that matter jargon? Could you tell the court what you mean by proverbs, jargon, and slang?” asked Odongo.

“It is not easy to compare because the manner in which the LRA communicates is different. If I give an example, the LRA can say I crossed the thread and it can mean I crossed the road,” the witness replied.

Odongo also asked Witness P-059 about his work conditions and relationship with his co-workers, observing that in previous testimony the witness had talked of “drunkenness” and dampness affecting the records he kept.

“Disagreements were there. Conflicts were there,” replied Witness P-059. When Odongo asked a follow-up question, the witness answered in private session. The public did not hear blocks of Tuesday’s proceedings. This is being done to protect the witness’ identity from the public because he is testifying under in-court protective measures that have been ordered by Trial Chamber IX.

Witness P-059 will continue testifying on Wednesday.

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