The lead lawyer for Dominic Ongwen, who is on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC), has doubted whether a prosecution witness served as an escort to Ongwen during his time in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
Krispus Ayena Odongo expressed this and other doubts on Thursday about key parts of the testimony of Witness P-330. Odongo challenged the witness about attacks he said he took part in as a member of a LRA brigade that Ongwen was a commander in. Odongo also questioned whether Witness P-330 helped Ongwen when he was injured and took months to recuperate.
Ongwen has been charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Among the charges Ongwen is facing are dozens of them for his alleged role between 2003 and 2004 in attacks on the Pajule, Odek, Abok, and Lukodi camps for people displaced from their homes by the conflict in northern Uganda. He is also charged with forcibly marrying seven women.
On Thursday, Odongo accused Witness P-330 of tailoring his testimony to suit the case against Ongwen. This and other propositions Odongo put to the witness met with some sharp responses from Witness P-330.
“From what I have said before, it is now clear that you are attempting to blame Dominic Ongwen for the activities of some other people in the LRA. Dominic Ongwen was not there but because now he is in court you want to place all those things on his head,” said Odongo.
“Do you want me to say that I don’t know my commander?” retorted Witness P-330.
“Can you answer the question please? You don’t have to ask me [questions],” Odongo persisted.
“What I am saying is the truth but what you are saying I don’t understand,” replied the witness.
After making this broad proposition, Odongo then asked Witness P-330 about details of attacks on Abok and Odek. In the case of Abok, Odongo questioned the witness about the vegetation and other geographical features in Abok. He also challenged the witness on an ambush he testified about, saying that unlike what the witness had said, the LRA evaded that particular ambush.
“You never went and you have never been to Abok. What do you say?” asked Odongo.
“Whatever you are saying is that you were in a different group from the group that I was in. The group that I was in, we went to Abok,” replied the witness.
Odongo then asked the witness about an injury Ongwen sustained and what the witness did to help Ongwen. Witness P-330 repeated testimony he gave on Monday that Ongwen was injured during an ambush by Ugandan government soldiers, and Ongwen had to be hidden before other LRA fighters could be called to assist him.
“Who carried and hid Dominic Ongwen?” asked Odongo.
“We were two soldiers. I had a colleague because the other colleague had stayed longer in the bush than I had,” answered the witness.
“Do you remember his name?” continued Odongo.
“I don’t remember the name of that person,” the witness replied.
“But, Mr. Witness, you seem to be consistently telling court that you don’t remember anybody except the Okellos and this is somebody you performed an important task with,” Odongo observed. The Okellos he referred to were in the top leadership of the Sinia brigade that Ongwen and the witness belonged to.
A little later Odongo told Witness P-330 that another witness, who has testified before the ICC and had the rank of captain, said he was the one who carried Ongwen when he was injured.
“What do you say about that?” asked Odongo.
“That is what you know but what I know is quite different. Maybe that is a different Dominic [Ongwen],” the witness replied.
Odongo then repeated his question and asked Witness P-330 what he had to say.
“I know the Odomi we carried was Odomi who was our leader,” the witness said, using a name that Ongwen was known by in the LRA. The fact that this is another name for Ongwen is agreed upon by the prosecution and the defense.
“We carried him and hide him somewhere, but the one they are talking about I don’t know,” continued the witness.
As the day’s hearing neared its conclusion, Odongo made another broad proposition to the witness. He observed that Witness P-330 seemed to know a limited number of people in the LRA, and it is those people he referred to when asked who ordered an attack or who led an attack.
“In that frame of things, I want to propose and put to you that what you told court does not place you anywhere in the knowledge of Dominic Ongwen, his operations, and in particular that you were his escort,” said Odongo.
“I know this commander, and I spent many years working with him. I was abducted when I was a young child, and I grew up while working for this commander … I was his escort,” replied the witness, adding, “I suffered a lot in his hands. I survived narrowly death and God helped me to come back home.”
“I put it to you that you are mistaken … because you have not been able to identify any of the close escorts of Mr. Ongwen or the top commanders who worked with him,” said Odongo.
“I know very well that I was Mr. Ongwen’s escort, and I also know all other commanders who worked with him and their names,” the witness answered.
“We would use the title lapwony to refer to these commanders because all the people we found working with Ongwen we used to call them lapwony, and we had to respect them,” he continued, using the Acholi word lapwony, which can be translated as “the teacher” in English.
Soon after this line of questioning the witness concluded his testimony.
A new witness will testify on Friday.