Today was the fifth day of testimony at the International Criminal Court for the former Head of the Security Operations Command Center (CECOS), General Guiai Bi Poin, who joined the Ivorian Gendarmerie in 1978. Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo’s defense continued their cross-examination.
Early in the day, Laurent Gbagbo’s lead defense lawyer, Emmanuel Altit, returned to March 31, 2011, when Guiai Bi Poin, former CECOS and Gendarmerie School Commander in Abidjan, left the school because it “could be attacked at any time by those whom we faced” and its life “was in danger.”
“You mean FDS [Defense and Security Forces] officials were targets for their opponents?” the lawyer inquired.
Not responding directly, the witness reported that Philippe Mangou’s home in Yopougon was “ransacked” and that the chief of staff had to “take refuge in an embassy.”
Seeking to know where the CECOS head found refuge on that day, the defense did not get an answer. “I took shelter, and was safe.” On April 12, after being summoned by Philippe Mangou, Guiai Bi Poin went to the Golf Hotel, escorted by Alassane Ouattara’s armed forces.
“The chief of staff told us we had to go to the new authorities. We were received by the Prime Minister who was also Minister of Defense [Guillaume Soro] and by the Minister of the Interior,” said the witness.
Continuing on March 31: “All the units that were at the front retreated to Abidjan under military pressure from the enemy.” When asked about the identity of the enemy, he replied: “The enemy is the one we have been talking about since the beginning of this interrogation.”
Altit then wanted to know when “the enemy arrived in Abidjan.”
“I had no information, there was no meeting with the General Staff, no more monitoring of military operations. It would not be honest to say things that had not been observed on the ground,” he said before mentioning the “bombing by UNOCI-Licorne’s combat helicopters on barracks, RTI, the president’s residence and office.”
“An army with weaknesses since its inception”
Then there were the killings at Duékoué in March 2011. “The forces attacking us attacked the population, there were many deaths and houses burnt down.” Attacks by “Burkinabe leader Ouérémi, now in detention,” and by military leader Fofana Losséni a.k.a. said Loss.
“These facts are known and have been investigated by the international community,” the witness recalled.
“Have you had any information on the involvement of the French forces in this offensive from North to South?” asked Altit.
“No, I have no factual element.”
Submitting the CECOS Head to a list of questions identical to that of previous witnesses in the courtroom and continuing his demonstration of a destitute Ivorian army, Altit completed his cross-examination. “Did you lack means of radio communication at CECOS?”
“Not only at CECOS, no defense force had any means of transmission or protected links,” said Guiai Bi Poin.
“Were you listened to by the French intelligence services?”
“I do not know. But everyone with a simple equipment could listen to FDS communications.”
“You told us about the shortage of weapons. When did the situation become critical for the FDS?” the lawyer continued.
“We tried to raise the level in 2002 and 2003 with equipment from Eastern Europe. But the deficit of an army which has had structural weaknesses since its creation in 1961 cannot be covered in two years.”
“Did you receive weapons during the crisis?”
“No, and I challenge anyone to say the opposite.”
Described in detail for five days by the one who presided over its creation in 2005, CECOS proved to be poorly endowed for an elite unit, appearing as the poor relative of the FDS to whom it borrowed men to function. “We lacked mobility to move quickly from one point to another. We could not achieve the performances we had set for ourselves,” explained the witness.
“Did the Prosecutor’s Office make promises to encourage you to collaborate? “
The picture presented this afternoon by the Major-General is edifying. According to him, of the men assigned to CECOS by the police and the Gendarmerie, many were ill, did not have the required level of experience, were clumsy, or incompetent: “The police sent me the men it did not want.”
There were more and more cases of bad behavior, complaints flooded, sanctions fell, the ranks were depleted, and the reputation deteriorated. “Many elements were punished, taken to court or referred to their units of origin. To us, insufficient manpower was better than numerous agents who defiled our reputation.”
There was a long discussion at the end of the day about the relationship between the witness and the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) who interviewed him in October 2011 while he was in prison, a meeting apparently initiated by Guillaume Soro.
“Were you ordered to meet with the Prosecutor’s Office?” the defense asked.
“No sir, I am a person no one can give orders to,” he retorted.
“Did anyone make promises to you to encourage you to collaborate?” Altit resumed.
The answer was given in closed session. The continuation of this somewhat hermetic exchange clearly showed that Guiai Bi Poin’s testimony gave rise to several conflicts.
The week of hearing ended with a very direct question from Altit to the witness. “Why did you refuse to meet the defense?”
The witness replied that it was on the recommendation of his counsel “for he could not be both a prosecution and a defense witness.”
Clearing up the misunderstanding, the defense explained that it simply wanted to speak to him under a normal procedure. “Didn’t the Prosecutor’s Office explain that to you?” Altit asked.
Presiding Judge Cuno Tarfusser then firmly interrupted the exchange. “We’ll stop there.”
“Do you understand that this is a problem for us?” resumed Altit.
“No, and I do not see what you’re driving at,” said the Italian judge.
The witness reiterated: “In any case, whether I am here for the prosecutor or the defense, my party is the party of truth.”
Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé are charged with four counts of crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, and other inhumane acts, or – in the alternative – attempted murder and persecution. The accused allegedly committed these crimes during post-electoral violence in Côte d’Ivoire between December 16, 2010 and April 12, 2011.
This summary comes from Ivoire Justice, a project of Radio Netherlands Worldwide (RNW), which offers monitoring and commentary on the ICC’s proceedings arising from the post-election violence that occurred in Cote d’Ivoire in 2010-2011. It has been translated into English for use on International Justice Monitor.