A prosecution witness in the Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé trial, former Command Center for Security Operations (CECOS) commander, Georges Guiai Bi Poin, completed his testimony at the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Monday, April 3.
The cross-examination conducted by the lawyer of Charles Blé Goudé, Laurent Gbagbo’s former minister of youth, lasted less than an hour Monday morning. Jean-Serge Gbougnon first wanted to know if the CECOS men – involved, according to Prosecution charges, in the crimes committed during the post-electoral crisis in Côte d’Ivoire – were dressed in identifiable battle fatigues. “No, the CECOS staff did not have any special attire, everyone came in the uniform of his unit of origin,” said Guiai Bi Poin.
“Charles Blé-Goudé never attended a meeting at the General Staff”
Several videos punctuated the Ivorian lawyer’s questions. The first, apparently never seen before by the witness, showed images of the Golf archives and a military scene taking place among flowers, mounted on a musical background, and thus commented by the presenter: “Blue helmets alongside the rebellion against a Côte d’Ivoire regular force, the sight is surreal .”
The lawyer asked the witness if he recognized the place. “I think it’s about the December 16 confrontation.”
“What was the color of UN helmets at that time?”
“Blue,” the witness answered.
Presenting another video featuring former youth minister in the courtroom, Gbougnon went straight to the point: “During the crisis, did Charles Blé Goudé take part once in your meetings at the General Staff?”
“No, Charles Blé Goudé never attended a meeting at the General Staff,” said the former CECOS Commander.
The lawyer continued: “During the crisis, did you receive military instructions from Charles Blé Goudé?”
“I never received any and in any case I would not have executed them,” the witness said.
Going back in time, Gbougnon broadcast a video showing the battalion of the French Army’s naval infantry leaving Hotel Ivoire on November 9, 2004. It showed Guiai Bi Poin discussing with a leader of this unit. “Where did the shooting begin and where did it come from?” the lawyer asked.
“It started on the upper floor of the hotel and as if it was a signal, shooting broke out from the French regiment … On the esplanade there were many dead and injured,” the witness said.
“The French soldiers pulled back in front of you, do you know if some were wounded?”
“I did not see any wounded among them. Our men were not armed, neither was the crowd. There was a good-natured atmosphere,” said the witness, while on the video, the atmosphere seems rather tense.
Philippe Mangou: “If Golf people keep f…ing around with us…”
Gbougnon then highlighted the fact that some of the CECOS officers who surrounded Guiai Bi Poin were promoted under the Ouattara regime. “They had good profiles, that was why I chose to keep them at the time. They now show that they are good men.”
The lawyer continued the thread of his questioning, pointing out the similarity between the CCDO (Center for the Coordination of Operational Decisions, set up by Alassane Ouattara in 2013) and the CECOS. “Was the CCDO also composed of soldiers, gendarmes, and policemen, and was it on a mission to fight against organized crime?” asked Gbougnon before concluding.
“Yes,” replied the witness.
Among other subsidiary issues, Presiding Judge Cuno Tarfusser inquired as to whether action had been taken against the Invisible Commando. “It was infiltrated in the Adjame junkyard and had no distinctive signs. The inextricable aspect of this junkyard made it impossible to reinforce patrols,” answered the witness.
When the Prosecutor’s representative, Melissa Pack, opened her supplementary questions, she remained on the same subject. The witness then returned to action suggested by the chief of staff to free the said junkyard of its occupants. “He suggested shelling it. But the use of artillery, which is not precise, involved too many risks, especially since the Northern Motorway was near. This would have caused significant collateral damage. The chief of staff, understanding the relevance of what his generals said, said OK.” The mortar, which had been placed on the spot, was then removed.
Asked about the use of multiple rocket launchers, the general returned to a meeting held on March 30, 2010. “All the troops had pulled out and returned to Abidjan. When you are in a situation where you lose your positions, you can be stressed. The chief of staff said if the Golf people kept on f…ing around with us, we’d hit them on the head once or twice. We told him it was not recommended to shoot a hotel.”
“I will again repeat to your honorable Court …”
In his testimony, Guiai Bi Poin reported several cases where proposals from the chief of staff, Philippe Mangou, had been examined and rejected by his generals. This morning, the prosecution’s requests for clarification relaunched him on the subject. “There was no vote, but we exchanged a lot. The chief of staff was open, available, and understood our arguments against his operational choices. He aligned himself with the positions of his generals. Contrary to what I heard, we were thoughtful and responsible.”
The prosecution’s questions, which seemed to never end, as well as the introduction of new documents that, according to the defense, were not part of the case, gradually raised the tension in the courtroom. Emmanuel Altit, lawyer for Gbagbo, then put on the table one of his grievances: “From the day this case began, the prosecutor chose to deliberately deny that there were armed civilians among the December 16 marchers. He always changes his tune and tries to adapt his narrative when he is confronted with reality.”
Then the witness got furious when the representative of the prosecutor asked him if CECOS had opened fire on the marchers on December 16. “I will once again repeat to the prosecutor and your honorable court that all forces on that day were placed at the disposal of the Director-General of the Police in charge of conducting the operations.”
“Yes, but did you get any information on that?” asked Judge Tarfusser.
“No, the overall assessment was made by the police director. We need to be clear about what we are doing here,” stormed the former head of the elite unit.
Thus ended the six days of testimony of Georges Guai Bi Poin, a witness who “demanded a good level of concentration” according to one of the defense lawyers.
After the police director, the gendarmerie commander, and the CECOS commander, the only thing now left is the chief of staff’s testimony to complete the gallery of generals who officiated around Gbagbo. However, witness P-176, who is expected in the courtroom Tuesday, will most probably not be Philippe Mangou.
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.