Prosecution Expert Describes Defense Psychiatric Reports on Ongwen’s Mental Health as “Sloppy”

A prosecution rebuttal witness described as “sloppy” reports two defense psychiatrists wrote in which they concluded that former Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) commander Dominic Ongwen had two mental health disorders during the time he is alleged to have committed atrocities in northern Uganda.

Roland Weierstall-Pust told the International Criminal Court (ICC) that in their reports, the two defense psychiatrists focused on their analysis of the interviews they had with Ongwen to determine his mental health between July 2002 and December 2005, the period he is alleged to have committed the crimes he has been charged with.

The prosecution rebuttal witness said the reports Dickens Akena and Emilio Ovuga wrote did not elaborate if they considered any other diagnosis, and if so, any reasons they had for discounting such diagnosis. Before the testimony of Weierstall-Pust, Akena and Ovuga had testified that they concluded Ongwen had post-traumatic stress disorder and a dissociative identity disorder during the charge period.

The defense argues that Ongwen had a mental disease or defect during the period he is alleged to have committed crimes in northern Uganda and cannot be held responsible for his actions. Weierstall-Pust testified on November 25 and November 26, 2019 to rebut the testimony of Akena and Ovuga, who had testified the week before.

Ongwen has been charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity he is alleged to have committed between July 2002 and December 2005. He is alleged to have committed these crimes in northern Uganda while he was an LRA commander. Ongwen has pleaded not guilty to all counts.

In December 2016, the defense made available to the judges, prosecution, and other lawyers the first report Akena and Ovuga wrote on Ongwen’s mental health. This was after Ongwen’s trial had opened. The prosecution later applied to call its own mental health experts to testify during a joint hearing with defense experts.

In November 2017, Single Judge Bertram Schmitt allowed the prosecution to call its own mental experts but ordered that they testify towards the end of the prosecution phase of the trial. In October 2019, when scheduling the hearing of the defense mental health experts, Trial Chamber IX also allowed the prosecution to call a rebuttal witness after the defense experts had testified.

This is how Weierstall-Pust ended up testifying twice in the trial of Ongwen. He first testified as a prosecution mental health expert in April 2018 and then as a rebuttal witness. Since he first testified Weierstall-Pust got married and changed his last name. His last name was previously Weierstall. He is a professor of clinical psychology at the Medical School Hamburg.

On November 26, 2019, Beth Lyons, one of Ongwen’s lawyers, cross-examined Weierstall-Pust on his rebuttal report and asked him about a conclusion he made about one of the reports of Akena and Ovuga.

Lyons read an excerpt of his conclusion in which Weierstall-Pust wrote the report is “insufficient or unfounded or contradictory, or sloppy in almost every aspect and does not fulfil the criteria of a professional forensic report according to the current state-of-the-art.”

Lyons asked him whether the word “sloppy” was an adjective that could be used to respectfully refer to a professional colleague’s report.

Weierstall-Pust said it was a matter of interpretation whether the word was appropriate.

“I can see my role to do the best work I can respecting the different parties that are presented here, respecting the International Criminal Court, respecting the court, respecting you the judges and also respecting the victims and respecting Mr. Ongwen,” said Weierstall-Pust.

“I still would use the word ‘sloppy’ because I think that this report and the way it has been done doesn’t sometimes respect the way … the professional duties that should have been taken,” said Weierstall-Pust.

Lyons then asked him whether he would also describe the report of the court-appointed psychiatrist, Joop T. V. M. de Jong, as “sloppy.” Trial Chamber IX assigned de Jong to assess Ongwen’s mental health needs during his stay at the ICC detention center and present a report to the court. Weierstall-Pust said he would not describe de Jong’s report as sloppy but he also found it inadequate.

“I think both reports are not sufficient to give … clear evidence on what has happened in the charged period, because we are still dealing with the charged period. And none of the reports really assessed the mental health status precisely in the alleged … charged period. None of the reports specifically focused on the alleged crimes,” said Weierstall-Pust.

On November 25, 2019 senior trial lawyer Benjamin Gumpert questioned Weierstall-Pust on behalf of the prosecution. One issue Gumpert asked Weierstall-Pust about was his opinion on how Akena and Ovuga should have addressed what seemed to be conflicting information on Ongwen’s mental health that emerged from their interviews with Ongwen.

“I think there is a vast amount of conflicting material in the second psychiatric report … There were many conflicting materials and conflicting things that occurred during the hearings … What I have also tried to make clear in my report is that the conflicting material that occurred wasn’t adequately discussed,” said Weierstall-Pust.

“So, contradictions would’ve had to be discussed adequately and in detail, and also it would have been necessary to go into each of the conflicting informations and discuss every conflicting material in detail, even (if) this would have meant the second psychiatric report by Rd. Akena and Professor Ovuga would have been 500 pages,” said Weierstall-Pust.

He said Akena and Ovuga focused on dissociative disorders in their second report, but they did not address the categories that the literature on dissociative states described. Weierstall-Pust said one category was where an individual had no control on their dissociative state. This he called a pathological dissociative state. He said another category was where an individual had control, which he called the non-pathological dissociative state.

Weierstall-Pust said because Akena and Ovuga focused on dissociative disorders in their second report, “it would have been particularly important to discuss … the issue of voluntary and involuntary control of dissociations because this is absolutely essential to come in the end to a legal conclusion.”

Gumpert followed up on this answer and asked Weierstall-Pust about Ovuga’s testimony the previous week that he and Akena had identified Ongwen had two personalities and the nicer one, Dominic A, was able to disguise the meaner personality, Dominic B. Weierstall-Pust said he was “confused” by that answer.

“In dissociative identity disorder we have the sudden interruption or the sudden disruption of consciousness. People are not able to control when they shift from one part of the personality to another part of the personality,” said Weierstall-Pust.

“So, if we assume that the hypothesized Dominic A would be able to control the hypothesized Dominic B, then this already is something that speaks against a pathological dissociative disorder because it means I can voluntarily control things,” he said.

Weierstall-Pust concluded his testimony as a prosecution rebuttal witness on November 26, 2019. Emilio Ovuga testified as a rejoinder witness for the defense on November 28 and November 29, 2019.

Transcripts of Weierstall-Pust’s testimony are available here for the November 25 hearing and here for the November 26 hearing.