The physical and emotional scars serve as constant reminders for Majorie Hinds about the moment, 10 years ago, when she claimed a powerful blast from a Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) mortar round changed her life for the worse.
Hinds’ recollection of the deadly police-military incursion into her west Kingston community of Tivoli Gardens in 2010 comes as a controversial figure in the operation is about to be bestowed with a national award.
Colonel Warrington Dixon is among 95 senior and junior JDF members set to receive the Medal of Honour for Long Service and Good Conduct traditionally presented by Jamaica’s head of state, the governor general, on Heroes Day tomorrow.
Dixon, the JDF mortar expert, played a lead role in the firing of over three dozen 81mm mortar rounds during the incursion. It marked the first time in Jamaica’s history that explosives were used in an internal security operation.
A quasi-judicial body concluded, after a public enquiry into the conduct of the operations, that two men, Carl Henry and Bojan Rochester, “were, in our opinion, probably the victims of fatal injuries from an exploding mortar round”.
No Praises for Dixon
“No, no, no sah,” Hinds protested, making it clear she does not believe Dixon is deserving of the national award.
“Because of wha him do to the people of west Kingston. A lot of people get damage and house mash up by bomb weh drop through dem place.”
Hinds, 47, recounted that on the morning of May 24, 2010, she was talking with her common-law partner while he repaired a door for a lady on Chang Avenue.
“So by time me done talk to him and say me a go home, the supn ketch me,” she told The Sunday Gleaner, referring to shrapnel from a mortar round.
“It fling me up inna the road, bust me face, lick out me teeth and buss me neck,” she continued, pointing to the scars on her face, hands and right foot.
Ten years later, she said doctors have indicated that pieces of shrapnel remain lodged in her body, resulting in severe pain and frequent medical treatment.
“Me a suffer because me haffi a get medication every minute,” she complained.
Public Defender Arlene Harrison Henry, whose office has described the use of explosives in a densely populated urban area as a “disproportionate use of force”, sidestepped questions about whether Dixon is deserving of the award.
A Blot on His Career
“While I am unaware of Colonel Dixon’s full role and history within the JDF, I believe his role in the Tivoli Gardens incursion is a blot on his career and certainly not one of the highlights of his career,” Harrison Henry told The Sunday Gleaner.
But for Arlington Seaton, a peace activist in Tivoli Gardens, the deaths and immeasurable pain and suffering caused by the operation should disqualify Dixon from getting a national award.
“Me don’t believe say him should be getting this award,” Seaton insisted.
Dixon, who held the rank of Major at the time, acknowledged, during a Sunday Gleaner interview, that any assessment of his conduct by the residents of west Kingston “is what I have to live with, favourable or unfavourable”.
“It is the consequences of my action and I am completely accepting of whatever the consequences of my actions are,” he said.
“I do not do things out of any malicious intent. I do things completely out of service to the country and I am subject to the judgement of everybody. Some of that judgement will be favourable some of it will be unfavourable. It is just the way of life.”
The explosive expert said he could not comment on claims by residents about the pain and suffering they experienced during the operation.
“I am not in a position to verify, in any way, shape or form, whether it is true or to verify the extent to which it is true or not true. So, it really is for them. My role continues to be to serve my country, from a pure heart,” he stated.
Still, the career army officer said he is “completely comfortable” accepting the national honour.
“If a rigorous system makes that assessment [that he is worthy of the award], I’m quite comfortable accepting the award,” he declared.
At the end of the May 2010 operation, aimed at apprehending drug lord Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke on an extradition warrant from United States authorities, 69 people, including a JDF soldier, were killed and others injured.
The JDF initially denied using mortars during the operation, before then army chief, Major General Stewart Saunders, came clean two years later.
Saunders, testifying before the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry established to probe the conduct of the security forces during the operation, acknowledged that “the decision to use mortars was entirely mine”.
A total of 37 mortars were fired into three open spaces in Tivoli Gardens, he disclosed.
While acknowledging that there was a build-up of heavily armed thugs prepared to repel attempts by the security forces to apprehend Coke, the commission said, in its report, “we condemn the decision to explode mortars in Tivoli Gardens itself”.
“Our reading of materials provided by INDECOM [the Independent Commission of Investigations] on the use of mortars in international humanitarian law convinces us that the weight of contemporary opinion, policy and law is against the use of mortars in densely populated areas, such as Tivoli Gardens,” the report said.
“In the circumstances, we endorse the characterisation by Major [Christopher] Cobb-Smith [retired British army officer who testified before the commission] of the use of mortars within Tivoli Gardens as irresponsible and reckless.”
Zeroing in on Dixon, the commission found that residents and their properties were placed at great risk because the JDF did not achieve the internationally accepted safety distance of 700 metres for the firing of mortars.
“In the circumstances, it is our finding that the decision to use mortars on 24 May was a serious error of judgement. Given the geography of the area … it was reckless and wholly disproportionate to the threats offered by gunmen,” the report said.
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