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The question of how to extract a dangerous man from a residential neighborhood is one of the fundamental problems of our time, happening everywhere from Gaza to Rio to Abbottabad. Sometimes hundreds or thousands of civilians are caught in the middle of such manhunts. When the smoke clears there are bodies on the ground of indeterminate status. Yesterday, they were living and breathing civilians; today, they are presumed to be dead combatants. The question of who among them deserved to be killed is answered posthumously, through forensics and public relations. In other words, history. The process yields much evidence and little certainty. The survivors are rarely in a position to claim their share of the narrative.

Earlier this spring, The New Yorker received a batch of video footage from the Drug Enforcement Administration that shows the beginning of one such operation carried out in Kingston, Jamaica, on May 24, 2010, when Jamaican security forces stormed the barricaded neighborhood of Tivoli Gardens. The target was not a terrorist but Christopher (Dudus) Coke, the powerful drug lord and “don,” loved and feared in Tivoli Gardens, who has since pled guilty to racketeering. As I reported in “A Massacre in Jamaica,” in 2011, at least seventy-three civilians, including one U.S. citizen, were killed in the process. Many firsthand accounts suggest that the killings were carried out by the Jamaican security forces long after the neighborhood was under their control. The operation was assisted by a surveillance plane from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which was flying above the neighborhood and relaying information to the Jamaican authorities.

Today, we are releasing footage taken by that plane. The video runs from roughly nine-thirty in the morning, Jamaica time, until three in the afternoon, ending just before the crucial hours when, witnesses say, most of the killings occurred. The video was turned over in response to a federal lawsuit that I filed with the help of The New Yorker and a clinic of Yale Law School students. The assistant U.S. attorney representing the D.E.A. has said that this is all the video it has that is responsive to the lawsuit. It remains unclear whether the U.S. government has additional video from later in the operation.

These six hours of footage raise more questions than they answer. We see people running but not what they are running from. We know that the Jamaican Army fired mortars, but we do not see the mortars being fired or falling. There are momentary flashes that could be gunfire or rays of sunlight reflected by windows. Beside a tree is a cluster of red pixels that might or might not be a dead body. We see barricades and small fires but also small children, and laundry hung out to dry in the sun.

A few things are conclusive: this operation was carried out by the Jamaican military in a residential neighborhood under the eyes of the U.S. government. There is very little in the videos to support the Jamaican Army’s claim that “the resistance we faced in entering Tivoli Gardens was fierce,” as reported by the Times in the days after the attack. Other documents suggest that the highest levels of the Jamaican government did not feel they could trust their own Army. In an e-mail to colleagues written on the afternoon of May 25, 2010, the day after the attack, Isiah Parnell, the head of the U.S. mission to Jamaica at the time, wrote: “FM [apparently the Jamaican foreign minister] said that they’d heard that non-combatants were being summarily shot and women raped. He said that they could not trust reporting by the JDF [Jamaican Army] that those illegal activities were not taking place and asked if we had any info on the matter. Based on our contact with the military and JCF [Jamaican police] I responded that we had not heard that concern nor did we see that with our military asset.”

When reached by phone, Dr. Kenneth Baugh, who was Jamaica’s foreign minister at that time, disputed this account of the meeting. “I know categorically that I did not receive reports of rapes or murders,” he said. Baugh could not immediately recall whether he had met with Parnell on May 25, 2010. “At no time did I express a lack of trust in the J.D.F.,” he said. “I feel that the J.D.F. can always be trusted. They managed the process to the best of their abilities.” Attempts to reach Parnell and spokespeople from the U.S. State Department late Tuesday night were unsuccessful.

The question of whether anyone will have to answer for the killings depends on Jamaica’s Parliament, and on Earl Witter, the Jamaican official charged with carrying out an initial investigation. Almost three years after the raid, Witter’s three-hundred-and-ninety-six-page report was delivered to Jamaica’s Parliament on Tuesday and could be released to the public as early as Wednesday afternoon.

Visit The New Yorker’s new video page.


  • smh

  • Riches says:

    I read over the report today an mi a tell yuh seh all mi tink bout is the fact that anything a man sow im agguh reap! some a dem police and soldier weh kill some of the innocent civilians agguh get fi dem day, what a way liad Baugh have selective memory

  • Riches says:

    I read over the report today an mi a tell yuh seh all mi tink bout is the fact that anything a man sow im agguh reap! some a dem police and soldier weh kill some of the innocent civilians agguh get fi dem day, what a way liad Baugh have selective memory

  • Cc says:

    Yuh tink government a guh release videos weh fi incriminate dem inna nuh wrong doings? Dem videos deh dun edit already tink dem easy smh.

  • Anonymous says:

    @fluffymisskitty: Thanks Met…and The Pink Wall for the positivity.a welcomed change which I mutally respect.Bless up watcha now…,

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