Government hits back at Gary

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds – File photo

National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds and Foreign and Caricom Affairs Minister Dr. Amery Browne said the US government pulled its assistance for the special operations response team (SORT) in 2021.

The move came following the deaths of two suspects in the murder of Andrea Bharrat while in police custody.

In March 2021, Andrew Morris was arrested in connection with the case. In a Newsday article from February 3, 2021, Griffith was quoted as saying, “The man was in custody and he was offered something to eat by the police but he refused. He was placed in a chair when he fell. The officers acted swiftly and took him to the hospital where he died.”

The PM recently raised the issue during a post-Cabinet media briefing on March 27, where he said he asked Griffith about the case and was allegedly blatantly lied to by the (then) CoP. Griffith responded via voicemail, alleging Rowley was a liar.

“Let him show where I ever said that anyone died because they fell off a chair.”

Hinds quoted the article and also played a TikTok from Voices of the Street on 91.9 FM, posted on Friday, where Griffith said, “I would love to do a polygraph test with me and Keith Rowley to show that he’s a blatant liar, show where it is I ever told you persons died because they fell off a chair. That is a blatant lie. This is a matter that took place four, five years ago and he keeps holding on to that.

“These are two men who were involved in the killing of Andrea Bharrat. They will never be able to kill again, they will never hurt another female again, and these were two men who were involved in over 60 other charges for rape, sexual assault for women, and that’s what Keith Rowley continues to speak about. So because these two people died at the hands of the police, he keeps trying to put me as if I am to blame for that situation.”

Hinds reminded that murder is never statute-barred and the matter remains under active police investigation.

He called the remarks flippant, especially coming from a former police commissioner. He said there had been ramifications for the government.

Browne quoted from the Newsday article, which said, “Police sources said the man was beaten severely by officers while in custody and believed he may have died from injuries.

The man was a suspect in the disappearance of 22-year-old court clerk Andrea Bharatt.

“‘Speaking with Newsday on Wednesday, Griffith said the man was arrested after a confrontation with police in Sangre Grande where officers were injured but denied they beat the suspect.’”

Browne said on March 24, 2021, he received a visit from a delegation from the US Embassy, led by then Chargé d’Affaires Shante Moore, on what he described as an urgent and important demarche.

“He informed that as a result of the investigation into the members of the police service’s SORT, stemming from the Andrea Bharrat murder investigation in February 2021, the US was obligated to cease all forms of security assistance to SORT under the US Lehy Law. One day after this, on March 25, the Ministry of Foreign and Caricom Affairs received a diplomatic note, issued by the US, directed to the TT government.

“It stated, inter alia, that the SORT of the police service was hereby ineligible for any US security assistance due to credible allegations that this unit is implicated in acts that constitute gross violations of human rights.

“So what the former commissioner was boasting about publicly is being described in this diplomatic note as acts that constitute gross violations of human rights. That diplomatic note remarked that the US was ready to assist TT on strengthening oversight and accountability within its security services.”

Browne said in another diplomatic note on July 23, 2021, the US issued a reminder of the fundamental requirement under US law for the US government to obtain written agreement from TT and acknowledgement that no assistance under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 or the Armed Export Control Act would be provided to a security force unit in TT that has been separately identified by the US Department of State from receiving assistance under section 6:20(m) of the Foreign Assistance Act, known as the Leahy Law. He said there was further communication between the two governments.

“When on one hand you have an incident resulting in death, and a commissioner of police as quoted in the TT media, almost boasting, presenting a certain version of those events, you have a foreign government, our largest trading partner and our largest provider of overseas security assistance to the people of TT taking clear action in such regard.”

“So you have a former CoP who to this day references SORT as his brainchild, publicly. Who is on public record defending what occurred and describing it in terms, certainly inconsistent with the actions taken by the US government, now challenging the sitting PM using language unbecoming and unbefitting of anyone who seeks to hold public office.”

Browne said there had been no other incidents of outreach from the US about gross violation of human rights since then.

Hinds said on a daily basis as National Security Minister, he authorises and facilitates travel worldwide for military, police, law enforcement and intelligence operators for training, conferences, support, equipment, health, especially in a world of trans-national crime and the need for cross-border co-operation to deal with the inflow of tonnes of drugs and guns into the region.

“This is authorised under assistance from our foreign partners, including the US, and when you are defunded, all of this goes through the window. The nation is seen in a certain way, as a pariah state, and they are looking to see how you, the people, through your government, reacts to these matters. If you thought that talk about cockroach was bad, this was 100 times worse.

“You heard him gloating in the clip about how they will never kill again. He pronounced on a finding of guilt or otherwise, it sounds to me. But I have to wait until the matter is investigated, people are prosecuted, and the court will deliberate on that.”