Oh the beautiful unreliability of witness testimony: yet another day of gaping holes and glaring contradictions.
Witness: Tim Browne
The day began with the videotaped deposition of Tim Browne, an expatriate worker aboard the CBL-101 barge in May 1998. In a rich accent (Texan perhaps?) Mr. Browne gave his account of the Parabe occupation. Browne’s version of the events were a marked departure from previous testimony; he described a frightening violent takeover of the barge and platform. What should have been clear to all was the difference in perspective of Browne and the expatriate workers who testified today and the Nigerian workers who testified a few weeks ago.
Browne described the scene on the barge as a wild jostle where Ilaje villagers pushed and shoved expatriate workers and waved objects around menacingly. Browne never saw placards or heard the Ilaje singing. Nor for that matter did he hear them identify themselves as peaceful protesters.
Instead, he stated that a pair of ‘channel locks’ – large pliers were wrested from his tool belt by an Ilaje and brandished as a weapon.
He claimed that he observed Ilaje pantomiming pouring chemicals into empty bottle and “planning to use it as a bomb” and even saw–presumably from a window several storeys above the barge deck–an Ilaje pointing out locations to target with this would-be bomb. When asked how he could discern the meaning of these pointing fingers, he answered that the villagers were miming lighting the bottles and throwing them.
He also described the Ilaje making piles of bottles and metal spools on the deck. He said the expats felt nervous and feared for their lives, although he never observed the Ilaje actually threaten anyone.
In one incident, he reported that a CNL operator was struck in the head and had his glasses knocked to the ground.
Browne hid in his quarters with fellow expats when the heard the helicopters arrive on May 28th. Driven out when tear gas entered the room, he saw two bodies lying on the ground. He claimed to recognize one as the man who had taken his channel lock, though his memory was fuzzy and he later stated that someone else had told him this was the same man.
Browne testified that when he returned to the barge after the attack on May 29th, he was responsible for cleaning up diesel which had been poured on the deck. He observed 6 or 7 razor blades with crude wooden handles and everywhere bottles and bolts and debris. He stated that the barge has been torn apart.
On cross-exmination, parts of Browne’s testimony seemed to crumble. First of all, it was revealed that entire paragraphs of his and brother’s written declarations were nearly identical. He admitted that they consulted with each other before preparing them. Certain of his statements were well dissected: In his declaration he stated, “on 5-28 intruders got really aggressive…actually threatened to kill us.” In the deposition however, he stated that he interacted with no Ilaje on the morning of the 28th and stayed in the expat quarters. How then did he know that the aggressors got really aggressive that morning?
Similiarly, his deposition was alive with dramatic descriptions of villagers pouring diesel on the deck and helipad of the barge and threatening to light it. Yet in his written declaration, he made no mention of diesel fuel.
“Did you personally observe the Ilaje pouring diesel?”
Mr. Browne never saw an Ilaje with a razor blade-despite his discovery of them strewn about the barge on May 29th-nor did he see anyone with a machete. Nor did he see anyone stuffing rags into a bottle. Nor did he see anyone pouring diesel on the ground. It would seem there is a wide gulf between what Tim Browne actually saw and what he said.
Witness: Wayne Hawkins
Mr. Hawkins is a sharp African-American gentleman in his early 70’s. With a concise and precise manner that wasted no words, he offered his account of the Parabe occupation. Hawkins worked as site safety advisor and medic for the French company that ran the barge. A Vietnam veteran and experienced Naval hand, Hawkins’ spoke in the manner of a debriefing and delivered what I believe to be the most reliable testimony of the day.
Like Tim Browne, he described the boarding of the barge by the Ilaje as disorderly. He heard no singing and saw no placards. He did not believe that he was witnessing a peaceful protest. Instead, he described a large number of people milling about an already crowded work area – this overcrowding seemed to be a source of stress.
Hawkins also saw a CNL operative who was attempting to lock a security gate be accosted by an Ilaje and receive a slap to his head that knocked off his glasses.
Due to Judge Illston’s order barring the admission of testimony on juju, Hawkins was only presented with questions on a man shaking a tree branch–the meaning of which was left up in the air.
Mr. Hawkins conveyed the stress and anxiety that gripped the expatriate workers, and we have no reason to doubt his impression. For most of these international workers-American, Europeans, Lebanese-the events must have been confusing and frustrating. However, aside from the above altercations, Hawkins did not witness the Ilaje threatening anyone’s life. Nor did he see them armed with weapons.
He did testify that when the helicopters unloaded the Nigerian security personnel on the 28th, a small group of Ilajes ran towards the soldiers, shaking sticks and pieces of piping.
I must confess that with the constant reference to tree-branch shaking and stick brandishing, I can’t help but picture the spear-shaking natives from an Indiana Jones film. I wonder how much of the expatriates’ perceptions of the events around them were colored by their own predisposition to ‘fear the native’.
But I digress. On cross-examination, Dan Stormer was able to tease out a few significant contradictions. Under direct, Hawkins testified that the soldiers would not have had a clear line of fire to shoot down at the protesters from the helipad; they would have struck the barge superstructure. On cross, Stormer walked him through a photo of the helipad to demonstrate that they would in fact have had a clear line of fire as they descended the stairs from the helipad.
What’s more, Stormer caught onto a major gap in chronology that undermines a key claim for the defendants. Hawkins testified that he left his quarters on the 29th “neat as a pin” and that the crew’s cabins and offices were left in perfect, professional order. And yet, when he returned to the barge on the 29th, he found them ransacked with personal belongings missing and debris strewn about. He saw razor blades and bottles lying helter-skelter around the barge.
He never saw razor blades aboard the barge before the shootings on the 28th. Nor did he ever see any diesel fuel on the deck before the 28th. And between the 28th and the 29th, when he returned to the barge, the barge was under military control and no one but the military and barge officials were allowed aboard.
So how was the barge ransacked after the Ilaje had been forcibly removed? How did the diesel fuel which Tom Browne scrubbed on the 29th get spilled on the deck? And by whose hands?
Witness: Jason Daniels
In the darkened courtroom, we see a photograph of a helipad, overexposed and washed out in the tropical light. A chopper sits at rest. A lone figure stands erect, his feet planted on the white painted landing circle. A group of men appear to be lifting a body on a stretcher onto the helipad. In the background the green sea.
The photograph was taken by the expat worker Jason Daniels: we are seeing the medical evacuation of Larry Bowoto.
Both the preceding witnesses stated that Daniels–a young man from Texas whose father went to the same church as the Brownes– spent much of the Parabe protest in tearful agitation. Given that set-up, it was little surprise that his testimony bore the wild exaggerations and distortions of high emotion.
Daniels described the Ilaje as fearsome and menacing to a man. In Daniels’ eyes, every exchange with the Illajes is a fight; every communication a threat. “I saw them fighting as they passed the Chevron guy. They hit him upside the head with a bolt, hit him with their fists. They beat this man, trying to push through to the other side of the helideck.”
Every moment seemed to bring the threat of death:
“Were you able to leave the barge?”
“The only way to leave was to swim and we would have died swimming.”
Not only did Daniels see villagers pour diesel on the barge, he saw them pour it from three different 55 gallon barrels. He saw them pour it deliberately. He described it as menacing, dangerous. He said men were smoking right by the fuel. He feared for his life.
Did they have weapons? They had pipe wrenches, machetes, monkey wrenches, bolts, long pipes. Three or four of them had machetes with blades 14″ long and 6″ wide
Although he testified that the Ilaje wouldn’t allow anyone to make phone calls and even said they tore about the radio room and destroyed the telephones, he was able to hide under a desk and telephone his father:
I told him our worst fears had happened. That I was scared. I told him we’d been taken hostage. I said this would probably be the last time I would talk to him. So I cried, I told him I loved him.
“Every second of every day” he thought of himself as a hostage.
Not only was the CNL operator who lost his glasses slapped–as the others said–he was grabbed by the chest and thrown overboard, only saving himself by grabbing onto a rail.
Not only did Daniels see villagers with weapons: they were all armed.
“Everybody on that barge had a weapon. How is that hard to understand?”
“So almost all the people on the barge had weapons in their hands on May 25th?”
To my eyes, Jason Daniels exaggerated every single observation he made. While it was hard to pick up his affect–as the deposition was read-in by an actor in a flat monotone–it should have been clear that Daniels’ testimony came from a seriously traumatized person. Daniels saw bogeymen everywhere.
Witness: Michael Browne
The day ended with the videotaped testimony of Michael Browne, brother of Tim Browne. Tomorrow, we will hear another hour of Browne’s testimony, so I will summarize his deposition in its entirety then.