Former chief of defence staff, Major-General (retired) Ralph Brown, is questioning the use made of the military by National Security Minister Jack Warner in which the camp of the Highway Re-Route Movement in Debe was destroyed last Wednesday.
Speaking to the Express during a telephone interview yesterday, Brown said the Minister was within his authority to ask the army to assist the police but questioned whether it was a proper use of the military.
Brown said, however, it was okay for the Minister to have sought the assistance from the army "as an aid to the civil power"—assisting the police in carrying out their functions.
"What I found strange was the presence of the Chief of Defence staff and the Commanding Officer," he said.
Brown, who has the highest rank anyone in this country has achieved in the army, said a corporal could have done the job.
"I certainly would not have chosen to be present. There was no need for the Brigadier (Kenrick Maharaj) or Colonel (Anthony Phillips-Spencer) to be there. That is a minor operation," he said, adding that the Minister did not have the power to order the Chief of Defence staff to be there.
"And what I actually saw on television was that the army appeared to have taken the lead role, with the police just standing, looking on. I saw two soldiers lifting up Wayne Kublalsingh. That to me was wrong," Brown added. He said two policemen should have done this job especially since the soldiers have no powers of arrest. He said it was "inappropriate" for the soldiers to have been the ones lifting Kublalsingh away.
Reminded that the charge (made by Warner) was that Kublalsingh had struck a soldier, he said maybe then they (the soldiers) were making a citizen's arrest. But, Brown stressed, that was unnecessary since the police (who have the power to arrest) were right there on the site. And if that were so (that Kublalsingh had struck a soldier), why was Kublalsingh not charged with assault? Brown asked. Kublalsingh has denied the allegation that he struck a soldier.
Brown said the police appeared to have taken "a back seat" in the whole event.
Told that maybe the police took a back seat because the most senior law enforcement person was the Chief of Defence Staff, Brown said the Chief of Defence Staff had no more power in this situation than the ordinary citizen. It is the police who have the power, he said.
Brown said the Chief of Defence Staff also has to satisfy himself that what he is being asked to do was legal. He said however that he was sure the Chief of Defence Staff would have assumed that the instructions (to assist the police in the exercise) were correct. "It is not as if the Minister was asking him to shoot someone," Brown said.
Noting that the police (involvement) "gave legality to the operation," Brown said: "That (whether the Chief of Defence Chief acted legally) is not the issue here. One would assume that if the Minister ask the Regiment to assist the Police, he would be on solid ground and one (ie Chief of Defence Staff) would have assumed that his (the Minister's) actions were properly researched."
Brown noted that the previous site of the Re-Route Movement was located on the Road Reserve and therefore fell under the jurisdiction of the Minister of Works, whereas the current camp site has been rebuilt on State Lands which falls under the Commissioner of State Lands. "You just have to shift a couple of yards to make the distinction," he said.
In questioning the use of the army, Brown also pointed out that the Minister could have used the Ministry of Works' equipment last Wednesday—not the equipment of the army whose backhoes etc were used to demolish the camp. Brown said the police and Ministry of Works could have handled the exercise without any reference to the army.
"I am not questioning the Minister's authority to do what he did. It is the manner in which it was done," he said. "The Minister could have told the police that there was a need for the army to assist the police. There is no need for him to be there, he and his junior minister, nor the Chief of Defence Staff and his Commanding Officer. And I also questioning whether that was a proper use of the military," Brown said.
Asked whether President George Maxwell Richards as Commander in Chief of the armed forces needed to be informed about the exercise, Brown said unlike a state of emergency or the deployment of the troops outside of Trinidad and Tobago—which are the two occasions in which the armed forces require the President's approval—there was no requirement for the Chief of Defence to brief the President since this was a peacetime aid-to-the-civil power exercise.
Contacted last night for a comment on Brown's comments, Maharaj said as the serving Chief of Defence Staff, "I regret I would not be able to make a comment on that issue at this time."
He added that he didn't enjoy Brown's privilege of being a former chief of defence staff (and therefore having the freedom to comment).