This is a book about a trial and my experiences in that trial over the past 14 years; everything that happened to me, what I observed, what I did, what I had to do. I have resisted the attempt to write this narrative until now because the past 14 years have been so full of events and people that to try to write about it seemed vain and futile. But others have convinced me that these experiences would be an interesting and valuable narrative to record, and so, I begin.
In the early 1990’s a war took place in a small African country, Rwanda. That war was buried in the back pages of the newspapers until 1994. In April of that year the war became a symbol of savagery in the western press which described the war as a genocide committed by one tribe of Africans, the Hutus against another tribe, the Tutsis. The Tutsis were portrayed in the press and on television as the victims in this war and at the same time as civilised liberators, bringing democracy and culture to a country dominated by a brutal people who were clearly more primitive and savage.
The impression I had of the events then was a confused one. The media never gave any context to the war, why it was going on or who was involved. The press portrayed it simply as African savagery, without rhyme or reason. My own life was in chaos at the time and the savage war in a remote country did not occupy much of my attention. Later, the constant drone of articles and documentaries about genocide and the use of the example of Rwanda as a justification of several American wars excused as humanitarian interventions, caused me to question what had really taken place there. But my interest did not go beyond that. It was not until 2000 that events took place that led me down a dark path to a world where illusion was a way of life, where nothing was what it first appeared, and no one could be trusted.
It was sometime in June, 2000 that I received a letter in my criminal law office in Toronto from General Augustin Ndindiliyimana asking that I be his defence counsel to assist him on charges he was facing at the International War Crimes Tribunal For Rwanda. Prior to that I had been contacted by some lawyers I knew in Montreal who were already involved with cases at the tribunal and they had suggested I should get involved in the defence there as well. They made the suggestion because I had worked with them, among other lawyers and law professors, in drafting and filing war crimes charges against NATO concerning their attack on Yugoslavia in 1999. My own claim to attention was a single paper I had written following those charges being made that analysed the ad hoc UN war crime tribunal for Yugoslavia. The conclusion of the paper was that the tribunal was a propaganda tool of the western powers and the trials were nothing but show trials. It was very unpopular to say this then and is now since the public information systems all carry the same line that these tribunals were advances of international justice and civilisation. So I was surprised that this paper circulated widely, first published in The Mediterranean Quarterly and then finding its way to several sites on the internet and read even in Africa. The Montreal lawyers informed me that the prisoners at the Rwanda war crimes tribunal had read the paper and liked my attitude and they encouraged me to take the case.
At first I was reluctant. I had a small legal aid practice I was trying to keep going and the idea of travelling to Africa did not appeal to my state of mind at the time. But I started to read, I began learn and then I began to realise that this was the most intriguing case I would ever have and that the injustice involved was as great as the intrigue. And so I applied to get my name on the list of counsel and was accepted.
The letter from General Ndindiliyamana informed me that he was the Chief of Staff of the Rwanda Gendarmerie from 1992 until what is known in the media as the “genocide” took place in 1994. Many others, with reason and evidence to support them, call it war.
The Gendarmerie was the national paramilitary police in Rwanda. The General was not only the Chief of Staff of that force he was also a member of the Rwandan Armed Forces, in fact, the highest-ranking officer in those forces. To be asked to defend him was an honour and a deep commitment. I had done many criminal cases over my long years as a lawyer and some very interesting trials, including murder cases but this man was charged with murder on a mass scale, with crimes against humanity, with genocide. There could not be a more challenging case for a defence lawyer to take up. It involved not just a local quarrel but, an entire war, in all its complexity. My mind was made up. I telephoned him at the detention centre where he was detained by the UN in Arusha, Tanzania, the home of the Tribunal, and agreed to talk to him to see if he had a defence, what his defence was and whether we could work together.
I then asked to be appointed as counsel to the general. He put in a request on his own to have me. My forms were all filed and in order. I was placed on the list of defence counsel. My credentials were affirmed. My appointment should have been automatic but immediately the games began. Early one morning perhaps around 6am, while I was still sleeping, my telephone rang and somebody spoke to me in French. The line was not clear and I was half asleep but in a few seconds I realised I was talking to some functionary at the tribunal. The woman asked me some questions about some forms that confused me and then hung up. I put the phone down and went back to sleep.
Two days later I received a communication from the general that they had refused to appoint me because I could not speak French. So that was the point of the call. I called back to protest and to inform the general who in turn advised that they had come to see him to try to get him to drop me. But the general, as I soon learned, was no fool and had told them in reply that he didn’t care if I spoke Chinese or Arabic, he wanted me and that was that. I also appealed formally and complained about the call and being caught off guard and half asleep and that I was communicating with him in French all the time. They listened, and said nothing in response that made sense but the next day I received a fax with my appointment and a work programme approving my trip to Arusha to meet with him.
Two weeks later I was on a KLM flight to Africa and my life was transformed.
The first leg of the trip took me to Amsterdam, for a one-day layover, and then on to Kilimanjaro, where the small international airport for Arusha is located, along the Nairobi road, toward the beautiful, small town of Moshi. It’s about half way between the two towns and in the middle of nowhere. Most of the people on the plane were tourists going on safari in the Serengeti or somewhere on the northern safari circuit. I spent my time on the flight trying to learn some Swahili from a phrasebook or looking out the window as we flew over the Alps, then Greece, the Mediterranean, Libya, the Sahara, the Sudan, Uganda and then Lake Victoria and Tanzania. Nine hours of flying. Tiring. But the food was good, the staff friendly and I got into conversation with a priest who had a mission for orphans at Usa River a town outside Arusha. He was very kind. He was a small man, perhaps in his seventies, but very alert and vigorous and happy to answer my questions about what I could expect of Tanzania. He managed to teach me my first words of Swahili and explained to me when they should be used. Jambo was the first word I learned I think. Sjiambo was the second, its negation.
The arrival at Kilimanjaro came suddenly. I was dozing off again. The sun had long set. It was about 8o’clock at night. Suddenly, the warning bell sounded for seatbelts and then the attendant’s voice came over the system and announced the landing. I sat up and looked out the window but could see nothing but darkness everywhere sprinkled here and there with tiny yellow lights. But I could see no lights of any town nor of any airport. The darkness enveloped the plane as it descended rapidly until we passed down a long row of lights that became closer and faster and I realised we were just above the runway. Seconds later, the plane touched down on what appeared to be a long road into a black void. There were no building lights visible when we first landed and only when the plane turned around and began to taxi back down the runway to the terminal did we see the airport buildings and other landing and runway lights. It was small. It looked like a landing strip for small aircraft not one that could handle an MD1011 and a 747.
We descended stairs onto the tarmac and then walked over to the terminal building, guided by local airport staff who smiled and spoke softly, “This way, please, this way please.’ The air was warm but fresh and smelled of jasmine. We entered the arrivals section of the building and lined up at the three immigration wickets waiting to be processed through.
I waited my turn feeling the heat and smelling the air and watching the tourists talking to each other, excited, as I was, to be in Africa for the first time. The immigration officer asked for a visa but I showed him my letter from the Tribunal appointing me as counsel to the general and that I did not need one. He nodded but said nothing. Then he looked at my yellow fever card. He looked at me. I waited.
“You can’t come into Tanzania sir, this card is no good.”
“I don’t understand, it’s perfectly valid.”
“You’re supposed to wait ten days after the shot before you travel. You waited only three days. I cannot let you in and risk you getting yellow fever.”
“I’m not going back on that plane.”
“You have no choice.”
“Can we discuss this matter?”
He looked right at me and smiled. “Yes, let me get my supervisor.” He leaned out of his booth and called over another officer standing just outside an office door and overseeing the crowd pressing his men. He came over and exchanged some words with the first man and then asked me to step into the office he had come from. As soon as I did, he sat down leaving me standing and repeated what the other officer had said.
I decided to act according to the script and pleasantly said, “Well, I appreciate your concern for my health but I am not worried, nor should you be.” I then took ten dollars from my wallet and handed it to him, and continued,
“I am sorry for wasting your time and I am sorry I didn’t wait ten days but no one informed me of that so I hope you will reconsider.”
He looked at me calmly and in a very relaxed voice replied “All right my friend’, as he took my money and folded it, smiled and put it into his trouser pocket, “This time we shall permit you entry but please do not blame us if you become ill. Come with me and I will speed you through.”
And he did, walking me through immigration to the baggage claim area and then wishing me a safe journey, “safari njema mzee.’ That was the first time anyone called me mzee, a title of respect for elders or superiors and for the old and wise. I wasn’t sure in which sense it was meant but I accepted it in good grace and shook his hand good-bye and went to collect my bag, then l walked through to the arrivals area, a small area leading out to the open air. Gathered there were a couple of dozen men, young and old, all taxi or bus drivers, some holding placards with the names of the people they were expecting, others jostling with each other and gesticulating to get you to take them as your driver into town.
I had made no arrangements to have someone pick me up, and the UN bus that acted as a shuttle for UN staff coming in and out had already left. Two young men were the most persistent with me and spoke enough broken English to convince me that they offered the best service and the best car. “Ok, my friends, let’s go.”
“Nzuri mzee. Njoo, bwana.”
We walked to the parking lot and got into a beat-up Toyota Corolla. They got into the front seat, me the back.
“Karibu Tanzania, rafiki”
“Ok twende.” And off we went.
There were times on that 40 kilometre trip to Arusha along unlit roads and only the myriad of stars for light, that I wondered if I would get there alive. I began to imagine they were bandits, and when they talked in their own language and laughed, I began to fear they were going to drive off the road somewhere, cut my throat and steal my wallet and leave me dead in the bush, food for the hyenas, like Humphrey Bogart had been left as Mr. Dobbs in the Mexican desert in Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
My alarmed and ignorant imagination recovered only when we arrived at the Arusha Hotel and I was safely seated at a table in the dining room, the only occupant, attended to by an elderly man in livery, and I felt my mind begin to settle into the rhythm of Arusha and I considered my next step, going to the UN prison to meet my client.
The UN prison at Arusha was next to the local jail on the savannah of northern Tanzania. It was not much to look at. Four walls on the outside containing several cell blocks inside. In the dry season Arusha is hot and dusty. In the wet season, it is cool, green, and damp. Right outside the prison is the local airport, where tourists fly in and out for safaris or short hops to Zanzibar and Nairobi. In the distance sit strange conical hills, almost elliptical. Beyond them, in the direction of the Serengeti, lie gentle hills that fade into mountains in the distance.
Even in the dry season the panorama is so vast that you can’t escape gazing at it but in the rainy season everything is a bright green and along the main road leading out of Arusha to the prison and the safari parks beyond, the trees are splashed with bright yellow flowers almost as beautiful as the purple-blue Jacaranda trees in the town.
The UN prison at Scheveningen in The Hague used by the ICTY and which I had visited to meet with President Milosevic when I became involved with his international defence committee, looks like the Gestapo prison it was in the second world war; all concrete and steel, barbed wire and grim guards. But the UNDF, as it is known in Arusha, was a much more relaxed place. There was barbed wire on top of the walls and cameras, but the guard tower was rarely occupied, and the guards at the entrance, Tanzanian prison service officers in brown uniforms, and armed with Kalashnikovs, just waved you through to the entrance inside the prison compound where lawyers and family visitors mingled with blue uniformed UN guards. If you could speak a little Swahili, they were always friendly and relaxed. Even the UN guards, more officious than the others, were polite and correct.
The first time I saw the prison I was struck by how obscure it was. The Scheveningen prison is in the town and occupies a large area. The UNDF at Arusha is small and his half hidden by trees, the local jail and the airport so it is difficult to see from the main road. At one time lawyers were allowed to enter the main gate by car but later we were stopped from using the gate and had to walk through the living areas for the prison guards. These were wooden shacks containing a couple of rooms and a pen for holding cows that were used for milk. Chickens pecked for food on the path through this area and small children played among the trees. The children always said “hello, mister” or “good day, sir” in very practiced English and were happy when they were given a reply. Often they would look at you shyly and say “shikamoo” a sign of respect to an elder to which one has to answer “marahaba”. Failure to do either is considered very bad manners. Shikamoo in Swahili means, “ I kiss your feet” and the reply means roughly “a thousands thanks.”
This was the first time. I was waved through the main entrance after leaving the taxi I had come in and walked down a path through trees and flowers to another gate with a UN sign on it beyond which was a gravel parking lot with several white UN four by fours were parked. At the end of this area was a door that led through into an anteroom to the UN prison. Here the guards searched me and asked me to sign in the visitor book. One of them, Monica, a small chubby Tanzanian lady who was a UN security officer asked me who I wanted to see and seemed happy when I told her it was General Ndindiliyimana and said what a gentleman he was and how I was lucky to defend such an important man. I found that reaction unusual for a prison officer.
She called on a phone and spoke to another officer and asked that an officer come to take me to an interview room.
I was escorted through a side door and exited onto an outdoor path that led to the prison compound where the prisoners were held. To the left a set of stairs led up to another building that housed the administrative offices. I walked down the path and a guard showed me into a low room, one of a series on either side of the path, about ten on either side. They had corrugated roofs, open windows, stucco walls, and one table and several benches inside.
The guard asked me politely to sit, and left.
About ten minutes later, General Ndindiliyimana came in and in French greeted me and we shook hands. He invited me to sit down and looked at me carefully and straight in the eye.
“Bon,” he began, and then expressed how glad he was to meet me and asked me what I needed to know. I told him that I understood nothing of the war in Rwanda or his position so he could start from the beginning. He replied by asking what I had heard, I told him. He asked if I could keep an open mind and I said yes. He then entered into a conversation about the war that lasted three days. In those three days he set out what had happened in a chronological order and explained what had led from one event to another. It was completely different from what the mass media had published and it made complete sense. For the first time the mass of chaotic events described in the media came together as a war with a beginning, a context, a middle and an end and the powers and characters involved became clear. This was no civil war, no internal dispute between tribes but an international war provoked, directed and supported by the United States in the first place and Belgium, the UK and Canada in support using the United Nations as their tool.
Or at least that is what he told me. Who was this man? Should I trust what he said? But he spoke with a gravity and seriousness that compelled me to listen. He never stopped looking right at me, open, frank, and observant. He was in his late 50’s then. It was clear he was used to high position and authority but it was also clear that he was very worried about his situation and his personal safety.
I was struck by how formal he was. In fact, all the Hutus I met were formal in manner, perhaps sophisticated is a better word. Aristocratic, but with a common touch.
But the formality may have been an impression caused by the use of French, which he spoke with an excellent and very clear accent. I had not used much French since high school and often had to guess at what he was saying. He sensed that and would stop and repeat his words slowly until I seemed to get it.
We spent three days like that, him talking, me listening. I didn’t take any notes. I just wanted to listen, to understand. At the end he again said, “bon”, sat back and asked me if I was prepared to do a political trial. I asked him what he meant. He stated his arrest was for political reasons, to put pressure on him to testify against the “big fish,” Colonel Bagasora, former deputy minister of defence, and to keep him quiet because he knew too much about what happened in the war and what the Americans, Canadians, Belgians had done, what General Dallaire had done. He did not expect a fair trial or justice but wanted to use his trial to try to tell the world what really happened in Rwanda and who was really to blame. He needed a lawyer who was prepared to engage in that strategy.
I said yes immediately.
If I had been able to see what was coming maybe I would have backed out. I don’t know. It’s hard to understand why you do things, why you choose that or feel like this, and then I was up for something, anything to make life exciting again. My love life was a disaster, my criminal practice was tough but I did a lot of interesting cases, learned a lot about life. Criminal lawyers think they know a lot about human nature. But it is human nature trying to survive a world alien to all human nature. The story the general put to me meant that his case was not just a criminal case, but a resistance to the whole established order. This man was angry, and betrayed. He wanted revenge. He was willing to spill what he knew and he needed someone to help him do it and willing to fight on his side.
Bu I felt it necessary to caution him,
“I’m not sure of my French, general. Not sure I can represent you adequately. Perhaps you should get another lawyer because of that. I said I would do it but you must understand my limitations.” He replied,
“You can learn better French. I can’t find another lawyer willing to do what needs to be done to win this case, to get out to the world the truth of what happened in Rwanda. I like your attitude. Stay, we’ll figure it out.”
He extended his hand. I took it and he placed his other hand on top of mine, smiled, said “bon” again and then said that we would meet tomorrow after I had tried to see the prosecution about the case and report back to him.
We parted and I watched walk slowly back towards the compound where the prisoners were kept, down a narrow path to a metal gate guarded by a soldier. He turned at the gate, waved and then disappeared from view.
The taxis driver was Masai, a friendly guy who spoke good English and had a sense of humour, always laughing, willing to take me anywhere. I asked him to take me to the tribunal. “Ok, boss” and off we drove. I sat in front. The road back into town was a winding one, two lanes, well-paved. It passed through coffee plantations on both sides for a mile stretch, long rows of deep green bushes backed by the 5,000 meter high cone of Mt. Meru, the volcano that looked down on Arusha sprawled at its feet. Its slopes were covered in green bush and forest until, higher up, the green faded to a purple, grey stone, turning black or blue as the white clouds drifted across its face. Sometimes there was snow on the top.
“That is very beautiful, Ibrahim.”
“Ndiyo, mzee. I will take you one day. There are elephant and leopard up there and colobus monkey.”
I kept staring at it until was obscured by tall trees and then a school and church, both painted pink, with white roofs, white fences. It looked like England. After 15 minutes Arusha proper appeared. People were everywhere; women in multi-coloured sarongs and tops some balancing water jugs and buckets on their heads, school-children in uniforms, traffic police in their crisp white uniforms, women with burkas, men in suits, and African faces. Africa in all its variety –so many different faces; some black, some, brown, caramel, oriental eyes, round eyes, long faces, short, and everywhere there was an energy in the streets and from the people, walking, shopping, men in suits talking with Masai warriors carrying their long knives called simes the s pronounced as “sh” and walking sticks, some with their spears. There were children in their school uniforms, greens and blues and yellows and white, some girls in burkas, some in Christian head scarfs, all together with animists. It was exhilarating.
The dust was everywhere. Arusha is a very dusty place. A lot of silica blows off the volcano and floats down to the town, gets in peoples lungs and makes them sick or choke. But most days it’s just the dust from the streets. Only a few main streets are paved. The rest are rutted dirt lanes hardly wide enough for a car to manage. The buildings are two or three story, Indian style, which is no surprise since the Indians are the largest group of merchants here. There is movement all around you. There are cafes, small shops, a movie theatre and in the heart of town the old German fort, all white defensive walls, some buildings, gardens, a peaceful, pretty, soothing place to walk. Next to it is the Arusha AICC, the international conference centre, built by the Chinese to house huge conferences, along with some small shops and offices. The UN had taken over parts of the three wings and put in 4 courtrooms and suites of offices for the 1,000 staff. Security was tight. Beyond the foyer no one could open any door without an electronic key and only UN security could give you one. So I first had to go to see the UN Security Officer.
A half hour later, armed with my electronic identifictation badge, I was in the office of Alessandro Calderone, head of the defence lawyers section. Alessandro was a sweet man. His Italian accent, his tall elegance, his love of fine wine and beautiful girls, and his agreeable nature were in every movement and word. He was the epitome of charming.
He welcomed me, explained the routine, how to get paid, how to get an office assigned, what hotels to use and all the small things one needed to survive in Tanzania, but then he came out with a surprise,
“You knowa, Cristopha, yura man he is a not guilty. Everyona herea knowa that. We are surprised to see him arrested, really. He is a hero in Italia. He saved the ambassador’s life, Senor Costa. You must have him for a witness.”
“Why was he arrested then? “
“What really goes on here, it is not easy too know. But be careful. He is a big man and they will be watching you. He can be dangerous for them, I am sure of this. So, they think maybe you are too.”
“It is this that is difficult to say. One can think but one cannot always know what is reality here. But keep this to yourself. I only tell you because I think your general is a good man and I wish you luck.”
He led me to the door “Anytime you need anything, you are welcome.”
I left and returned to the hotel.
I ate alone, reflecting on the history of evens that the general had told me about the war and the unexpected reaction of Calderone and Monica. The hotel restaurant opened onto a set of stairs that led down into large gardens and another wing of the hotel. It was all run down at that time, since renovated, but retained the charm it is famous for. It is said that Hemingway spent time in the hotel when he wrote The Snows of Kilimanjaro and the Green Hills of Africa. On the stairs leading down to the bar on the low ground level was a poster for the film Hatari with John Wayne. The crew had stayed in the hotel when they shot the film back in the sixties. The whole setting was exotic to me and my first day on the case had turned out to be much different from what I had expected. I drained the last of the wine in my glass, paid the bill and went out to meet Ibrahim, standing by his car talking to some street boys who quickly saw a mark and tried to sell me batiks and assorted tourist knickknacks. A few minutes later I was back at the Tribunal, and decided to have a look at the defence offices and then the library. It was while walking down the hall way on the 3rd floor where the defence offices were located that a tall and very attractive woman, with blond hair, blue eyes, angular face, and long legs approached me.
“Are you Mr. Black, counsel for General Ndindiliyimana?”
I said “yes.”
She extended her hand, “I am Patricia Wildermuth, senior prosecution trial attorney here. We would like to arrange a meeting with you to discuss your case and see if we could come to a resolution.”
This also surprised me. The general was facing genocide charges and they wanted to resolve the case. I said of course I was willing to meet with them and she stated that they would meet me the next day in one of their conference rooms at 1pm. We shook hands and she walked away.
That evening, back at the hotel, I had dinner in the restaurant, and then went down to the bar where the barman, John was his name, an elderly quiet man, was talking to a couple of girls sitting at the bar. Scattered around the room that opened out onto the gardens, were several tables at which sat some guests and some locals watching a football match on the television.
I sat at the bar and ordered a beer.
My thoughts were expanding and contracting, at one moment trying to figure out what has happening behind the scenes here and what the meeting would bring, at another moment trying not to think of the tall, sinuous young woman sitting two stools down from me who kept looking over at me and smiling. She looked like Kim Novak except her skin was a beautiful dark coffee colour and her dark eyes shimmered against her face and curled hair. I smiled back to be friendly of course and she gently laughed , tossed her head back to show me her throat and breasts in a red silk dress and then she turned serious and quietly said “Habari, wewe..
“nzuri, fine” na wewe, You?”
“I’m fine, my name is Rose. What is yours?
She laughed, Crissss, ok,. Crissss I have no money, why don’t you by me a beer?
She pouted and looked at me pleading with the eyes of small child. How can you say no?
“Ok,” I say John, “one for Rose. On me.”
‘Sawa, mzee” and he handed her a Kilimanjaro, one of the local beers.
“You like that beer?” I asked.
“Yes, Kilimanjaro is very nice, it is sweet like me. Why don’t you have one with me?”
“Ok, John, I’ll have the same.” He gave me the tall dark bottle with a label depicting the volcano. She was right it was very good and had a sweet flavour to it. “You’re right. It’s good, Rose.”
“Yes, I told you. The beer here in Tanzania is very good, and the women are much better than that,” and she smiled again.
“So I see.”
“You like what you see? Of course, you must because I am beautiful, don’t you think?”
I laughed then and said of course and for an hour or so this pleasant dance continued, until Janet showed up. Janet was thin and desperate, too vulnerable, too fragile for life. She sat down between Rose and me, talked in Swahili to Rose, who laughed again and said something about the “mzungu” referring to me and then Janet ordered a beer but said to John, “it is my friend here” and she touched my arm, ‘who will give me a present,” and she turned to me and smiled, her sad face suddenly glowing with light and innocence.
“Ok,” I said “but I have to leave soon. Have to work tomorrow.”
Rose pretended to look sad, “You are just going to leave me, why can’t I come with you.”
Janet jumped in, “You dont want to go with Rose, I am very friendly.”
“Thanks ladies but really, I do not need the company and I have to think.”
They pouted as I paid the bill and left but as soon as I turned past the door I heard them laugh.
I slept badly. The jetlag was one thing but the Larium I was taking for malaria made my head spin and I had vivid, alarming dreams when I drifted off, only to wake up and stair at the ceiling wide awake. Sometimes I began to drift off thinking of the two girls and how beautiful they were, but then I would jolt awake again and realise I was completely alone.
The next day at a few minutes before 1PM Ibrahim picked me up in his white corolla and drove to the Tribunal. I walked through the main gates, and the UN security booth and its x-ray machine and its blue-uniformed UN personnel, walked across the courtyard enclosed by the three wings of the complex and looked around me. On the roof of one of the wings was a large array of complex antennae and radio receiving dishes. Mingling in the courtyard were office workers and some lawyers having a smoke break before returning to court. There were three trials going on then each with several accused. The lawyers were from France, Belgium, the US, Canada and Britain, Cameroon, Senegal, Tanzania, Chad, Congo, South Africa. They all wore the costumes they wore in court in their home countries but the American lawyers were forced to wear court clerks robes as no one was permitted to speak in court without a robe of some kind.
I didn’t know any of them, so walked past them and into the elevator that took me to the 7th floor where the prosecution had its offices. At the reception I was taken to a large conference room by a secretary and asked to wait.
The table I sat at was long, oval in shape, that sat 30 people comfortably. After about ten minutes 20 people walked into the room. I had expected a small group of two or three. I should have known better. This was their first attempt to intimidate me.
Patty Wildermuth, Colonel Wildermuth properly called, for I had learned that morning from another lawyer that she was an American Air Force officer, sat at the head. A South African named Rashid to her left. Chile Ebo-Osuji, a Canadian lawyer who I had once worked with in Toronto, originally from Nigeria, to her right. I was surprised to see Chile as I did not know he worked there. I had not seen him for several years. We greeted each other. Extending down the table a number of other functionaries, lawyers, and investigators took their seats and looked at me.
I felt as if I was at the end of a telescope with a thousand eyes staring at me. They were trying to unnerve me, but that sort of thing just makes me angry and defiant so I steeled my self and waited for the attack.
Which came gently enough. “Mr Black’, the colonel began, “we brought you here to discuss an arrangement that your client might be interested in.”
They all looked at me. I paused for a second. “The only arrangement he is interested in is to be released immediately.”
There was a quick succession of sharp breaths and exchanged looks and some of the faces became grimmer.
Chile jumped in. “Chris, it is very good to see you again after all these years, but we have more than enough evidence to convict the general several times over. That is not the question. The issue is whether he is willing to cooperate. If so we could offer a lesser sentence.”
“I have not seen any evidence and he insists that he is innocent and that he was arrested only to put pressure on him to cooperate with the tribunal. He will not accept this and neither can I.”
Chile laughed, “Chris, I assure you that you will have all the proof disclosed to you in due course but it is there. There is no defence. His men killed many people. He did nothing to stop it and he encouraged it. But if he is willing to talk to us about Bagasora we can make it easier.”
“What are you offering?”
The colonel responded, “Twenty years if he pleads and testifies against Bagasora.”
“That’s not an offer. That’s’ a life sentence at his age.”
“We might be able to do ten if the information is good.”
“That is also a long time for an innocent man.”
“Well, that’s the offer.”
“I will have to consult with my client.”
“Of course. But please do not take too long. We can be impatient.”
“I will see him tomorrow and get back to you.”
The colonel stood up, nodded to me and, followed by the others who quickly stood up when she did and left the room. I was alone.
Chile came back in a few seconds later. “Chris, perhaps you would care to have dinner with me and my wife sometime this week. We can avoid talking about this, I would like to catch up on Toronto. It’s been some time.”
“Sure, Chile, thanks, I accept.” “Good” he said in his weak husky voice “I’ll call you at your hotel. The Arusha?” I nodded, and he left.
I decided to walk back to the hotel.
The next day I returned to the UNDF to meet with the general. I briefed him on what had happened and the offer made. He visibly angered though he spoke with a calm deliberation.
“I will not be treated this way. I am willing to talk with them anytime they wish. I have made that clear even to the Belgian Senate. But I will not be pressured like this and have these lies made up against me. Tell them that I will talk to them but only if they release me and drop these absurd charges. Otherwise we are going to trial and I will tell the whole world what really happened in Rwanda and who is responsible. They world will find out what General Dallaire did, what the Americans and RPF did. I am not afraid of them. But it is going to be difficult for you. Do you still wish to take this journey with me?”
“I’m a man of my word, general. I said I would, and I will.”
“Bon, but there is one thing you must agree to. There many defence lawyers who we think are agents and many who believe these genocide stories and condemn us even as they claim to defend us. I have only been here a couple of months but already the other prisoners have told me how this place works. Few of the lawyers are willing to defend against these charges and challenge the propaganda put out in the world media. When the prisoners try to fire these lawyers they refuse to leave and since they are on the side of the prosecutor the Registry does not make them leave and even puts pressure on us to continue with these people who only want to betray us. And some of the lawyers have no idea what they are doing; they are simply incompetent. So, if I decide that you do not serve my interests as I instruct I want you to agree to leave the case as soon as I request it.”
“That’s the way it should be general. I have no problem with that. I have never worked with a client who does not want me. It is unethical and pointless. It is also a matter of personal honour, You have my hand on it.”
He looked at me carefully said “Bon” again, stood up erect with his papers under his arm, began to leave but stopped and turned,
“Go and see Wildermuth again. Tell her what I said. Then come to see me again in the afternoon. There are other things I want to tell you.”
He shook my hand again and walked away down the path slowly, nodding to some other accused in adjoining interview rooms, exchanging some words, even a quiet laugh at a joke. I went out, signed out, and said goodbye to Monica, “Kesho,monica, tomorrow.”
“Sawa, Mr. Black. Kesho. Siku nzima. Have a good day”
That night I had dinner alone again. Then I went down to the bar. John gave me a beer. I sat at the bar, thinking. The sun sets at 6pm in Arusha. Its only a few miles from the equator. Everything is timed according to the rising and setting of the sun. Swahili time. The TV was set to another football game, Manchester United and Tottehnam I think it was. Three Masai from the Serengeti and a couple of Chaga, a tribe that lives on the slopes of Mt. Kilimajaro, were sitting around the room watching and talking. Young men. One of them turned out to be a member of the Tanzanian Secret Police. But I only learned that later. Then a girl came in. She looked almost Arab but with caramel skin, large almond eyes, her pulled straight back in a pony tail; very shiny, and long. Her lips were full. She looked like she could be trouble.
Just then Rose sat down. “Hello, my friend, you remember me?”
“Yes, Rose, I remember you.”
“That’s good,” and she laughed. Everything seemed to make her laugh.
“How are you today Rose?”
“Nzuri, bwana, fine,” and she looked at me and pouted. ‘But I am lonely. And I have no money. Buy me a beer,” and she pouted again.
“Ok, Rose. Hey, John, one for Rose, tafadhali,”
John reached for a bottle on the wall behind him, twisted the cap off and gave it to her with a glass and poured it. She took it, looking at me as she took a sip. “Asante, wewe.”
The Arab girl was watching us. I looked at her. She looked at me and made a face of disgust at Rose. Rose saw and began a tirade against her in Swahili. John said it was nothing, they knew each other and it was about me.
I decided to leave them to it and put some money on the bar, stood up and said goodnight to him and to Rose. “Hey, won’t you invite me?”
“No, Rose. I don’t need company.”
“But I do, but ok, if you don’t want a beauty like me for your friend I feel sorry for you.”
I smiled, and walked back up to my room.
It was Thursday morning. Pat Wildermuth was in her office and welcomed me in. She was even more attractive. About 40, but seemed much younger. Too bad she was married to an army officer I heard, who had bragged he was in the CIA. Rumour was that she was too. She invited me to sit down.
“Colonel Wildermuth, the general insists on his innocence and refuses to be pressured in this way. He is willing to cooperate and tell you what happened as he observed it but he will not if he is held here on false charges.”
“But they are not false.”
“Then why are we negotiating. If you have a case why don’t you proceed with it?”
She paused, “We need your client to nail Bagasora. He’s our main target. Your man knows everything and can help us a lot. Even though he is also guilty in our view of war crimes he is someone unique here. Everyone knows this. He was considered one of the moderates. Not a bad man but didn’t do enough to control his men or to protect civilians. If he testifies against Bagasora then we can work something out.”
“His answer is a flat no. He instructed me to tell you that he is willing to talk to you at anytime but not under pressure by being detained. He told me what happened and insists you have no case. He’s angry he has been treated this way. And frankly no one trusts you after the Kambanda affair.”
“The Kambanda case would never have been dealt with that way if I had been around.”
“Well, he was the prime minister, he was promised things in return for cooperation and they gave him life anyway. So how could my client trust any promises the prosecution makes now?”
“You are right. That should never have happened and it harmed our work-few are willing to plead now. But I’m in charge now and I can guarantee you in gold writing that any deal we make will be kept. I personally guarantee it and we could have the guarantees of the judges in advance, anything to satisfy your concerns.”
“I doubt he will go for it but I will take that back.”
“Ok, see what you can do,” and we shook hands .
The next day, my last day in Arusha the general listened intently to my account of the meeting.
“Then they are refusing to release me. Ok, then we shall go on with the trial. Tell them I will never plead guilty to anything. They know I am not guilty and they know who is. We will use the trial to tell the world what happened. It was the RPF that shot down the plane and began massacring people, not the government or the army or gendarmerie. The Americans helped, the Belgians and general Dallaire. He was involved with Kagame. He is responsible for the deaths of many. You know I laid criminal charges against him in Belgium for his actions in Rwanda. I would like you to push that file. You know the indictment they gave me has many paragraphs blacked out. I cannot even know what I am really charged with and the co-accused names are blacked out. How can I defend myself like this?”
“You are right, general, It’s bizarre. It’s not a proper indictment and we have no disclosure of any evidence at all yet. I have to return to Canada tomorrow but we will stay in contact and see what disclosure comes. Meanwhile we have to attack the indictment itself. I’ll do that as soon as I’m back in Toronto.”
‘Bon, maitre. I agree. But get hold of the criminal complaint I made against General Dallaire in Brussles. See if the investigating judge can be pushed to investigate what he did. He is the one who should be in prison.”
“I’ll see what I can do, general.”