Grenada 17 member alleges prison torture

ST. GEORGE’S, Grenada: Former deputy prime minister Bernard Coard is alleging that he and other members of the “Grenada 17″ group jailed in the aftermath of a coup in 1983 were subjected to torture during their time behind bars.

Coard, who was released from jail last weekend after serving 26 years, accused the now deceased prison chief, Barbadian Lionel Maloney, of being the main instigator of the alleged torture.

“The first eight years were really brutal. The man in charge of the prison at that time was from Barbados and…he could easily have run one of those concentration camps during World War Two…we were tortured,” he said in an interview published in the Trinidad Express.

Coard, who had initially been sentenced to death for the murder of his colleague, then Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, during the uprising, said beatings at the hands of prison authorities were common.

“We were sporadically beaten to force us to sign certain statements. Sometimes they would wrap a pipe in a wet towel and beat some of the guys on the stomach. I was not one of them. But medical reports produced in court testified to this kind of treatment.

I was beaten about my head, my neck – I was bleeding from my ears. My injuries were superficial. But a medical report on my condition was three pages long,” Coard said, noting that the conditions improved after a change of leadership at the prison.

Coard also described other measures of torture that he and the others in the group were allegedly subjected to.

“And in the cells, there were 100 watt bulbs being used on a 24/7 basis. All the other cells had 60 watt bulbs. There was no sheet for the bed or blankets, there were no toothbrushes, the cells were full of cockroaches. We had no clothes, except the short pants and shirts we were wearing. This went on for eight years,” Coard said.

Coard, 65, also recalled events that led to the coup on October 19, 1983.

He said after agreeing that there should be joint leadership of the New Jewel Movement (NJM), Bishop changed his mind, causing discord among members.

“We all felt that joint leadership was the way to go. It was a mistake because life is also about human emotions and feelings and we failed to take that into account. Bishop initially agreed to the idea of joint leadership.

“But he went on a short trip abroad and after passing through Cuba on his way home, when he got back he said he had changed his mind. And there were rumours circulating that we wanted to kill Maurice Bishop. And, like the fools we were, we put him under house arrest. And the whole thing got out of hand,” Coard said.

Coard admitted that he and his cohorts were wrong for their actions.

“We took moral and political responsibility for what happened. We did so many things that were wrong and we’ve apologized. We don’t apportion blame. We take collective responsibility for everything that went wrong. We accept full moral and political responsibility for all of it. And I am still traumatized by it. It’s not just a question of remorse. I’ve written 70 pages on this issue,” he said.

Since his release, Coard has expressed his desire to relocate to Jamaica to be with his ailing wife Phyllis, who gained early release from prison on humanitarian grounds after also serving time in jail as part of the Grenada 17 group.

Coard says he has no intention to get involved with politics again.

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