Trial Report: Twenty
This report covers the period Friday 5 May - Thursday 11 May 2000.
It was reported last week that the victims of Operation Dual, code-name for the Barnacle operation to murder and dispose of the bodies of Swapo members and own forces who posed a security threat, were injected with a cocktail of drugs before their bodies were thrown from the Piper Seneca airplane. The drugs used have been named during testimony as Tuberine and Scoline. These are both muscle relaxants which would have the effect of paralysing the victim whilst leaving his mind fully conscious. A victim injected with these two drugs would suffocate as a result of the respiratory muscles being paralysed. Johan Theron, the Special Forces operator responsible for injecting victims told the court that he often first sedated the victims with Vesperax, a sedative containing two kinds of barbiturate. Should the victims first have been sufficiently sedated, no anxiety or pain should have been experienced after the injection of the muscle relaxants. This would not be the case if the victims were not sedated. Theron also said that Basson had supplied him with Ketelaar, an anaesthetic drug, with which to inject victims before administering the lethal cocktail. Ketelaar has the effect of causing hallucinations.
Friday 5 May 2000
The cross examination of Johan Theron continued on Friday 5 May. Defence advocate, Jaap Cilliers, suggested to the witness that it was curious that he had used the drugs Tuberine and Scoline to murder his victims when he had access to cyanide capsules. Theron said that he did not have free access to cyanide capsules despite the fact that they were issued to all Special Forces operators in Angola to be used in the event of their capture. Theron also said that he had to rely on Basson for the supply of the drugs because the military pharmacists at Special Forces Head Quarters were national servicemen who had been conscripted into the military. Theron did say under cross examination that on occasion, when Basson was away, the drugs were made available to him by medical doctor, Dr. Kobus Bothma; Special Forces dentist and later head of RRL, Wynand Swanepoel and a Wouter Lombard.
The defence also challenged Theron's account of the trip he alleges he and Basson made to Fort Rev in Namibia. Theron previously testified that once at Fort Rev, Basson was personally involved in administering lethal injections to Swapo detainees.
In relation to the charge regarding the cremation of a body in the Special Forces incinerator, the defence put it that it was SADF policy not to report the deaths of any Unita or Swapo member while that person was a patient at 1 Military Hospital. Their bodies were either cremated or returned to Namibia. Basson denies involvement in this incident.
Monday 8 May 2000
The cross examination of Johan Theron continued on Monday 8 May. Theron told the court that in some instances bodies were not thrown out over the sea but over the Brandberg mountains, and others were thrown out into the veld from Casspirs (armoured military vehicles), this was the case in one operation during 1988.
The defense stated that Basson denies ever being involved in a scheme to distribute poisoned beer at taxi ranks in the Eastern Cape.
In relation to the incident in which, Theron claims, one of the alleged assassins of Renamo head, Orlando Christina, was taken from 1 Military Hospital unconscious after having been interrogated the defense claimed that the victim had in fact been catatonic and said that Theron was "clearly not aware that catatonia was particularly prevalent among black people, far more so than whites, under severe stress, black people enter a trance-like state and this is what had happened to this person." It must be noted that catatonia is a reaction to extreme stress brought on by, for example, severe torture and that there is no racial or ethnic tendency to catatonia amongst any group of people, contrary to the claim made by the defense. Basson denies involvement in chemical interrogation.
The defense placed in record that Basson had supplied sedatives to operators who suffered anxiety or nervousness about such things as 'going through customs posts' or entering buildings whilst on missions. Sedatives were also supplied to operatives involved in abduction operations. Basson denies giving Theron any substance or being involved in the murder of anyone. He also denies knowing anything about the solution devised by Theron, Gen. Fritz Loots or Mr. K for the overcrowded detention barracks at Fort Rev, or any other incidents in which Theron claims he was involved.
The next witness on Monday 8 May was former Civil Co-operation Bureau (CCB) counter intelligence officer, Danie Phaal. Phaal explained his background in the military to the court and said that he joined Special Forces as a counter-intelligence officer in 1980. Phaal said that while working at the Special Forces Headquarters he was gradually introduced to Barnacle. Phaal's first operation as Barnacle operator was in February 1983 and involved the murder of a fellow operator known only as Christopher. Christopher was offered a lift by Phaal and Trevor Floyd to Messina, once in the vehicle he was given a beer containing sedatives to drink. When he fell asleep the operators injected him with Ketelaar, which Phaal said he had been given by Basson. The intention was to keep the victim sedated until the next day when they were scheduled to fly from the Zeerust airfield. Sometime during the period of his sedation, Christopher stopped breathing. The two operators folded the victims body into a fetal position before rigor mortis set in and waited at the airfield. Early the next morning the head of the 5 Reconnaissance Unit's detention barracks, Chris Pretorius arrived with three prisoners. Shortly after first light Theron and pilot Martin Van der Linde landed at the airfield and Phaal helped Theron to inject the prisoners in the neck and heart before stripping them naked and loading them into the plane. Theron and Van der Linde left in the plane with the victims and Phaal returned to Pretoria.
Phaal also told of an operation which he remembers taking place between 1983 and 1986 (although the indictment indicates that it took place in 1985). Phaal alleges that he was handed a small bottle of liquid by Basson who instructed him to put it in a soft drink and give it to the victim, a Swapo prisoner of war in Ondangwa, Namibia. Phaal was also instructed to transport the victim to 1 Military Hospital as soon as he showed any signs of illness. Phaal presented himself at Ondangwa as a doctor and was taken to the detention cells by the intelligence officer. The Swapo soldier he saw was in good health at the time and after talking to him, Phaal offered him orange juice, which he first laced, out of sight, with the contents of the bottle from Basson.
The following day, Phaal was summonsed urgently by the intelligence officer, who told him something was wrong. When he got to the Swapo man's cell, it was obvious the man had suffered extensive blood loss. There was blood on his calves, on the toilet bowl and on the cell floor and he was "not in good shape".
Phaal arranged for the detainee to be flown to Grootfontein on the first available transport aircraft and from there, to be casevacced to Pretoria. On arrival at Waterkloof that evening, an ambulance was waiting to take the man to 1 Military Hospital but Phaal did not know any of the medical staff in attendance.
During the flight, he had injected the victim with "something" he was given by a doctor at Grootfontein. Some time afterwards, Phaal was told by Basson that the man had died. Phaal told the court under cross examination that Basson had informed him that this was an experiment.
Phaal gave evidence about his role in the murder of Victor de Fonseca. This he said was the most traumatic incident in which he was involved. De Fonseca was suffering from brain cancer and began talking to other Special Forces members and outsiders about covert operations. For this reason he was identified as a security risk. Phaal was instructed to "get him under control". On two occasions Phaal was given substances, once by Dr. Kobus Bothma and once by Theron, to place in drinks given to de Fonseca. On 13 August 1986 Phaal was informed that De Fonseca had died.
Phaal took part in a second operation to murder an operative who had become a security risk. In this instance the victim was sedated, loaded into an aircraft and injected in the neck. His body was thrown out over the sea near Dukuduku in KwaZulu Natal.
Phaal explained that at some stage Barnacle ceased to exist and was replaced by an interim organisation, known only as The Organisation. In due course, the Civil Co-operation Bureau (CCB) took over from the interim structure. The most important consideration was that the new unit should not be traced back to the SADF. His task was counter-intelligence. The chief task of the CCB was eliminations.
Most members were recruited from the ranks of Special Forces and they acted only on intelligence. Various methods were used to kill targets, of which poison was one, but "any method" was acceptable. If toxic substances were needed in the early years, Phaal would get them direct from Special Forces doctors. "The Organisation" obtained whatever it needed from Basson's Special Forces medical unit.
Phaal testified that he left the CCB in 1990, although he said the unit only finally disbanded in 1993, three years after the unbanning of the ANC and other organisations. He said that a year after leaving the covert unit he was approached by Theron with the plan to distribute poisoned beer at taxi ranks in the Eastern Cape. Phaal agreed to be involved but made sure that he did not receive the beer, avoiding Theron's attempts to deliver it to him. Phaal was afraid that it was a trap. Phaal said Basson met with him in 1992 and acknowledging the fact that Phaal was in a tight financial situation offered him 100 000 mandrax tablets. Basson told him that he could make R10 profit on each tablet. Phaal told the head of the CCB, Joe Verster about the suggestion made by Basson and reported it to his legal team. At the time Phaal and other former CCB members were involved in a legal battle with the SADF over the fact that their pension had not been paid out.
Tuesday 9 May 2000
Cross examination of Phaal continued on Tuesday 9 May. It was stated by Basson's defence team that Basson denies handing Phaal the bottle of liquid allegedly used to kill a Swapo prisoner of war in Ondangwa. The defence team also said that Victor de Fonseca may have died of natural causes. Adv. Cilliers ended his cross examination of the witness with a formal denial that Basson was involved in any of the crimes with which he is charged and denies offering Phaal mandrax tablets to sell.
Former Barnacle operator and founder member of Special Forces, Trevor Floyd, was the next witness to take the stand. Floyd testified that he was one of the founder members of Barnacle and had accompanied Mr. K on trips to Rhodesia to collect truckloads of weapons and special equipment for use by the unit. Floyd said that by the end of the first year of Barnacle's existence there were 25 operators, mostly black soldiers from Rhodesia.
Floyd testified that he was involved in the murder of one of the Zimbabwean operators who posed a security threat in November 1980. Three other bodies were disposed of during the flight to get rid of the operator's body. Floyd said that while lethal injections were customarily used, on one occasion, he and Mr K had to use hammers to kill three victims because Mr K had forgotten to take along the sedatives. According to Floyd, "the story was always" that drugs used were obtained from Basson. Floyd also testified about operations which Mr. K testified about last week. He told also of the operation to murder Christopher, in which Phaal was involved. His version of the incident did not differ from the version presented by Phaal.
Defence advocate, Jaap Cilliers, objected to testimony by Floyd that directly implicates Basson in the supply of toxic substances used to murder enemies of the state. Basson's defence team previously stated that Basson denies ever supplying any chemical substances to anyone for elimination of enemies of the state. The Judge ordered that the legal teams present arguments regarding admissibility of evidence the following day.
Wednesday 10 May 2000
On Wednesday 10 May, after hearing legal argument from both legal teams, Judge Willie Hartzenberg ruled that evidence related to the six charges dropped at the start of the trial, may be presented after all. He upheld his original ruling, namely that the crimes outlined in the dropped charges were committed beyond the jurisdiction of his court and thus cannot be tried in South Africa, but will allow evidence about toxins supplied to Barnacle/Civil Cooperation Bureau agents by Basson or his surrogates because it is in direct contradiction to the defence placed on record on Tuesday, May 9, namely that Basson denies ever supplying anyone with any chemical substances for the elimination of any person, and admits only to supplying sedatives at times to calm the nerves of Special Forces operators on a mission or who suffered anxiety attacks, and for use in abduction operations.
Floyd continued his testimony, providing details about the plot to murder Ovamboland local administration official, Peter Kalangula in 1985/6. In this instance Floyd said that Basson had handed him a substance to smear on the victims car door handle. Basson also provided Floyd with two pairs of gloves, saying that should the substance come into contact with his skin he should immediately seek medical attention. The operation was aborted when Floyd was unable to gain access to the victim's car.
Floyd provided details of the start of the Civil Co-operation Bureau and the way in which the unit operated. He told the court that for much of the time he was a CCB operative he was the sole operative responsible for Region 5: Europe and the UK. He was permitted to present evidence about the attempted murder of Ronnie Kasrils and Pallo Jordan in London in 1985/6. Floyd said that it had been his idea to use a poisoned tipped umbrella for the hit. He told how he had met Jan Lourens who had handed him the modified umbrella and showed him how to load the syringe with poison Lourens supplied. This operation too was aborted because the intelligence on which it was based was out of date.
Floyd said that he had been approached by Basson in 1992 and told that he had ecstasy to sell and asked Floyd if he had contacts in Europe who they could use to sell the drug. Floyd said he did not and also said he would not be party to drug dealing.
The cross examination of Floyd began on Wednesday afternoon and continued on Thursday 11 May. The defence put it to Floyd that Basson's approach with the request for assistance to sell ecstasy had been a test. Cilliers said that Basson was investigating an incident in which a drum of ecstasy had been found by customs officials in Ireland who had reason to believe that the substance had come from South Africa. According to Cilliers, a top-level SADF investigation was launched to establish if the Ecstasy had originated in South Africa, since there was a suspicion that the dissident CCB agents had somehow laid their hands on Ecstasy produced by Project Coast and were exporting it.
Floyd told the defence that there was no reason to suspect that he had been involved in ecstasy incident. The defence also challenged Floyd's version of the London operation and pointed out inconsistencies between the statements of Floyd and Lourens. The defence also pointed out that Lourens' statement implicates Dr. Philip Mijburgh in the provision of the toxin, not Basson.
It is expected that the next witness will be pilot, Martin van der Linde.
This report has been prepared by Chandré Gould and Marlene Burger. Chandré Gould is a research associate at the Centre for Conflict Resolution working on the Chemical and Biological Warfare Research Project. Marlene Burger is monitoring the trial as part of the CCR Chemical and Biological Warfare Research Project. The Chemical and Biological Warfare Research Project is funded by the Ford Foundation, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and the Norwegian Government.