Exoneration or escape?

By Raffique Shah
July 21, 2012

Raffique ShahFORTY years ago on July 27 I was released from prison a free man. I had spent 27 months in prison, faced a court-martial on mutiny and other charges, and had been committed to stand trial for treason. The treason charge was without substance.

But on the equally serious offence of mutiny, for which the court-martial had found me guilty and sentenced me to 20 years imprisonment, the Court of Appeal later decided there was a miscarriage of justice, hence it overturned the conviction.

I am dredging up this murky period in the nation’s history not to rub salt in anybody’s wound or to blow my mutineer-trumpet. I am doing it to show how less than honourable men could play smart with foolishness, how they could use court decisions as badges of exoneration when they merely and barely escaped punishment.

You see, I never denied that I had committed mutiny. How could I, when I had brazenly led my men in revolt against a high command that I believed was inept? I could try to justify my actions. But I could never deny the offence. Indeed, very early during the six-month trial, this 24-year-old lieutenant shocked the court (Commonwealth military officers), the prosecution (led by Bruce Procope and Teddy Guerra) and the nation by taking the witness stand and saying, “Yes, I overthrew the high command!”

Most people thought I had gone mad. That was tantamount to a murder accused pleading guilty. But I had an obscure legal ace up my sleeve: my commanding officer had condoned my actions. To cut a very long story short, having floored everyone with a perfectly legal plea that few knew existed, I took responsibility for all the men I had led in revolt, and asked the court to free us (in accordance with the law).

Of course Colonel Danjuma and company did no such thing. They threw out the condonation pleas (Rex Lassalle, Maurice Noray, Ferguson Guy and Carl Lai Leung had also pleaded condonation), proceeded with the trial, and jailed our backsides for long stretches. But our lawyers (Desmond Allum, Allan Alexander, Frank Solomon and solicitor Lennox Pierre) thought that the court had not been fair in hearing the pleas, not adhered to proper procedures. About six months later, three of the country’s most eminent judges, Clement Phillips, Aubrey Fraser and Telford Georges, agreed with the defence.

In a judgement that further shocked the government and nation, the Court of Appeal unanimously quashed Rex and my convictions, although they disallowed the other appeals. In his judgement, Fraser J made the following incisive point: “It is perhaps the acme of irony that the two men who boldly and brazenly proclaimed themselves to be leaders of the mutiny…should escape punishment for their actions. But the law must take its proper course…”

The government would appeal this ruling to the Privy Council, but it was dismissed. It was in those circumstances my fellow mutineers and I were released from prison, free men. But did the highest courts exonerate us on the charge of mutiny? I submit that they didn’t. Thus, my colleagues and I have always remained mutineers, defiant as young men, but more responsible as we matured.

After members of that 1970 high command passed on, I have had good relations with most of the officers who were my colleagues at the time, including commanding officers and chiefs of defence staff. Indeed, many very senior officers who enlisted well after the events have shown me respect. I have been consulted by prime ministers and I served on State boards and government-appointed committees.

But I am ever mindful that I remain a mutineer, whatever the courts have ruled. In contrast, consider this. Last week, the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in favour of expelled FIFA vice president Mohamed Bin Hammam, not because the CAS believed he did not attempt to bribe CONCACAF football officials, but because the judges felt FIFA had not advanced sufficient evidence against him.

Immediately, Jack Warner, who has been named in several allegations of impropriety, who resigned from FIFA rather than seek to clear his name, called a media conference and claimed exoneration—presumably by association. That his name and some startling numbers would surface the following day in a leaked PricewaterhouseCoopers audit of the Asian Football Confederation, meant nothing to this man. That his prized Centre of Excellence and the man after whom it was named (Joao Havelange) are mired in muck means nothing to him. That week after week, AP, AFP, Business Week, the Financial Times and other reputable media services and houses use his name in unflattering terms, means nothing to him.

Exoneration by association—that is what he crows over.

What may be worse, is that those who matter in Cabinet, the Prime Minister, the leaders of parties that comprise the People’s Partnership, seemingly support this charade. They refer to relics like O’Halloran and Prevatt; they threaten Calder Hart. Yet they sit comfortably with Warner. One day, one day…

The other person who has taken shelter behind a legal fig leaf is Basdeo Panday. Recently, a magistrate discontinued proceedings against him not for lack of evidence, but because of a procedural irregularity. Based on this narrow escape, Panday claimed innocence, persecution, exoneration and sainthood all wrapped up in that ruling. Where, O Jah, are the men and women of honour in this country? Christ, we are fifty, but we have all the characteristics of deviant adolescents. Lord, put a hand.

7 Responses to “Exoneration or escape?”


  • In another country you would have been dead…It is good to have you around for the remaining years.

  • I agree with you. Just think about this: “Politics has its own morality.” Your former colleague said these words. That comment is lived out by politicians today so it is not surprising to hear the brazen comments quoted in your article.
    The new politics we we promised is really “politricks.” They will try to continue to trick us if we allow it. Your role is important in this society to open the eyes of the people to what these jokers are doing.
    Raff, I applaud you. Keep writing.

  • I could not agree more Raffique.

    Nuff Said

  • Linda Edwards, class of '67

    There is something called “manning up” you did it. Others act, then try to hide their cowardly selves, behind every pillar an post.
    I remember the trial. I used to go to watch a few times as it was important to our history. Then the Ghanain representative at the tribunal had to leave because there was a coup in his country, and he had been named to a high post. Your defence lawyers made a lot of splash about that.
    In my book, you have redeemed yourself. But, we learn from history, that we lern nothing from history.

  • Linda Edwards, class of '67

    In the scandal surrounding Penn State(US university embroiled in sexual exploitation and cover-up), the statue of Joe Paterno, who built the football program, but covered up his subordinate’s predation on young boys,was taken down yesterdy. The stadium would still bear his name.
    I suggest that nothing will be done by the present government to rattle Jak’s cage, but when they are booted out next election, the succeeding government should install a plaque, stating in four languages:English, Portugese, Arabic and Chinese, the following:

    “Build by a Crook, to honour a crook, and for the benefit of the crooked and straight children of TnT.”

    The title of the building is an oxymoron.Let it stand.

  • In the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies right here in Trinidad, Government and Politics was kept at a mild distance. But now everything is Politics.
    Radio, TV, Movie, Sport,Religion, everything seems to have gone over to the political Floor. Apart from fulfilling their duty, they have gone to far. Trying to fix Morals and Character is not the Job of the Politicians.
    If you not paying your Taxes, they coming for you. If you slip up, they coming for you. They even taking away children and Meddling in Family affairs, this is to creepy!!
    The Husband and Wife cussing out is- Business!!
    You not paying for the Sexual pleasure you had with the woman- pregnant now-is Business!!
    While you sleeping, drones flying over you-is business!!
    Admitting when you wrong is Strong, only cowards and Fools hide in the dark, only cowards carry Weapons. I remember Uriah Butler only talking and they afraid of him, when was the black power days in the 70’s everybody sweating and thinking twice.
    The Statement of you coming to the forefront and explaining the facts, proves that we have still have able men and women among us- we still have hope. Even though everybody might not agree with you, the Scriptures show that when Elijah thought that it was Him alone- the Lord said-“There are seven thousand that have not bowed the knee to Baal” …Peace!

  • Linda Edwards, class of '67

    His boldfaceness, in a recent comment to the dailies, about his US bank account, said “its nobody’s business”. I would recommetd that he check US laws on holding accounts as slush funds in order to bribe on an international scale.any money found to be in uch an account can be sieze by the US government.

    Jack is a wabeen, playing shark, in an ocean of financial senanigans patrolled by the US treasry since the currenty of thse exchanges, is the US dollar.
    Its only a matter of time before he is reeled in.

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