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LDF responds to torture claim

by Lesotho Times

WE find it worthy to respond to Captain Mokhantšo’s narrative which appeared in the Lesotho Times issue of 24 October 2009 under the headline “LDF framed and tortured me”.
Interestingly, the narrative emerges as an axis of contention within our social strata taking into consideration some of the issues he raised. We firmly believe that Captain Makhantšo has the right to speak openly as a citizen of this country.
This right is even enshrined in the supreme law of the state. We should state, without equivocation, that some of the issues he raised are correct while some are just unwarranted trumped-up stories and aspersions.
However, we commend him for bringing these issues to public scrutiny.
We have learnt that Captain Makhantšo, a self-declared victim of torture, has implicitly appropriated some hostile views from the club of antagonists of the LDF whose goal is to create a false image of human rights abuse where torture is often a catchphrase.
Our response seeks to set the record straight on some of these misleading diversions aimed at screening the real picture of events.
Captain Mokhantšo begins his narrative by elaborating on the officers meeting held at Ratjomose Barracks where the army commander addressed issues on the spate of attacks and weapons stolen from soldiers guarding ministers’ homes.
He is right to say that the meeting was held and the above-mentioned issue was part of the agenda. He is equally correct to affirm that officers were assigned to find out whether guards at ministers’ residences carry out their duties as expected.
The Captain maintains that he was one of the officers who raised a few issues, and sought clarifications in the meeting. His observation was that soldiers reported for work drunk and often slept on duty.
Consequently, we regard this observation as a serious self-indictment since, in military terms, an officer does not report the misbehaviour of soldiers without taking appropriate measures.
He had all the powers to institute legal action against anyone who behaved in that manner. By extrapolation, it means that the Captain was out of touch with his soldiers, a factor which constituted dereliction of duty on his part. 
In military circles, it has always been said that there is no bad soldier; there is only a bad officer and we therefore subscribe to this dictum.
Captain Mokhantšo further observed the lack of work ethic and professional standards displayed by soldiers due to improper military training.
This is a regrettable and misdirected observation suggestive of the fact that he was not doing enough to train soldiers assigned to him and was unfairly putting the blame on other officers in the meeting in order to make up for his failures.  
Additionally, Captain Mokhantšo narrates that he was summoned to the Military Police Offices to clarify why he made some remarks during the commander’s meeting. It stands to reason that officers would not be literally reprimanded for making comments if they are allowed to do so.
And we do not understand why Captain Mokhantšo was singled out because many officers came up with a variety of constructive comments and observations in that meeting.
Captain Makhantšo correctly points out that on the morning of Sunday June 17 2007, he was ordered to avail his battalion for roadblock duty later that evening. He goes further to say that at the same day the battalion left the Makoanyane Barracks for Ratjomose with L-Cpl Khoatsane as a commanding officer.
This is where he gets it wrong because, by all reasonable accounts, a soldier of a rank of L-Cpl cannot be entrusted with commanding a battalion-size unit; even he himself was a battalion second in command not a battalion commander.
Despite being given such orders he decided to wear his civilian attire, and followed Khoatsane. Here, we put it that it is improper for a military officer on duty to be in plain clothes. Without doubt, it shows that Captain Mokhantšo was not willing to execute orders given to him. More specifically, he was given orders to deploy troops at various places around Maseru including, Ha Motšoeneng junction, Masianokeng, Ha Hoohlo and Ha Tsolo at 1800hrs, but none of these had materialised until by 1930hrs.
This lackadaisical approach to the execution of lawful orders was exacerbated by his unwillingness to get weapons for the operation he was ordered to conduct. Equally tellingly, he did not bother to approach officers in charge of the armoury.
Instead, he asked Khoatsane who had nothing to do with arms’ storage why soldiers were not given weapons. He points out that the absence of the amourer was a source of delay for deployment while he did not take any initiative. This is where suspicions about his conduct came up.
What strengthened these suspicions is the fact that while he was given orders at 1600hrs, he only headed for Makoanyane to change into military wear at 9pm. This delay made him lose contact with his soldiers until he was informed by then Col Pasane that soldiers under his command had been attacked and disarmed at Lakeside.
Instead of arranging for reinforcements he irrationally decided to go straight to Lakeside (if he ever did) where the fighting took place without knowing the situation on the ground, though he understood that this was a mistake because he could not rescue the soldiers alone.
Here, the Captain does not even differentiate between military reporting and passing information as he was surprised that senior officers were reporting to him while they were actually giving him information.
By implication, he did not care about what happened to the troops on the ground. This became increasingly manifest when he deployed women soldiers for roadblock duty at Mookoli and Naleli without weapons, disregarding the unsafe situation prevailing by then. 
The Captain claims that he blindly went to Lakeside and before he could reach the place he was ambushed and disarmed.
He claims he narrated the story to his seniors who were disappointed with him.
We maintain that as an officer he had a strong sense of what is militarily correct, however, contrary to this he intentionally disregarded any safety precautions regarding the attack at Lakeside.
He is also correct to point out that other officers were disappointed with him, a factor which explains why we felt impelled to investigate the matter further. Without choice, he was duly arrested for his indifferent approach to the whole operation. Suffice it to say that the Captain was trapped between the walls of his own construction.
The fact of the matter is that some of the claims which are said to be genuine landed him in court where he was found guilty under section 51 (1) of the LDF Act No 4 of 1996 for disobeying lawful orders given to him and section 75 of the same Act; for behaving in a scandalous manner unbecoming the character of an officer read with section 79 for acting in a manner prejudicial of good order and military discipline. While these charges cost him his rank he never challenged them in the courts of law.
On the question of his association with All Basotho Convention (ABC), Captain Mokhantšo has it wrong to declare that he was framed. The LDF has no interest in its members’ political inclinations, and has no legal standing to determine that.
Frankly speaking, Captain Mokhantšo was implicated by self-declared members of that political entity who had seen him. 
He is correct to point out that it was Pvt “Ratšiu” (not his real name) who said he had seen him attending the meeting with another soldier who was also a member of the ABC. It is therefore incorrect to put the blame on the Military Intelligence on this issue because it came out undertaking investigation regarding a different person.
Moreover, Captain Mokhantšo claims that he was earmarked for incessant victimisation and discrimination by the LDF. He singled out the decision to pay him half-pay and failed order to evict him as evidence of this claim.
Yet the commander of the LDF has discretionary powers to determine whether any member of the defence force suspected of having committed a crime should be suspended on full-pay, half-pay or no pay at all.
Many soldiers have been suspended on half-pay before. To date there is a number of soldiers suspended on half-pay and Captain Makhantšo was no exception.  As a senior officer in the army it is surprising that he does not know this.
Again he was evicted from the Barracks for security reasons because he was suspected of being involved in activities detrimental to security. However, the courts ruled in his favour pending further investigation on the matter.
Borrowing from Judge Louis Harmse, “Presumption of guilt is a legal construct not social or political one. Just as it would be wrong to assume guilt without evidence it is equally wrong to disregard evidence of guilt because it has never been tested in court”.
The LDF therefore subscribes to this learned observation and would not sit back and watch when the security of the state is being threatened because the evidence regarding the matter is not tested in court.
To cover up the aforementioned failures and blunders, the Captain tries in vain to invent the myth of torture in the hands of the Military Intelligence.
We therefore advise him not to interfere with the due functioning of the courts of law since he has already instituted legal action against the LDF with regard to the issue of torture.
We therefore find it inappropriate to discuss the issue which is being dealt with by the courts of law as that would amount to interference.
While Captain Mokhants’o’s publicity is directed at the LDF, it is littered with so many inaccuracies and confusions that he even transcends the borders of the LDF and alleges that while in detention, some members of the police force offered to smuggle them into South Africa because they were afraid that the military would hurt them.
This claim has no substance; it is intended to advance his personal ambitions to portray himself as a hero. Our belief is that police cannot help a suspect to escape the might of the law instead of arresting him.
Lieutenant Mashili Mashili
LDF Public Affairs Office

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