Somewhere in the bureaucratic bowels of the Department of Homeland
Security is a videotape shot above the Tivoli Gardens neighborhood of
Kingston, Jamaica on May 24, 2010. It could reveal whether the Jamaican
security forces, acting on behalf of U.S. prosecutors, killed 73
members of a notorious crime syndicate or innocent civilians caught in
house-to-house fighting. That is, if anyone in a position of power
actually wants that question answered.
Over 500 Jamaican soldiers rushed into the teeming Tivoli Gardens
neighborhood that day for what became known as Operation Garden Parish,
a mission to capture the local mafia don, Christopher “Dudus” Coke. The
mission was the result of heavy U.S. pressure: Coke had been indicted
in U.S. federal court for running an international marijuana and
cocaine ring. It would become one of the bloodiest days in recent
What happened on May 24, 2010 garnered international headlines.
But what no one knew until now was that circling overhead was a P-3
Orion spy plane, operated by the Department of Homeland Security. A
lengthy investigation by journalist Mattathias Schwartz (a Danger Room
friend) reveals that the Orion took footage of the hours-long battle.
It has never been publicly revealed.
“I don’t know what’s on the video,” Schwartz tells Danger Room. “But
given all these credible allegations of extrajudicial killings taking
place on the ground, it must be released.” Schwartz’s investigation of
what he describes as the “massacre” in Tivoli Gardens has just been
published by the New Yorker, although it’s not yet online.
Coke is a brutal man. According to prosecutors, he used a chainsaw
to kill a man believed of stealing his drug proceeds. But he was
beloved in Tivoli Gardens as well as feared, as often happens in places
where gangsters replace the governing machinery of failing states, and
the neighborhood became his fortress.
That is, until May 24, 2010, when the American pressure on a Coke
ally, Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding, became overwhelming. The
Jamaican soldiers who carried out Operation Garden Parish, had to
overcome roadblocks set up by Coke soldiers prepared for the raid. And
more than that. “I ﬁred my AK until my ﬁnger was numb,” reads a passage
from a Coke gunman’s diary unearthed by Schwartz.
Then the Jamaican soldiers went inside Tivoli houses, killing people
— most of whom, locals insist, were unconnected to Coke. Some of the
killings occurred outside in the open air. An American citizen, 25-year
old Andre Smith, was among the dead. According to Smith’s great aunt,
Smith was ordered up her stairs by soldiers, although he was hiding to
avoid the battle; his body was carried out in a sheet, suggesting an
Schwartz recounts many such stories. Seventy-three locals and one
soldier died. Soldiers took over a thousand others to detention centers
for interrogations. Coke escaped the battle.
Above the melee was the P-3 Orion, filming the events of May 24 with
its onboard cameras. A Jamaican photographer snapped photos of it.
Schwartz filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Department
of Homeland Security and confirmed its presence. “All scenes were
continuously recorded,” a Homeland Security document Schwartz acquired
The video, said to have been screened in a joint U.S.-Jamaican
operations center in Kingston, has never been released. Its contents
are politically dangerous for a Jamaican government still reeling from
Tivoli Gardens. (Coke was eventually arrested and convicted in New York;
Golding resigned.) And the documents Schwartz acquired suggest that
there might have been U.S. operatives on the ground during the raid,
which the U.S. denies.
But there have been no charges brought against anyone involved in
the massacre. A Jamaican detective, Gladys Brown, tells Schwartz,
“Nobody is able to describe who saw and who did what. It’s very diﬃcult
to pinpoint one or two of these men who held a gun to the head and
The video can’t adjudicate every outstanding question about the
Tivoli Square raid. It can’t see into houses to determine if soldiers
executed unarmed civilians or defended themselves against Coke soldiers
lying in wait.
But it might answer some of the questions about exactly how
73 residents of the neighborhood and one soldier died. “My belief is
that the video could help identify exactly which members of the
Jamaican security forces were where, and when,” Schwartz says. “Until
the identities of these individuals are made known, and some court or
other investigative body compels them to give public testimony, we will
not have a final answer to these disturbing and credible allegations.”
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