Sékou Touré / Bibliothèque

Clifford D. May
In Post-Coup Guinea, a Jail Is Thrown Open.

Special to the New York Times; Apr 12, 1984; p. A1

Conakry, guinea, April 10 — Cell 72 was typical: a concrete room about five feet wide and eight feet long, illuminated only by the narrow shaft of light that filtered through small holes near the ceiling.
The door was steel. There were no windows but on one wall a former occupant had drawn himself one, complete with bars.
Other occupants had scratched their names into the walls or etched off the days. And there was one inscription, in letters about two inches high, written in blood. It read, in French, “God save me.”
Until a few days ago no foreign journalist had ever entered Guinea's prison at Camp Boiro, the place where President Ahmed Sékou Touré had locked up political opponents. There will probably never be an exact toll of the people who died here, but the figure is believed to run into the thousands.

Leader Since Independence

Mr. Touré remained in power longer than any other black African leader. His reign began at independence from France in 1958 and ended when he died during an emergency heart operation in the United States on March 26.
His funeral was attended by a broad array of leaders, including Vice President Bush; Yasir Arafat, the chairman of the PLO, and Felix Houphouet-Boigny, the Ivory Coast's pro-Western President.
Many who met Mr. Touré described him in flattering terms. He was charismatic, they said. He was a brilliant orator. He was a tireless worker. He was a man who cared deeply about the great issues facing Africa and the third world.
Various rationales were invoked to reconcile the tributes with the accusations that Mr. Touré's Government engaged in terrorism and torture.
He had been mellowing, Western diplomats and African conservatives said. He was no longer resorting to violent oppression as easily or often as he had in the past, they asserted.
Radicals of the left offered a different perspective on Mr. Touré, who had always said he was a “scientific socialist.”
Stokely Carmichael, for example, the one-time leader in the American civil rights movement who moved to Guinea in 1969, said, “In all the world's great historical movements from, Christ's to Gandhi's, blood has had to flow.”
“If anything,” Mr. Carmichael added, “I think Sékou Touré was too soft.”
Mr. Touré himself made no apologies. He had only imprisoned traitors, he said, asking, “What do Britain or France do to their traitors?”
Apparently, the colonels and captains who seized power in Guinea three days after the eulogies were delivered were not persuaded by any of those views
They arrested, but said that they would not execute, Mr. Touré's associates, dismantled his pervasive “party-state” structure, and removed or defaced his ubiquitous, portraits.
The new Government promised “to respect all rights, especially the right of expression” in a communiqué issued the day after they took power. “No one will ever again have to worry on account of his ideas,” the communiqué said. And they released from Camp Boiro and other jails as many as 250 political prisoners. The new Government's own prisoners are reportedly being held in a military camp near this city's international airport.
Asked what would happen to Camp Boiro, which is about two miles from downtown Conakry, the Minister of Information, Capt. Mohammed Traoré, said the new Government intended to destroy it.

Broken Glass on a Concrete Wall

Viewed from outside, Camp Boiro, now empty, does not look particularly sinister — just a ramshackle army compound surrounded by a high concrete wall topped with shards of broken bottles.
But in one section of the camp are several long rows of identical cells. A few contain iron cots covered with cardboard and bits of rag. Most are empty and still smell of human waste.
Some cells have walls decorated with cigarette packs or bits of aluminum foil fashioned into the shape of a mosque, a boat or animals running through the forest. Many walls are inscribed with messages or pleas written in dried blood or excrement.
“When you arrive,” said Roger Soumah, a Guinean who had spent eight years in Camp Boiro and who was interviewed separately. “They don't feed you for the first nine days. No food at all and sometimes not even water. There's nothing to do in the cells and by the middle of the day the heat is terrible.”
Most of those who survived that initial period, he said, would begin to receive “half rations,” of bread or rice, water and salt.

‘The Black Diet’

Those less fortunate would be placed on “the black diet,” a euphemism for complete starvation until death.
A separate concrete building contained what most Guineans know as the “Cabine Technique,” or torture chamber. There the walls are thick with dusty brown, mold and the floor is carpeted in grime. On a table in the center of the room is a crude device about the size of a car battery that officers say was used to administer electric shocks.
“They strap you to the table and they attach the wires everywhere,” said Mr. Soumah. “They did that to me and they also broke my fingers,” he said, showing the scars where his fingers had been bent back.
Just behind the electric-shock table, a rope hangs from a rafter. An army officer explained that prisoners would sometimes be suspended from it over a fire.

Prisoners Hung by Feet

Another variation, according to Mr. Soumah, was known as “the banana” which that a prisoner was hung by the feet, sometimes for days.
Interrogators, it was said, would generally torture their victims until they got the answers they were looking for. “Usually they wanted you to confess to plotting against the President and to name some people who conspired with you,” said Mr. Soumah. “Anyone who had been to the West, to America or Europe, was not to be trusted. I had been to the United States so of course I was told I must be an agent of the C.I.A.”
Interrogators who elicited confessions would be rewarded, said an army officer. “Those who failed,” he added, “often ended up as prisoners themselves.”
The torture chamber was not the most dreaded place in Camp Boiro, however. That distinction was reserved for a section known as the Head of Death, a concrete cul-de-sac of open cells surrounding a small courtyard.

Skulls and “No Smoking” Signs

Here, neatly stenciled skulls — heads of death — adorn the walls. There are also, stenciled warnings: “No Smoking.”
Sgt. Sao Apollinaire, an army officer who admitted having served as a guard in the camp for three months, said that many of the thousands of Guineans who “disappeared” over the years had in fact been condemned to the Head of Death.
Once a prisoner went in, no one from outside the camp was to see or hear of him, and virtually none of those who went in ever got out alive.
“The worst time here was the rainy season,” Sergeant Apollinaire said. Because there is no drainage in the cells or courtyard, the water would accumulate, sometimes to waist level. There was no provision for sewage.
According to a recent report on Guinea from the United States State Department, “Indications are that the number of political prisoners has been considerably reduced over the past several years. There were no reports of political detentions during 1983.”
According to the prison register, however, a large green ledger with neatly printed entries, 153 prisoners were sentenced to Camp Boiro in 1983 and 95 more in the first three months of this year.

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