Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

When the messengers of doom came (Tommy Thompson's prison story)

It is not usual and quite rare for a powerful country like the USA to admit as it has done that its notorious CIA operates in a country.

The Government itself is yet to publish any lists of CIA agents in Ghana but already people are engaging in witch-hunting and pointing fingers at people who do not share their political views as agents.

"Your name is on the list" seems to have become the wicked delight of such characters...

Let the latter ploy be adopted and what follows is a regime of terror, fuelled up by suspicions and witch-hunting..."

(See FREE PRESS Vol 5, No. 22, July 26, 1986.)
They came for me at 12.15pm on Friday, July 12, 1985 with an "invitation" I could not turn down.

"Mr Thompson, could you accompany us?"

To where, they were not specific but I had had that kind of invitation before and guessed from their faces where they were coming from.

You could see they were not happy about their mission and, therefore, you rather developed pity and sympathy for your captors, men who were just following instructions. I unwillingly followed my 'invitors', knowing very well from my earlier experience that the invitation could be the beginning of a nightmarish experience.

When you are over 50 years, prison is not what you need but the invitation I had on July 12 was to be five months in the dungeons again. I remember events of that fateful Friday very well.

Friday was the day the news broke that a Ghanaian, Michael Soussoudis, had been picked up by the Americans for spying activities.

I remember discussing the whole business with my editor that morning around 11am.

"This Soussoudis was doing a national duty. Let us do a piece in his defence," I told my editor, who argued that we should wait for more details about the CIA story before we did any story in his defence.

After the discussion, which took place outside the outer reception, we went to our respective offices, the editor to prepare for the next issue of the paper, and I to see to funeral arrangements for my brother who had just died. I was engaged in this task when they came, with their invitation. "Kabral, they have come for me, tell my wife when she comes around," I telephoned my editor from the reception.

I just hoped he would understand whom 'they' referred to and therefore my whereabouts.

To the Bureau of National Investigations Headquarters they took me, dump- ing me in a room with no explanations. I was there when an hour or so later, they brought in one Adu Gyamfi; two hours later, Sam Okudzeto was ushered into the closed darkness to be followed by lawyer Obeng-Manu

Except Adu Gyamfi, Sammy and Obeng-Manu had been the unwilling guests of our prisons before and their arrival did not clarify the situation for me.

Somehow I felt they would open the doors for us to go after a few questions. What could have brought me to the gallows? I asked myself.

An answer of a sort was offered a week later when I was taken to my house where a thorough search took place, surrounded by several armed policemen. Even my children who were on their way to school were stopped and subjected to quite a thorough search.

My captors can better tell what they were looking for, but like a previous search in 1983, they can better again tell what documents or evidence they unearthed that day, either on my family or on the children.

The search over, I was sent back to the BNI and later they transferred me to the BNI Regional Headquarters where my neighbours were several soldiers and Adu-Gyamfi.

From there I was once taken out, this time to be interrogated about my assets. Time literally does not move when you are in detention. The days move almost like weeks. Arrested in July, the days slowly moved and before I knew it we were in September.

I had spent almost weeks in detention without any inkling of what had brought me to detention when they came again for me one morning, September 6, 1985.

I thought I was going to be released, I thought I was going to be released, going home and did what all detainees in that frame of mind do- I started giving out the few properties, food items I had in detention to my friends. Waving them goodbye, I went out of the locked doors to join the waiting vehicle.

Whom did I see but Sammy Okudzeto, his hands handcuffed. Handcuffs!

This could not be homegoing. "Bring your hands," my doubts were confirmed as my hands were immediately handcuffed. The car started moving, our minds completely blank as to our destination.

We had driven out of Accra for some miles and my friend Sammy Okudzeto, probably more familiar with the terrain, asked our captors where they were taking us.


"Then turn this way." The irony of life, the captive directing the road to his captivity.

"Mr Okudzeto, come out," the order was fired when the vehicle drew to a stop at the Akuse Prisons.

It was a sad moment for the two of us.

"Tommy, we might not meet again, but let's trust ourselves to God and posterity," was all Sammy could say. I did not respond.

After Akuse, I could not guess where they were going to take me. To Accra we drove back, only to continue the journey, destination still unknown. When the car finally stopped, it was Koforidua Prison game! which from September 6 to November 26, 1985, became my new home.

There is so much to say about the nightmares, the excruciating moments of life behind bars, the proximity of death as the overbearing prison conditions weigh you down, spiritually and physically.

I thought I was going to be released, going home and did what all detainees in that frame of mind do - I started giving out the few properties, food items I had in detention to my friends. Waving them goodbye, I went out of the locked doors to join the waiting vehicle.

It is a story that will fill volumes, my two experiences of detention life under the PNDC, in each case picked and released without any explanation, without any attempt to prove one guilty of any offence.

When you are 54, and see yourself as patriotic as those who happen to wield political power, these things really depress you.

By the Grace of God, man still breathesand I shall probably have the chance when I retire to my farm around Peduasi to write my memoirs which should tell it all.

For the moment, I am both happy and sad. Happy that I can, like all Ghanaians breathe fresh air, but sad that I live in a country which patriots, including my own father, helped to build with a motto - Freedom and Justice - but where people can be detained without cause or trial, a country where detention has become a game!

Culled from FREE PRESS.

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