Chad's brutal political police, blamed for countless atrocities under the regime of ex-president Hissene Habre, acted entirely under the orders of the dictator, his trial in Senegal heard on Wednesday.
The 73-year-old, who fled to Dakar after being deposed in 1990, is being prosecuted in his adoptive country for war crimes, crimes against humanity and torture during eight years of repression.
"Records of the questioning of detainees came back from the presidency with annotations: E for 'execute'; L for 'set free' or V for 'seen'," said Bandjim Bandoum, a top officer in the Documentation and Security Directorate (DDS) under Habre's regime.
"Once a statement was prepared by the DDS on a prisoner, only the president could request a release," he said, adding that Habre was "aware of everything that was happening" in the department's detention centers.
Bandoum, who fled Chad to live in France, said DDS agents who challenged their orders risked their lives and the safety of their families.
"Even Habre's closest collaborators were afraid of him," he told the Extraordinary African Chambers in Dakar.
Mbaye Sene, defending, attempted to cast doubt on the idea of Habre as an all-knowing, all-powerful head of the feared department, however.
"If you've never been to the presidency, you've never talked to him, tell me how Hissene Habre gave you orders," he demanded, cross-examining the witness, who conceded that his instructions came from an immediate superior.
Once dubbed "Africa's Pinochet", Habre has been in custody in Senegal since his arrest in June 2013 at the home he shared in a plush Dakar neighborhood with his wife and children.
He doesn't recognize the authority of the African Union-mandated court and has refused to cooperate with his trial, forcing the judges to appoint lawyers to defend him.
Last week Mahamat Hassan Akabar, president of a commission into atrocities committed under Habre, told the court the number of Chadians killed during the dictator's time in power far exceeded the frequently-quoted estimate of 40,000.
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