The first witness for Charles Taylor started his testimony this week, telling Special Court for Sierra Leone judges that prosecution witnesses lied against the former Liberian president.
On Monday, Yanks Smythe, a Gambiam national who was a member of Mr. Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) rebel group and who later acquired Liberian citizenship and was appointed by Mr. Taylor as Liberian ambassador to Libya and Tunisia, started his testimony, telling the judges that Mr. Taylor was never part of a common plan to destabilize West Africa as alleged by prosecutors.
Mr. Smythe said that he was part of the Gambian dissident group which underwent revolutionary training at a Libyan military training camp called Tajura along with Sierra Leonean and Mr. Taylor’s Liberian rebel groups. But while leaders of the Liberian, Sierra Leonean and Gambian rebel groups all stayed at the same guesthouse during this time, and their fighters trained in the same camp, they did not have any plans to collaborate in attacking their respective countries, Mr. Smythe said.
Prosecutors have alleged that Mr. Taylor met Revolutionary United Front (RUF) leader, Foday Sankoh, and Gambian dissident Kukua Sambasanja (known as Dr. Mani) in Libya in the 1980s. The three men, prosecutors say, formulated a common plan to destabilize the West African sub-region, starting with Liberia. Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations, saying he never met Mr. Sankoh in Libya – only Dr. Mani and Allie Kabbah, a Sierra Leonean student leader who led a Sierra Leonean rebel group that was undertaking revolutionary training in Libya at the same time. On Monday, Mr. Smythe corroborated Mr. Taylor’s evidence that the former president did not meet RUF leader Mr. Sankoh in Libya.
Asked by Mr. Taylor’s defense counsel, Morris Anyah, whether he “knew of any meeting that took place at the Mataba where there was a discussion amongst these three leaders [Mr. Taylor, Mr. Kabbah and Dr. Mani], regarding an invasion of Liberia,” the witness said “no, no, no.”
“Do you know of any meetings that were held during the time you were at Tajura — I’m referring to meetings held at the Mataba or at Tajura — between Foday Sankoh and Charles Taylor during which they discussed the invasion of Liberia?” Mr. Anyah asked the witness.
“No,” the witness responded.
Mr. Anyah further asked the witness whether he knew ”of any such meetings held between Foday Sankoh and Charles Taylor either at the Mataba or Camp Tajura during the period when you were there when they discussed the invasion of Sierra Leone?”
The witness responded with another resounding “No.”
“Do you know whether Mr. Taylor held such meetings at either location with Allie Kabbah discussing the invasion of Sierra Leone?” Mr. Anyah asked again.
For the fourth time, the witness said “no.”
The witness also refuted claims by a previous prosecution witness that Mr. Taylor had sent two Gambian fighters to assist the RUF in their attack on Sierra Leone in March 1991.
Prosecution witness and fellow Gambian, Suwandi Camara, had told the Special Court for Sierra Leone in 2008 that Mr. Taylor sent two Gambian rebel fighters, Lamine Campaore and Ibrahim Bah to support RUF rebels in their attack on Sierra Leone in March 1991.
Asked by Mr. Anyah, whether he was “aware of Ibrahim Bah and Lamine Campaore being assigned by Charles Taylor to join Foday Sankoh in Sierra Leone in 1991,” the witness responded that “no, I’m not aware of that.”
The witness said that the Gambians stayed exclusively within the areas controlled by Mr. Taylor’s NPFL rebel group.
Talking specifically about Mr. Campoare, the witness told the court that “Lamine never received any assignment out of the NPFL assignment in Gbangha.”
He added that if Mr. Campaore had received any such assignment, he would have known because he (the witness) was the deputy leader of the Gambians in Liberia.
“I would have known because I was the deputy leader so anything that has to do with assignment I am always aware of it,” the witness said.
Asked whether the second Gambian, Mr. Bah, would have gone to Sierra Leone, the witness explained that “Ibrahim Bah was not always stationed in Gbangha. He was in Buchanan. He was asked by the then defense minister, Tom Worweiyu, to be assigned to a company called BMB to provide security for them, deter the soldiers from harassing the members of the company or their properties.”
On Wednesday, Mr. Smythe told judges that Mr. Taylor took disciplinary actions against the director of the Special Security Services (SSS) Benjamin Yeaten for the arrest and subsequent execution of Samuel Dokie and his family.
During his February 2009 cross-examination by prosecutors, Mr. Taylor told the judges that the arrest and execution of Mr. Dokie and his family was not ordered by Mr. Yeaten as alleged by prosecutors. The former president said that those responsible for the arrest and execution of the Dokie family did so without the orders of Mr. Yeaten and that those responsible were indeed punished, but no action was taken against Mr. Yeaten because he did not bear any responsibility for such actions. In his testimony on Wednesday, Mr. Taylor’s own witness, Mr. Smythe contradicted the former president’s account. According to Mr. Smythe, Mr. Yeaten was indeed suspended by Mr. Taylor for ordering the arrest of Mr. Dokie and his family, which subsequently led to their execution.
“Benjamin was suspended by the president, President Taylor,” the witness said.
Asked by Mr. Taylor’s defense counsel whether he knew why Mr. Yeaten was suspended by Mr. Taylor, the witness said that “he was suspended because he ordered the arrest of Dokie, and that was not an instruction from Mr. Taylor.”
In response to whether he knew how long the suspension lasted, the witness said that “no, I don’t know how long but it took some time, when the investigation was on.”
Also in his testimony on Wednesday, Mr. Smythe told the judges that former prosecution witness, Joseph “Zig Zag” Marzah, was not a member of the SSS but a mere bodygaurd to the SSS director Mr. Yeaten. The witness said that Mr. Marzah did not have any access to Mr. Taylor. The witness’s account corroborates Mr. Taylor’s testimony that Mr. Marzah was an ordinary orderly to Mr. Yeaten, with whom he could not have interacted. In his 2008 testimony for the prosecution, Mr. Marzah told the judges that he was an SSS officer who had unhindered access to Mr. Taylor and that on numerous occasions he acted on direct instructions from the former president to take arms and ammunitions to RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. Mr. Marzah also said that he sat in the company of Mr. Taylor and together, they feasted on human intestines. Mr. Taylor in his testimony dismissed the witness’s accounts as lies. Mr. Smythe said the same thing on Wednesday.
“No he was not a member of the SSS…I only knew him to be bodyguard to Mr. Yeaten, that’s all,” Mr. Smythe said.
Mr. Smythe added that Mr. Marzah did not have any position within the Liberian government’s security forces but was rather independently employed by Mr. Yeaten.
On Thursday, Mr. Smythe in concluding his direct-examination said that Mr. Taylor did not form or contribute to any plan to commit crimes in neighboring Sierra Leone, nor did he receive any diamonds from Sierra Leonean rebel forces as alleged by prosecutors.
Prosecutors have alleged that without stepping foot in his neighboring country, Mr. Taylor provided support to the RUF rebels through the supply of weapons in exchange for diamonds.
Asked whether he was “aware of Mr. Taylor during that period of time being part of some sort of criminal enterprise or conspiracy the purpose of which was to commit a crime in Sierra Leone,” the witness responded that “no I was never aware of Mr. Taylor being part of any of that, to commit crimes in Sierra Leone.”
Mr. Smythe also refuted prosecution allegations that Mr. Taylor received huge supplies of diamonds from RUF rebels while he served as president of Liberia. During the presentation of the prosecution’s case, several witnesses testified that Mr. Taylor received diamonds from RUF commanders including Issa Sesay and Sam Bockarie. Some witnesses told the judges that members of Mr. Taylor’s security forces travelled to Sierra Leone to collect diamonds from RUF rebels for onward transmission to Mr. Taylor.
“I have never seen Mr. Taylor with diamonds, never heard of Mr. Taylor receiving diamonds from anyone during those periods,” Mr. Smythe said.
On Friday, as prosecutors started his cross-examination, Mr. Smythe told the judges that prosecution witnesses lied when they testified that the former Liberian president recruited and used children for combat purposes in Liberia.
In seeking to prove that Mr. Taylor established control over rebel forces in both Liberia and Sierra Leone, prosecutors have led evidence to show that the modes of operation by Mr. Taylor’s rebel forces in Liberia were reflective of how RUF rebels conducted themselves in Sierra Leone. One such area that prosecutors have focused on is the recruitment of child soldiers, trying to prove that just as the former president used child soldiers in Liberia, he similarly encouraged RUF rebels to do same in Sierra Leone.
During the presentation of the prosecution’s case, several witnesses, including Mr. Taylor’s former vice president Moses Blah, testified that child soldiers were used by the NPFL and that some served as bodyguards to the former president and other NPFL commanders. Mr. Taylor’s witness on Friday said otherwise.
“There were never child soldiers as part of the security of Charles Taylor,” Mr. Smythe said.
Prosecution counsel Nicholas Koumjian who conducted the cross-examination of the witness pressed further.
“Mr. Witness, I’ve read to you the testimony of Moses Blah, Stephen Smith the journalist and Vamunya Sherif, is it your testimony that all of these sources talking about child soldiers were lying and you are telling the truth?” Mr. Koumjian asked the witness.
“As far as I am concerned, they are lying and I am telling the truth,” the witness responded.
Friday’s cross-examination saw some heated exchanges between Mr. Koumjian and the witness as the prosecutor sought to know the witness’ sources of income in Liberia. On some occasions, the witness refused to answer the prosecutor’s question but the intervention of the presiding judge Justice Julia Sebutinde obliged the witness to answer.
Mr.Taylor, who is on trial for his alleged support to RUF rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone, concluded his testimony as a witness in his own defense last week. The former president’s lawyers are now leading his witnesses in his defense.
Mr. Smythe’s cross-examination continues on Monday.