Court is called back to order.
Lead defense counsel Courtenay Griffiths continues his cross-examination of prosecution witness Varmuyan Sherif:
Def: Over the break, I received some assistance. In Liberian English, “mental illness” refers to a headache?
Wit: I had headaches.
Def: In terms of the words, “mental illness” just means “headache”?
Wit: No, it means “crazy”.
Def: I was putting to you that you had gone crazy.
Wit: I was never crazy.
Def: I was asking you about your trip to Nigeria. Do you agree that you went there with Roland Duo to visit Taylor?
Def: That took place during the transitional period after Taylor stood down as president?
Def: Prior going to see Taylor in Nigeria, you had visited the leader the leader of Guinea, President Conte, hadn’t you?
Wit: No. From Calabar we went to Guinea.
Def: Who did you see in Guinea?
Wit: I saw the lady, Aisha Konneh, the former wife of Sekou Konneh. It was Roland Duo and myself.
Def: What was the purpose of the visit?
Wit: It was an ordinary visit. It was not official.
Def: Did you not know President Conte of Guinea from your time with ULIMO?
Wit: During that same trip, we also met Conte.
Def: The same trip you saw Aisha Konneh?
Wit: Yes, we met Lansana Conte.
Def: What was your purpose?
Wit: We were trying to bring peace. Duo was one of Taylor’s trusted fighters and I had been one of the persons serving as liaison between ULIMO and NPFL. So we went from Taylor in Calabar to see Conte to say the war was finished. We are working with DDR – disarmament, demobilization, reintegration, rehabilitatrion. Gyude Bryant’s government told us to work with the ex-combatants to say the war is over and they should disarm.
Def: This was before the election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf?
Wit: We are talking about Gyude Bryant’s time.
Def: Sekou Konneh was one of the leaders of LURD?
Wit: He was the leader of LURD.
Defense counsel Griffiths is conferring with the accused, Charles Taylor.
Def: This visit to Guinea: Sekou Konneh was a former leader of LURD. Aisha, who is she the daughter of?
Wit: I knew her to be the mediator between us and Conte before we could see him. That’s all I knew about her.
Def: She’s Conte’s adopted daughter?
Wit: I didn’t know that to be the case.
Def: She arranged the meeting with Conte?
Wit: She assisted us in seeing Conte.
Def: She arranged the meeting for you?
Def: Following that meeting with Conte, that’s when you went to see Taylor in Nigeria?
Wit: No. We went from Ghana to Togo to spend a week with Yeaten. Yeaten spoke with Taylor. We went to Calabar to see Taylor. Then to Guinea. Then back to Liberia to continue our work with the DDR program.
Def: Johnson Sirleaf was elected president of Liberia in November 2005?
Def: Did you retain any government post after her election?
Wit: I went back into the SSS. I am still working with the SSS up to this moment.
Def: Did you ever leave Liberia to live in Sierra Leone at any stage?
Wit: From 2004, and when I was being interviewed by the Special Court. I told them I fear for my life and my family. Until 2007, when my family was threatened by Roland Duo and NPFL supporters, and that if I was going to testify, they needed to get me out of there first.
Def: Did you ever leave Liberia to live in Sierra Leone, after the election of Johnson Sirleaf?
Def: You’ve remained living in Liberia until recent times?
Def: You are still Assistant Director in SSS.
Wit: No. Before I left, I was resident commander for the SSS at Johnson Sirleaf’s residence.
Def: Did you leave the country?
Wit: No, except that trip I told you about.
Def: Between 2005 and the end of last year, have you ever lived in Sierra Leone?
Wit: Never, never visited, never visited the border.
Def: Have you continued to live in W. Africa?
Def: Is it not the case that you lost your job following the election of Johnson Sirleaf?
Wit: No, I did not lose my job. I am still working with the SSS. The Special Court had to ask permission from Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in order for me to come and testify.
Def: On Feb 23, 2005 you were interviewed by the Office of the Prosecutor at the Special Court?
Wit: Perhaps. I’m not looking at it.
Defense is supplying a document to the witness, asks him to look at a certain page.
Def: This is an 88-page transcript of your interview on Feb 23, 2005. Do you recall the interview?
Def: Was it your first?
Def: Before that, had you spoken with anyone at the Special Court for Sierra Leone?
Wit: I spoke with them for the second time after that too. I can’t recall their names.
Def: On the first page, you see that on the 22nd of February 2005 you were seen by a John Steen, Michel Gonsalves, and prosecutor Chris Santora at Mamba Point hotel, Monrovia?
Def: You see that they had traveled to Monrovia on that day. At this meeting, who approached who? Did you approach the OTP, or did they approach you?
Wit: They asked questions and I answered them.
Def: Who initiated the contact?
Wit: I don’t know how they got my contact number. They called me on the phone.
Def: Before they called you, had you let it be known that you wanted to speak with them – by any means?
Def: Were you surprised when they called?
Def: Were you immediately willing to speak with them?
Def: How long did it take before you were willing.
Wit: Roland Duo called us to a meeting. He said some people were coming from the Special Court. He said we should be very careful. He said they called him and he switched off his phone because they didn’t want to talk to them. He said they were coming for information what happened during the Taylor time.
Def: Are you saying you were initially reluctant to speak to them?
Wit: I was skeptical. I didn’t know what their mission was because of the information Duo gave us. Duo moved most of us into fright. He said they were calling people on their phones asking for meetings. Most people were running from one place to another. Most people changed their SIM cards.
Def: It was not you who approached the OTP?
Wit: It was not me. They called me on my phone.
Def: It wasn’t because you were broke and thought you could make some money by selling a false story to the OTP?
Wit: No. I was not broke. I still had the money Taylor gave me – 10,000 dollars.
Def: By the date of the Feb 22 interview, you were willing and happy to speak with the OTP.
Wit: I was willing.
Def: Were you happy.
Wit: I said I was willing to speak to them.
Def: There’s a difference between willingness and happiness.
Wit: I choose willing.
Def: Yes or no, were you happy?
Wit: I was willing.
Def: You don’t want to answer?
Judge Sebutinde says the question has been answered.
Def: Was the interview recorded?
Wit: Yes. I don’t know if they had a machine, but someone was writing.
Def: What did you think the purpose of the interview was?
Wit: Purpose was to tell the truth about what happened. They asked me to explain the truth about everthing from the day I was born to the present – what happened in the war, where I worked, up to the present.
Def: You appreciated the need to be truthful.
Wit: I was truthful and still am.
Def: You have always been truthful, and everything you told them in your interviews was truthful?
Defense tells the court he will be asking about payments to the witness, in relation to the dates of his statements. Griffitiths distributes a document on this to the judges, prosecutors and witness. It shows one column with interview dates and another with dates of payments to him.
Def: At the February 2005 interview, we see you were being interviewed by Christopher Santora, a Mr. Gonsalves and a Mr. Steen. We see you spoke about where you were born, and that you’re a Mandingo. Then you mention that you were a student in Kakata when the war came. You then mention that your father’s two wives were brutally murdered by the NPFL.
Wit: Yes, that’s true. It was the will of God.
Def: Then (referring to document) you deal with the various movements you made as a result of the NPFL offensive and that you had joined the LUDF?
Wit: Whether I was with the LUDF?
Judge Sebutinde: Can you read English?
Wit: Yes. Says he can follow the document.
Def: You said here that you were compelled to join the LUDF?
Def: Do you see where you say you stayed with them for six months, then the force grew and changed to ULIMO?
Def: Then you say you crossed into Liberia and describe the ULIMO split into two factions.
Def: Then on these pages you deal with your employment by Taylor following his election.
Def: You see you were told: “I want to talk about what you saw and heard in terms of Taylor’s relationship with the RUF.” The questioner was making clear what the objective of the interview was, do you agree?
Wit: They told me they wanted to know from the day I was born until the present.
Def: But you knew they wanted to know about Taylor and the RUF?
Wit: That came about in the course of the interview.
Def: You knew from near the beginning of this interview that they were interested in Taylor’s relationship with RUF.
Wit: True. Duo told us they were coming to interview us.
Prosecution objects that defense counsel is being argumentative with the witness and is glossing over all of the previous elements in the interview before the question about Taylor and the RUF. Defense disagrees, says it is normal practice for investigators to first ask background details, then make clear what the purpose of the interview was. We reviewed the first pages to make clear that the normal practice was followed.
Judge Sebutinde: Witness said he had already learned of the purpose of the interview from Roland Duo. Prosecution has a valid point – witness had already given a broad review of his participation in the war.
Defense cites the court transcipt to underscore his question: “You knew from near the beginning of this interview what the purpose was.”
Judge Sebutinde: And the witness already said he knew the purpose from Roland Duo, who is not with the OTP.
Def: OK, moving on. Do you see where you it says “I want to talk about what you saw and heard in terms of Taylor’s relationship with the RUF”. What did you understand that to mean?
Wit: I understood they wanted to know about the connection between the NPFL and the RUF.
Def: Did you appreciate that they were particularly interested in that?
Wit: They needed information from me, and I gave it to them.
Def: Did you appreciate that they were particularly interested in that?
Wit: I am not in their heart. They only asked me questions and I answered.
Def: You see where it says you told them Taylor called you to his office to send you for Mosquito?
Def: So within a few questions, you started telling them about this?
Wit: They asked and I told them.
Def: Within a few seconds of them telling you what they wanted, you told them you were sent to get Mosquito?
Wit: That was not the only question they asked me. We started from where I was born and answered many other questions first.
Def: You see where you deal with the difficulties the governement was facing after Taylor’s election, and how ULIMO and other factions were hiding guns. You agree with all that?
Def: Then you’re asked again about Taylor asking you to get Mosquito, and you said you accepted?
Def: If we jump forward in the interview, we see that you are reminded that you had earlier mentioned the disarmament process and how the arms were supposed to be turned in. Then you were asked, “So Taylor told you to go up to Lofa with money…” to get arms and find out what’s happening in Lofa?
Wit: I see it.
Def: Then you see mention is made of Taylor saying he would send money to Mosquito to buy those arms.
Wit: I see it.
Def: Did Taylor himself say to you that he would send money to Bockarie to buy arms?
Wit: Let me make this clear to you. He said it to me. Yes.
Def: Then (referring to document again) you mentioned getting a lot of ammunition. That you had four loads of cars and that you brought them to Monrovia. And that those arms had been hidden by Alhaji Koromah. who’s he?
Wit: Former leader of ULIMO-K.
Def: Then there are reference to taking four loads of weapons in pickups to Taylor’s residence in Congo Town. This discussion continues, and then you deal with the purpose of that disarmament. You say he wanted those arms out of Lofa because he wanted to control the area – that these weren’t the arms for the RUF.
Wit: The arms were not bought from the former ULIMO fighters. The money was to encourage me and take care of who I could take care of. I needed to buy fuel. The money was not to buy arms. He gave me the money so I could do my job.
Def: Earlier you said Bockarie had been given money to buy arms from former ULIMO fighters?
Def: (reading statement) So ULIMO were selling guns to the RUF. You said yes.
Def: So had Taylor given money to the RUF to buy ULIMO arms, or was ULIMO separately going into business to sell arms? which is right?
Wit: Taylor told me he gave money to Bockarie to buy arms. Zigzag Marzar showed me the money and I saw the arms.
Def: Which was right? Were ULIMO fighters selling their arms to the RUF?
Wit: Both are correct. RUF was buying and former ULIMO-K were also taking arms to the RUF to sell them.
Def: (reading statement) regarding trips to Tongo to sell weapons. So there was a period of several months after you collected Bockarie in 1998 when Lofa County was totally lawless?
Wit: There was no control there. I agree.
Def: Because none of the combatants were being paid, they were selling arms and ammunition to the RUF?
Wit: Also true.
Def: So the RUF and ULIMO had their own arms trade?
Wit: During that time. I don’t know what time you’re referring to. I’m referring to 1998, not when they were fighting against each other.
Def: After the Abuja Peace Accord, the former ULIMO fighters were selling arms to the RUF?
Wit: Yes. After several visits by Bockarie to Monrovia, the business went on.
Wit: Recounts seeing Bockarie several times in Monrovia, and seeing Yeaten and Bockarie together in Foya.
Def: (referring back to statement) Where you mention Taylor inviting you to the Mansion and telling you to get Mosquito, you say: “He says I want to try and get Mosquito for me. Did you know who Mosquito was? I hadn’t seen him. Taylor also never met him – they only communicated by phone. ” Who told you that?
Wit: I saw the secret radio. Bockarie also told me they had been communicating by radio. Bockarie thanked me for taking me to see Taylor in person.
Def: Here you say you left Monrovia the same day and only took your driver and bodyguard (includes names).
Def: (reading statement) Witness tells about not taking any documents on his mission for fear of ECOMOG interception. Then says he was in the SSS uniform on his uniform. Says he had no problem finding his way between Liberia and Sierra Leone. Then on this page you mention going to Kailahun Town?
Def: What was the most significant thing that happened when you met Bockarie of Kailahun?
Wit: When we got to Kailahun, there were some armed men taking some tied-up men from a cell. They had no shirts. I sent my bodyguard to them to see where we could get information. We were lucky to find Bockarie’s bodyguard, who pointed him out in the group of armed men. I explained I came from Monrovia, with the SSS, and I had a message for Bockarie.
Def: Then Bockarie proceeded to shoot five men right in front of your eyes?
Def: Let’s look at what you told the OTP about this. Defense reads from statement a passage about witness getting to Kailahun and being told that Mosquito had just left and how the witness proceeded to Beudu without an RUF escort. Tells of an RUF checkpoint at Beudu. What’s missing from that account?
Wit: (adds details of his route) It was at Pendembu they told me Bockarie had just passed.
Def: In this account you don’t mention meeting Bockarie in Kailahun. Do you agree?
Wit: I did not have conversation with Bockarie in Kailahun.
Def: Didn’t you tell us that Bockarie executed 5 Kamajors in Kailahun?
Wit: I mentioned that.
Def: Why didn’t you tell the investigators in this interview?
Wit: I said it, maybe they didn’t write it. I don’t know it.
Def: But in this statement you say you were told he had just left. Is that right, or did you see him there executing Kamajors?
Wit: It was in Pendembo that Mosquito had just left.
Def: Why here did you say that it was in Kailahun?
Wit: What I’m saying now is correct.
Def: Why didn’t you give the same account on the 23rd of Feb, 2005? Why has your account changed?
Wit: It’s all been a long time. Maybe I’ll even remember other things after I leave here. Maybe I leave some parts out. If I remember things, I will explain it before I leave here. Take the account I’m telling you today.
Def: Where was the first place that you set eyes on Bockarie?
Def: And on that occasion he shot five people dead right in front of you. How did you forget to tell the OTP about that?
Wit: It’s been a long time. Sometimes I leave some things out.
Def: Then here (referring to interview notes regarding to the RUF checkpoint at Beudu) you describe being disarmed, then being given it back and allowed to pass and see Bockarie. Statement describes witness going to Bockarie’s house, with a lot of armed men around, and a jeep with an AA gun. Do you agree that in this account you’re suggesting the first time you saw Bockarie in Beudu?
Prosecution objects: Prosecutor Hollis says the witness testified he first SAW Bockarie in Kailahun, but first MET him in Buedu – that these are not the same thing, and that at no point has the witness stated he first met Bockarie in Kailahun. Defense: Sorry.
Thank you for this very informative site. I have been following the resumption of the trail and the three witness have been far from impressive, reliable and consistent, especially Mr. Sherif. I am of the opinion that the OTP case that they say they have evidence beyond a “reasonable doubt” is questionable. There are several inconsistencies that I have observed, I am most certain there are more that have not been pickup on…Firstly, Mr. Sherif could not get his age and chronological activities correctly. He claims to have been in the “inner circle” which I believed is far fetch when he only spent roughly 5-10 mins daily. Secondly, his accounts in court about Bockarie, is highly suspecious at best. He claimed that Bockarie killed 5 men in his presence (this is such a traumatic event that one would remember where it happened and events surrounding). The account in court and previous testimony was different. Thirdly, he mentioned that Bockarie spent the night then he mentioned that a helicopter (which could land at the Executive Mansion..the yard is very large and clear) came …he said that they didn’t spend the night (these accounts are different). Fourthly, the most important item–the diamond–he said he say a jar with Bockarie in his jacket, in his testimony with the OTP he learned of the diamonds from Mosquito’s bodyguard.
There are other statement in court that differ from previous statements.
Thus far the major witness, the so-called “insider”, testimonies have been outrageously inconsistent. The OTP needs to have more credible witnesses if they are to win this case. This has become a circus with the big tent being the court, and the clown, Sherif and of course the world the audience.
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