Cross-Examination of Prosecution Linkage Witness Begins; Defense Challenges Insider Status

The Hague

January 10, 2008

The Prosecution completed it questioning of Varmuyan Sherif, a former member of Taylor’s security force and Liberian army commander, revisiting some aspects of yesterday’s testimony concerning links between Taylor’s government and the RUF and eliciting new facts concerning the movement of arms and ammunition into Liberia.  Defense Counsel Courtenay Griffiths then began a lengthy cross-examination of Sherif, seeking to undermine testimony concerning his relationship with Taylor and to establish Taylor’s lack of control of certain areas in Liberia.  Taylor remained actively engaged in the proceedings, passing notes and occasionally conferring with his Defense team at different points throughout the day.    

Direct Testimony by Sherif Continues

Lead Prosecutor Brenda Hollis began the morning session by asking Sherif to clarify certain aspects of his testimony from yesterday, drawing out additional details of key meetings and highlighting Taylor’s alleged involvement and control over the RUF. 

Key points from the testimony of Sherif include:

  • The role Taylor played in brokering an RUF leadership dispute between Sam Bockarie and Issa Sesay, which resulted in Sesay becoming the new commander of the RUF and Bockarie traveling to Liberia with approximately 350 RUF fighters on Taylor’s orders.
  • Taylor specifically prepared an “RUF guesthouse” in Liberia, which served as a residence for the RUF.
  • Further demonstrating the control Taylor had over the RUF, Sherif was asked about two occasions where RUF fighters were deployed by Taylor. First, Sherif overheard an order by Benjamin Yeaten (acting on Taylor’s instructions) to Sam Bockarie to launch an attack on Guinea from Sierra Leone, and this attack was carried out.  Second,  following an attack by the LURD on Liberia, RUF fighters were invited by Taylor to assist Liberian troops.
  • Sherif witnessed various movements of arms and ammunition from Liberia to the RUF in Sierra Leone before 1999 and from 2001 to 2003.

Sherif provided additional detailed accounts of the movement of arms and ammunition within Liberia that occurred while he was Chief of Staff of the Army Division.  Arms were flown into Liberia’s Roberts International Airport and taken to White Flower (Taylor’s residence), where Taylor authorized their distribution to each military division commander. These were usually transported by Land Cruiser jeeps and trucks, by road via certain main routes from Monrovia to Lofa County.  Sherif described how the original ammunition sacks were burnt and the ammunition repacked into empty rice sacks to disguise its origin to protect their supply from the eyes of the international community, given that Liberia was under an arms embargo at that time.

The Prosecution also asked questions concerning the treatment of civilians by RUF, the treatment of civilians in Liberia, and the use of child soldiers.  Those who refused to retreat with the RUF, refused to carry things for them, and husbands who resisted fighters taking their wives were executed.  Males and females from 12 to 14 years of age up to 30 were forced to join the RUF.  The NPFL had a small boy unit (“SBU”) commanded by an individual known as “Zoupon” composed of boys 12 to 16 years old.  Later, all Liberian military divisions had SBUs, including the Sherif’s (whose SBU was lead by “Junior,” a 12 to 13 year old).  A list of the SBUs was given to Yeaten who in turn gave it to Taylor.

Finally, the Prosecution sought to establish that Taylor was on notice of the violence occurring in Sierra Leone by questioning Sherif concerning his access to radio and television in Liberia between August 1997 and 2002.  When Sherif recalled seeing amputations on CNN and was aware of the terms “short sleeve” (cutting off arms midway above the elbow) and “long sleeve” (cutting off hands at the wrist), Griffiths objected to this line of questioning on the grounds that he would be hampered in cross-examining the witness because Sherif would likely not recall the exact nature of the material.  He argued that direct evidence should instead be presented on this issue.  Hollis responded that this evidence was relevant to whether Taylor was on notice of the violence occurring in Sierra Leone as Sherif was living in Liberia during the relevant time period and he could provide evidence that this information was available in Liberia at that time.  After conferring, the Trial Chamber ruled the question was proper, stating that hearsay evidence was admissible and the Defense’s issues went to weight not relevance.  Sherif then added that the television programs said the RUF, “West Side Boys”, and AFRC were conducting the amputations, and indicated that Taylor had access to a television on the 4th floor of the Executive Mansion.

Griffiths Commences Cross-Examination

Griffiths deliberately and methodically began his cross-examination of Sherif, stating that he intended to be fair with the witness and would explore his background, general matters and then cover specific areas.  Sherif maintained his composure throughout much of the questioning, laughing at one point during his testimony, but at times was combative.

Among other things, the Defense’s themes centered on establishing Taylor’s lack of control of portions of Liberia and attacking Sherif’s credibility.  Some highlights of the cross-examination are as follows:

  • Sherif agreed that he hated the NPFL and Taylor after he was forced to flee multiple times following NPFL advances in the early 1990s.
  • Sherif conceded that the border between Sierra Leone and Liberia was “totally porous” with people flowing without hindrance back-and-forth.  People intermarried across the boundary and used the same currency, the Liberian dollar.
  • Griffiths sought to establish that the map used by the Prosecution on direct (which he noted with sarcasm they had “helpfully” titled “RUF Main Supply Routes”) was simply a road map of Liberia that depicted normal travel routes.
  • Griffiths sought to establish that ULIMO had total control of an area encompassing Lofa, Gbarpolu and Grand Cape Mount Counties that prevented the RUF from having access to the NPFL from 1993-1996, and that Sherif’s refusal to concede this point conflicted with his prior statement to the Prosecution that the RUF never had free access to the NPFL at that time. 
  • ULIMO had control of the diamond mining areas in Liberia from 1993-1996, and Sherif first denied and then said he had no knowledge of whether ULIMO used forced mining in those areas.  However, he conceded that ULIMO used child soldiers, mistreated civilians, and buried people alive, stating that “all the factions were involved in ugly things.”
  • Griffiths sought to establish that ECOMOG had superior arms to the Liberian army and controlled key routes and airfields.
  • Griffiths suggested that Sherif was never as close to Taylor as he now claims to have been, and that “you are quite falsely suggesting you were an insider when you were not”.  Griffiths posited that another organization (the Close Protective Service) had direct responsibility for the safety and welfare of the presidential family and that Sherif’s role was simply to look after the presidential motorcade.
  • Griffiths suggested that there was a thriving arms trade between the RUF and ULIMO from 1992-1997.

Griffiths also sought to establish that:

  • Upon his election to the presidency, Taylor was eager to restore peace to Liberia.  He brought former adversaries such as Sherif into his government because he was committed to peace.
  • At the end of 1998/early 1999 when LURD invaded Liberia, the Liberian army was not well equipped because the entire country had been disarmed and weapons burned by ECOMOG.  LURD was allegedly funded by Guinea, and because of the UN arms embargo, the country was ill-equipped to defend itself from an invasion sponsored by another country.

The day’s session ended with Sherif contesting Griffiths’ assertion that he had never been a guest in Taylor’s house.  Turning to the judges, Griffiths suggested that Sherif was lying about this, and therefore there was not enough time to finish cross-examination on this point today.  Presiding Judge Sebutinde therefore adjourned the proceedings until 9:00 a.m. tomorrow.