Direct Examination of Prosecution Witness Isaac Mongor Ends, Cross-examination Begins

The Hague

March 31, 2008

As the trial of Charles Taylor resumed following the Special Court for Sierra Leone’s two-week judicial recess, prosecutors re-called witness Isaac Mongor to the stand. (Two-and-a-half weeks ago, Mongor’s testimony had been paused in order to allow Joseph “Zigzag” Marzah to testify; his testimony had to be heard before the recess for logistical reasons relating to witness protection.)

Under questioning from Prosecutor Nick Koumjian, Mongor, a former commander in the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), continued to testify about key events of the war in Sierra Leone and crimes committed by rebel forces in its course. He also described the rebel hierarchy, at the top of which he said was Charles Taylor, whom he described as the “the owner of the RUF”.

Following the lunch break, Defense Counsel Terry Munyard began his cross-examination of Isaac Mongor. Munyard implied that Mongor was only testifying to save himself from prosecution, and accused Mongor of lying about important details in his account.

Testimony about key events and hierarchy

The Prosecution began the day by asking about the January 1999 invasion of Freetown. Mongor testified that the entering force, under the command of Gullit, had come under pressure from ECOMOG peacekeepers and needed to retreat. Mongor said that RUF commander Sam Bockarie (Mosquito) ordered the withdrawing rebels to set the Nigerian embassy and other places on fire. Further, he testified that rebel attacks on ECOMOG forces at Hastings (on the Freetown peninsula, outside the city) were important to the successful rebel retreat from Freetown. When asked about the relationship between the RUF and the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) during the time of the invasion, Mongor stated that they “were one” and that there were no problems between the organizations.

Mongor testified that following the signing of the Lomé Peace Accord in July 1999, RUF leader Foday Sankoh returned to Freetown, and that at the time his senior commanders were Sam Bockarie, Issa Sesay, and Morris Kallon, in addition to Johnny Paul Koroma of the AFRC. Sankoh and Bockarie allegedly had an argument over the communications radio, and when Sankoh sent people to arrest Bockarie, Bockarie fled to Liberia with some of his men. Issa Sesay replaced him.

In 2000, after the RUF had abducted UN peacekeepers, Mongor said that delegations from Nigeria, Libya and Liberia came to visit with Sankoh. Mongor testified that Joe Tuah, the artillery commander for the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), was in the Liberian delegation. Mongor said he personally warned Tuah about a planned incursion against Taylor for which a former Liberian army officer, General Bropleh, had attempted to recruit him.

Mongor said that he was arrested on May 7, 2000 by senior members of the West Side Boys, a splinter faction of Johnny Paul Koroma’s AFRC. Mongor explained that these former soldiers were disappointed with the Lomé Accords because they did not include a provision reinstating them into the Sierra Leonean Army. He said he was tortured and taken to the Pademba Road Prison in Freetown, where he was joined the next day by Sankoh and many other RUF members following the shooting of demonstrators at Sankoh’s house. Mongor said he was detained for over five years and three months, only learning at his first Court appearance that he was being charged with murders that occurred at Sankoh’s house the day after his arrest. He was not released until August 2005.

Mongor described a system of discipline within the RUF, where rebels were punished for refusing to fight, disobeying orders, or stealing diamonds. Detainees were kept in a “dungeon” – a pit dug in the ground and covered with corrugated metal, and some offenses were punished by death.

Alleged links to Taylor

As the Prosecution seeks to demonstrate that Taylor had control over the RUF/AFRC in Sierra Leone, Mongor offered the following relevant anecdotes:

  • Mongor testified that between the January 1999 invasion of Freetown and the Lomé Peace Accord in July of that year, the RUF had participated in an operation in Liberia against a commander there called “Mosquito Spray”, who was fighting against Charles Taylor’s government. According to Mongor, Bockarie told him that Taylor had asked him to send men to fight Mosquito Spray in Lofa County, Liberia.
  • Mongor testified that after the signing of the Lomé Peace Accord in July 1999, RUF leader Foday Sankoh and AFRC leader Johnny Paul Koroma had both been summoned to Liberia before returning to Sierra Leone. Mongor claimed that Sankoh told him upon his arrival in Sierra Leone that they had met with Charles Taylor, who told them to work together and according to the dictates of the Accord. Mongor said that Sankoh came to Makeni accompanied by UN peacekeepers. In their presence, Sankoh told RUF commanders that the war was over, and the next morning apologized to local civilians.
  • According to Mongor, following the 1999 rift in the RUF between Sankoh and Bockarie, there was no change in the relationship between the RUF and Charles Taylor because Sankoh maintained communication with the Liberian president. Mongor stated that Issa Sesay at first communicated with Taylor through Sankoh, but later also communicated directly with him.
  • Mongor stated that when Sankoh came from Liberia following the Lomé Accords, he had a satellite phone with him that he used in order to talk with Charles Taylor. Mongor testified that he heard Sankoh talking with Taylor.
  • Mongor testified that following his release from prison in August 2005, he went to visit the three RUF accused – Issa Sesay, Morris Kallon, and Augustine Gbao – in the detention facility of the Special Court, where their trial was underway. Mongor said Sesay told him of two RUF missions to meet with Taylor in Monrovia. The first was before Sierra Leone’s elections in 2002, when Sesay and two other commanders traveled to Monrovia. According to Mongor, Sesay said that Taylor had asked them to let Sam Bockarie return to Sierra Leone. After their return to Sierra Leone, Morris Kallon urged them to turn down Taylor’s request because Bockarie’s return would cause infighting in the RUF. Later, during the election campaign and disarmament, Issa Sesay sent a delegation to Taylor seeking money and materials for the campaign. The delegation was arrested, but later released and returned without the requested funds and materials. Mongor said Issa Sesay told him he had refused to go himself out of fear that Taylor would kill him.
  • Mongor testified that he had seen Johnny Paul Koroma and Sam Bockarie with diamonds, and that Bockarie had told him he always took them to Taylor in Monrovia in exchange for ammunition. Mongor stated that these diamonds were at the heart of the dispute between Sankoh and Bockarie, because Taylor had shown diamonds to Sankoh when he came to Liberia in July 1999. On his return to Sierra Leone Sankoh became angry with Mongor and others because he hadn’t received reports from his RUF commanders about all of these diamonds.
  • Mongor testified that the RUF placed human heads on sticks at checkpoints, a practice that was also used by the NPFL, which also used human intestines as rope at checkpoints. Mongor testified that Taylor had driven through such checkpoints in Liberia when Mongor worked as one of his security escorts.
  • Asked to describe the relationship between Charles Taylor and Sam Bockarie, Mongor said they were like father and son, and that Mosquito used to call Taylor his “father”. He said that when he visited the RUF headquarters in Buedu, Bockarie had shown him daily reports on field activities that he communicated to Taylor over a satellite phone or field radio.
  • Mongor said that within the RUF, Taylor was commonly called the CIC – “Commander in Chief”, which meant that he had command over all of the RUF. “He was the owner of the RUF.”

Crime base

Beyond eliciting testimony from Mongor about the linkage between the RUF/AFRC command and Charles Taylor, the Prosecution also used Mongor to put specific crimes into evidence. 

Mongor testified about the extensive use of forced labor in Sierra Leone. He said that civilians had been forced to mine for diamonds in Dia, Kailahun District right at the beginning of the war, in 1991 – which is outside the scope of the Court’s temporal jurisdiction. However, he also testified to RUF/AFRC diamond mining operations in Kono, Koidu Town and Tongo Field using forced labor during the time of the AFRC/RUF junta in 1997-1998, a period within the scope of the Court’s jurisdiction (which covers the period after November 30, 1996). Throughout the war, civilian diamond miners were not compensated, but just provided with food. Similarly, forced labor was used to build an airfield for the RUF near Buedu, to cultivate farms for RUF commanders, and to carry ammunition by foot through the jungle. Mongor himself used forced civilian labor to prepare his hut on the front lines.

Mongor testified about an incident that happened sometime in 1998 in Kabala, when RUF commander Superman dressed his forces in captured ECOMOG uniforms in order to enter the town with other RUF fighters who were pretending to surrender. Once in the town, both groups opened fire on real ECOMOG forces, killing the local ECOMOG commander, among others. He said the same tactic was also used at Mile 91. Similarly, Mongor testified that when the RUF entered Freetown in January 1999, the fighters walked behind a group of civilians whom they forced to wear white headbands and sing about peace.

According to Mongor, RUF soldiers were not paid, and were instead compensated through the looting of civilians’ property. He said it had been the same when he was fighting with the NPFL in Liberia, and that Charles Taylor had even used vehicles looted at the front.

Prosecutor Koumjian asked Mongor about children he had trained as soldiers, and Mongor said the youngest had been nine or ten years old. He explained that SBUs (Small Boy Units) were valued for their bravery. They were used at the front lines and at checkpoints, where they turned back other fighters attempting to flee the front. Mongor said children would be taken from villages that were attacked, and that children in these villages had no choice but to join the RUF.

Likewise, Mongor said that when a village was taken, women were forced to become the wives of soldiers, and some were sent for military training. If a woman’s husband intervened, he was often killed. Women were sometimes traded among commanders. Mongor specifically described women in Kailahun District who had been forced to become the wives of rebels.

Koumjian asked Mongor about killings. He said that in 1993 in Giehun, near Kailahun, Sam Bockarie had conducted a number of killings after Foday Sankoh’s girlfriend from that town had been accused of conniving with government soldiers. Bockarie forced her and her son to have sex before killing them, along with members of her extended family who were shot to death and thrown from a bridge. Mongor told of another incident toward the end of AFRC rule (1997-1998) near Kenema, which he learned about from one of his men. Mosquito (Bockarie) had ordered the execution of a number of men suspected of being informants of the Kamajors. Also during the period of AFRC rule, Mongor said that Bockarie had killed a group of 69 people suspected of being Kamajors in Kailahun Town. He told of another incident in Kono District that took place after the February 1998 ECOMOG intervention; Superman ordered the killing of a group of civilian men, women and children because they had come from the same direction to which a group of Kamajor opponents had fled. Following the killings, Bockarie promoted Superman.

Mongor said that Morris Kallon was also promoted by Bockarie at the time, after he and his men had burned down Koidu Town. Mongor described looking into smoldering houses and seeing “roasted” human beings.

Mongor described an attack on Kissy Town, near Koidu, in which the RUF forces killed all of the Kamajors and also every last civilian – women, men and children. Finally, Mongor testified that after the withdrawal of the AFRC/RUF from Freetown in February 1998, an AFRC commander called Savage oversaw mass killings in Tombodu – throwing the bodies into what became known as “Savage Pit”. The RUF received so many complaints that it sent another commander, Emmanuel Williams (“Rocky”) to attack Savage, but Savage fled and there were reports he went insane.

Prosecutor Koumjian asked if anyone in the RUF had ever been punished for any of these many incidents of killings, and Mongor replied “no”.

Asked to explain earlier testimony about an order to make operations “fearful”, Mongor said this meant to kill people and burn houses so that survivors and the enemy were afraid. He described further RUF tactics to create terror: carving “RUF” into the chests and backs of civilians, amputations, and placing human heads on sticks at checkpoints.

Defense cross-examination of Mongor begins

Defense Counsel Terry Munyard began his cross-examination of Mongor by recalling that the witness was one of the most senior commanders of the RUF until his arrest in May 2000. Munyard asked Mongor if he was then among those with “greatest responsibility” for the conduct of the war. (The term “greatest responsibility” is used in the Special Court’s statute in describing which alleged perpetrators should be prosecuted.) Munyard retraced the history of Mongor’s promotions within the RUF, and his roles as Area Commander for the north, then a member of the governing Supreme Council following the May 1997 AFRC coup, and then his promotion to brigadier in 1998 together with a group including Superman, Morris Kallon, Issa Sesay and Mike Lamin. Mongor agreed he was one of the most senior commanders but said that some of the brigadiers, such as Issa Sesay and Morris Kallon (both indicted by the Special Court) had been more senior than other brigadiers.

Munyard put to the witness that the Prosecution had offered him immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony. Mongor denied this and said he had no contract with the Prosecution, but admitted receiving a letter from the court stating that he would not be prosecuted. Mongor stressed that he began cooperating with the Prosecution before receiving that letter.

Munyard next probed Mongor’s explanation of his May 2000 arrest. He was incredulous of Mongor’s claim to have spent over five years in prison if his arrest had really come on the day before the crime of which he was accused had occurred – a day which Mongor said he had spent with the UN Deputy Force Commander. Further, Munyard was incredulous of Mongor’s claim to have spent so long in prison despite his name never appearing on the charge sheet. Mongor explained that he had had no lawyer, and that in response to his constant complaints to prison staff, he had been told to be patient and wait. Finally he had caught the attention of a judge at a group court appearance, which Mongor said eventually led to his release. Munyard put to the witness that he had really been arrested for having committed a serious offense, perhaps participation in the May 8, 2000 killings outside Foday Sankoh’s house. Mongor denied this.

Munyard proceeded to ask about how and when the Prosecution had first contacted Mongor. Mongor said the first contact had been shortly after his release from prison in August 2005, but he had refused cooperation because his family was gone and he had to get his affairs in order. Munyard asked if he had been afraid of prosecution, but Mongor adamantly denied being afraid. Munyard asked why then, would the prosecution go through the trouble of writing a letter to Mongor in September 2006 stating that he had nothing to fear from the Court? Mongor said he had already begun cooperation at the time, and Munyard accepted that his first interview with the Prosecution had come two weeks prior to the letter. Mongor said he had agreed to cooperate with the Prosecution in August 2006 after being approached by Lawrence Womandia, a former colleague from the RUF. He rejected Munyard’s suggestions that he had been promised benefits or protection from prosecution in exchange for his testimony.

Under questioning, Mongor described a small business he had established with help from the bishop of his church. The business did not do very well, and closed twice. Munyard suggested that Mongor agreed to testify after learning that he would be compensated by the Court for lost income from his business. Mongor said he had never been promised such compensation, nor had he received it.

Through a series of questions, Munyard made a point of establishing that Mongor can understand English and speak some as well, having been educated in English through the ninth grade. According to court records cited by Munyard, there was an interpreter present for only five of the Prosecution’s 24 interviews with Mongor. (The Prosecution noted that some prosecution investigators are themselves Krio-speaking Sierra Leoneans.)

Munyard closed the day by casting doubt on an early element of Mongor’s account. Mongor said he was born in Sierra Leone, but raised in Buchanan, Liberia from an early age. He said that he had joined the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) in 1985, but that after two months of training at a camp on the outskirts of Monrovia, he had fled the army and returned to Buchanan. There, he said he had set up a small business and returned to Monrovia. Munyard questioned why MPs had never sought his arrest if they knew where he was from, and why he had never been arrested for desertion back in Monrovia. Munyard suggested that Mongor had never joined the army and then deserted. He also suggested to Mongor that he really had not been captured by the NPFL in 1989, but rather that this was a cover story because he had volunteered to go with Foday Sankoh and join the RUF. Mongor insisted on the truth of his account of his brief military career in the AFL and his abduction by the NPFL.

The cross-examination continues tomorrow at 9.30 a.m.