“Zigzag” Marzah Says Taylor Ordered Cannibalism; Defense Works to Discredit his Testimony

The Hague

March 13, 2008

Prosecution witness Joseph D. “Zigzag” Marzah remained on the stand today and under cross-examination from Lead Defense Counsel Courtenay Griffiths. In the course of his testimony, Marzah gave jarring accounts of engaging in cannibalism, which he said he had done at the orders of Charles Taylor. Griffiths pursued several main points: that there were inconsistencies between what Marzah told prosecution investigators and attorneys in the past and what he was telling the Court at the trial; that Marzah was testifying against Taylor because he didn’t want to be prosecuted himself; that Marzah was exaggerating his importance in Taylor’s organization and was not senior enough to take orders from Taylor; that Marzah had been disciplined for abusing civilians; that Marzah was simply lying; and that Liberia and Sierra Leone were chaotic places over which Taylor did not have effective control.


Following up on Marzah’s testimony from yesterday, Griffiths asked him whether he had eaten many people. Marzah stated that when someone wants to kill you and your family, you kill and eat them for revenge. Griffiths asked if he had done so on more than one occasion, and Marzah said yes, because of his poro society (a structure of traditional religion). He said that when Charles Taylor approved of it, he carried on. He confirmed personally eating ethnic Krahn enemies, but said that had happened under Taylor and not the earlier NPFL command of Prince Johnson. Marzah testified that Taylor ordered him to eat Krahn people for revenge against Samuel Doe (an ethnic Krahn) and to set an example for the people to be afraid. He went on to say that Taylor had ordered him and other NPFL/RUF fighters to eat captured ECOMOG and white UN people, using them “as pork to eat”. He confirmed yesterday’s account of eating Superman’s heart, and said he, Benjamin Yeaten and the others had done so on Taylor’s orders. He explained in detail how victims were prepared for cooking after being killed, and cooked with salt and pepper. He said Taylor knew this.

Inconsistencies of testimony with prior statements

Griffiths began the day by asking Marzah about his claims yesterday to have participated in cutting open pregnant women, killing babies and executing hundreds of civilians. He asked Marzah why he had never mentioned these things in his previous interviews with the Office of the Prosecution. Marzah insisted that he had told prosecutors, including Prosecutor Nick Koumjian, about all of those things. Responding to defense concerns that perhaps prosecution statements had not been properly disclosed, Koumjian said that all of Marzah’s interviews had been disclosed, and that Marzah had never discussed slitting open pregnant women in his presence.

After recalling Marzah’s testimony yesterday of extensive participation in atrocities in Sierra Leone, Griffiths read from notes of a prosecution interview with Marzah. This stated that the witness reported to Taylor on battles, but did not report physical or sexual violence “because he did not see it”. Marzah replied that his reporting to Taylor focused on the battlefront, and that there was so much sexual violence perpetrated by the NPFL and RUF that he didn’t include it. He reiterated his contention that Taylor ordered these atrocities to be committed.

Marzah denied that Taylor ever disciplined anyone for committing atrocities, and Griffiths then read from investigators’ notes from one of his earlier statements, in which was stated that Marzah had described a time when NPFL Special Forces who had lost interest in fighting were disciplined for engaging in looting and raping. The statement said that Taylor deployed Small Boys Units to arrest and detain or discipline such Special Forces members. Marzah replied that only Special Forces away from the frontline were disciplined, while those at the front raped, looted and conducted executions at Taylor’s command. He said those who were disciplined had been disciplined for refusing to fight. Griffiths asked Marzah why he had told investigators that Taylor issued a written order if he now said that he didn’t see a written order. Marzah said he may have been misquoted by the Prosecution on that.

Marzah testified that the RUF never disciplined fighters who misbehaved, with one exception, when he saw Sam Bockarie promise a man whose wife had been raped that he would discipline those responsible. But Marzah said he had never seen Bockarie take action against a soldier. Griffiths read from prior interview notes that recorded Marzah saying Bockarie had executed five RUF men for raping. Marzah said this was true, and that Bockarie had done this because they had raped his girlfriend. Griffiths asked why the statement then read “women” in the plural, and Marzah responded that there were other women with Bockarie’s girlfriend at the time. He said there were many rapes. He admitted he personally had taken two “bush wives”, one given to him by Bockarie, but denied they had been forced against their will.

Marzah stated that Taylor had ordered the RUF to use forced labor. When Griffiths read from interview notes stating that the witness said he was unaware of orders from Taylor regarding forced labor, the prosecution objected, noting that the context of that statement was Liberia, not Sierra Leone.

Griffiths recalled Marzah’s testimony yesterday that he had entered Freetown during the invasion. He then read from prosecution notes of a prior interview with Marzah, which stated that Marzah had been in Monrovia convalescing from a wound during the January 1999 invasion of Freetown. Marzah said the statement was not correct. The Prosecution interrupted to note that yesterday it was not clear that Marzah had spoken of the 1999 invasion, as he mentioned the invasion “that made JP leader” (perhaps a reference to Johnny Paul Koroma’s 1997 coup). Judge Doherty allowed the question and said that the Prosecution would have a chance to clarify this on re-examination. Marzah said he didn’t know the years, but he took part in the invasion of Freetown. Griffiths put to Marzah that he had lied yesterday because he had forgotten what he had told investigators earlier.

Marzah testified that when he served in the Liberian army under President Doe, he had been sent for 90 days of training in Israel. He said his only other military training had been in Liberia. Griffiths then read from interview notes stating that Marzah had trained in Burkina Faso too. Marzah said the statement was mistaken.

Likewise, after Marzah testified that he had first met Charles Taylor and Foday Sankoh in Gborplay, Nimba County (Liberia), Griffiths read from notes of two prior interviews stating that Marzah claimed to have first met Taylor in Ivory Coast and one prior interview in which he said he’d first met Sankoh in Burkina Faso. Marzah said that wasn’t true, and said that perhaps the investigators had misunderstood his Liberian English.

Griffiths questioned discrepancies between his testimony about seeing around ten weapons shipments from a Russian cargo plane and earlier statements in which he mentioned 100 shipments. There was some confusion over whether Marzah was referring to plane-loads, or truck-loads taken from planes. Judge Sebutinde asked the witness, who testified that he had never been to school, whether he could count. He said yes, but then explained that he took the number 100 to mean “many”. Griffiths asserted that Marzah was lying about not being able to read and write, because he said that Doe would never have sent an illiterate man for training in Israel. Griffiths asked where the weapons came from, and Marzah said Libya, Burkina Faso and the United States. Griffiths confronted him with notes of a prior statement in which Marzah had also listed Europe and Taiwan. Marzah explained that for him, Europe had always been part of America, “white people’s home”, and that he hadn’t known the difference until he came to testify in this trial. He said it was correct that weapons had also come from Taiwan and apologized for not mentioning Taiwan in his earlier answer.

Casting doubt on Taylor’s control of territory and perpetrators

At a number of points during the day, Griffiths argued that Taylor lacked control over territory in which atrocities were committed or through which arms and ammunition were transported, or that those committing atrocities were not under his control.

Marzah described the different leadership styles of Prince Johnson, under whose command he initially fought, and Charles Taylor. He said that Johnson, who was often at the front, did not allow any abuse of civilians, while Taylor encouraged and ordered it. Griffiths confronted him with notes from a prior statement to the prosecution, according to which he had said that NPFL soldiers began raping, looting and harassing civilians in part because Taylor was not at the front. Marzah replied that there were times when Johnson was not at the front, but his soldiers behaved because they feared him. By contrast, he said Taylor often came to the front after a battle and appreciated destruction, so this encouraged his fighters to continue to do such acts.

Griffiths asked whether Taylor had ever disciplined Benjamin Yeaten, and Marzah testified that Yeaten had been disciplined at Gbarnga, Liberia, for failing to follow orders. He confirmed a prior statement read by Griffiths about the cause, and Griffiths asked whether this showed a great deal of ill-discipline within the Liberian administration, if even Yeaten refused orders. Marzah said it only happened once. He said Yeaten had done many bad things and that later Taylor announced to his men that whatever Yeaten did, he knew about it. Pursuing the point, Griffiths asked whether the chaotic situation in Liberia and Sierra Leone created opportunities for Marzah and Yeaten to privately sell arms and ammunition to the RUF in Sierra Leone. Marzah denied this and reiterated that the RUF received supplies directly from Taylor’s NPFL.

Marzah’s place in the NPFL hierarchy

Through a series of questions, Griffiths attempted to show that Marzah was not senior enough in the NPFL hierarchy to take orders directly from Charles Taylor. Marzah disputed this, saying that only Benjamin Yeaten was more senior. Griffiths questioned him about an incident in which Taylor had demoted him to the rank of captain. Griffiths asked about further incidents, and whether Marzah had ever been detained for abusing civilians or expelled from the Jungle Fire Unit for cannibalism. Marzah denied both, and said he had only been detained in 2003 after Yeaten had attempted to rape his wife. Marzah alleged that Taylor then intervened to free him.

Other defense challenges to Marzah’s testimony

Under questioning from Griffiths, Marzah explained that a soldier named Stinger had approached him and first introduced him to prosecution investigators from the Special Court. Griffiths asked Marzah whether Stinga or anyone from the Prosecution had ever said he would not be prosecuted in exchange for his testimony, and Marzah answered no.

Griffiths asked whether Marzah had been promised financial security in exchange for his testimony, and Marzah answered no. Griffiths asked him whether he took drugs or drank alcohol, and Marzah said he had suffered an ear injury in the war, and could not take drugs or drink.

In seeking to cast doubt on Marzah’s account yesterday of Taylor’s participation in burying alive a pregnant woman on the beach behind his residence in Monrovia, Griffiths read notes from a prior interview, according to which Marzah stated the woman was believed to be ULIMO-J. Marzah said the statement was true, except for that part of it. Griffiths asked why it had taken two years of discussions for Marzah to tell the Prosecution about something so dramatic. Marzah replied that so much had happened, he couldn’t remember it all at once. Griffiths then asked in detail about the sacrifice of a live sheep over the buried woman. Marzah said it was an old African warrior tradition and that the men had ripped the animal apart with their bare hands and fought to get a piece of the raw meat. Griffiths questioned the ability to slaughter a sheep with only bare hands. Marzah insisted the whole story was true, and that the ceremony had been performed when Taylor entered a power-sharing government so that the five other co-presidents would fear him. Griffiths asserted the whole story was a lie and a figment of Marzah’s imagination.

Marzah described manifests used to record receipt of weapons and ammunition, and their delivery to the RUF in Sierra Leone. Pressed by Griffiths on where those documents were today, Marzah said they had been burned during the war, when LURD rebels burned his house in Nimba County. Griffiths asked why he would even have documents in his possession if according to the process for documents described by Marzah, these always had been returned to Taylor’s office. Marzah replied that Taylor confirmed deliveries directly by phone and radio, and that when he trusted someone he didn’t care much for the paperwork.

Using Marzah as a defense witness?

Beyond attacking the witness’s credibility, at one point Griffiths appeared to be using Marzah to support a defense argument that Taylor’s initial support for the RUF had been justified. Under questioning from Griffiths, Marzah testified that he hated Samuel Doe for the atrocities his regime had conducted against his Gio people, including his sister. He viewed the 1989 invasion of Liberia by the group under Prince Johnson and Charles Taylor and their efforts to overthrow the Doe government as justified responses to these abuses. Later, Griffiths returned to this theme, and Marzah agreed that the Sierra Leonean government of Joseph Momoh had been supporting Doe’s forces, who were fighting the NPFL – an organization whose struggle in Liberia was justified. Griffiths then asked whether the invasion of Sierra Leone was to protect Liberia. Marzah agreed, adding that another goal was to take over the government of Sierra Leone.


  1. It is remarkable to learn the truth but it is so dissapointing over the fact that many atrocities of war and the blood diamond chronicle began with interest collaboration of the west. The initial effort induced in any African leaders for the purpose of war is the hierarchy from two continents. I am surprise to see the combatant who carried out harm on his own is capable as a witness. Like the Governor of NY who is caught talking to prostitute takes the blame but the prostitute is going to walk free. International court is doing its best, it will help reduce the war in Africa and other areas of conflict.

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