Prosecution Witnesses Living Together in The Hague Raises Questions about their Credibility

The Hague

April 11, 2008

For the second day in a row, as the Defense sought with limited success to identify inconsistencies in the testimony and statements of witness TF1-516, exposure of procedures at the Special Court for Sierra Leone did, more than anything else, cast doubt on the witness’s credibility. After yesterday’s testimony that prosecution investigators read the Taylor indictment to the witness before asking questions, today the cross-examination revealed that four prosecution witnesses traveled together to The Hague, have stayed at the same location for the past two weeks, and have routinely talked with each other. Defense Counsel Morris Anyah pounced on the information and probed the extent and nature of communication between witnesses who have been called to testify about their overlapping experiences during the war.

Upon opening this morning, proceedings quickly went into a short private session requested by the prosecution. Prosecutor Mohamed Bangura said he wished to raise a matter related to a ruling on a witness protection matter handed down in a private session at the end of the day yesterday. Throughout the day, it became apparent that what had been discussed related to the mentioning of various individuals and places that were mentioned in the witness’s testimony and might serve to identify the witness. Defense counsel Anyah took care to avoid mentioning certain names that had been mentioned in open Court previously.

Prosecution payments to the witness

When Court resumed in open session, Anyah began by asking the witness about prosecution payments made to him. The witness said that upon first meeting prosecutors in Kailahun, they had given him a total of 170,000 Leones (almost 70 US dollars) to cover his costs for a week’s trip to Freetown: transportation, food, and money for his time. The witness said he used 117,000 Leones for the trip, leaving him with 53,000 Leones (around 20 US dollars). He agreed that it was a lot of money. Anyah then asked about further sums associated with subsequent interviews, emphasizing that the witness had been unemployed at the time. However, when Anyah asked whether the witness had an expectation of receiving more money once he got to Freetown, the witness said his intention had not been to make money, and that he otherwise would have demanded over one million Leones before agreeing to travel.

Defense looks for inconsistencies

Anyah spent most of the day asking witness TF1-516 about inconsistencies in his testimony and prior statements to the Prosecution, but had little success in revealing glaring contradictions:

  • Anyah noted that the back of the witness’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) operational notebook had a stamp on it from a store in Monrovia, Liberia and asked if the witness had bought it in Liberia. The witness stated that an RUF commander had given it to him in Sierra Leone. Anyah noted the witness’s previous testimony that the RUF had not provided pens and paper to the radio operators, but the witness said that this had only been the case in the early part of his time as a radio operator.
  • Anyah recalled the witness’s testimony that a girl named Rebecca had copied contents from an old notebook into this one, and asked why that had never appeared in any of the prosecution’s notes from 20 interviews with the witness. The witness replied that he had never been asked about the transfer of the notes, only about the content of the notebook. Anyah noted that in one interview the witness had said the book was a copy, and asked why then he had never mentioned Rebecca. The witness said the copy he had spoken of in the interview was a photocopy of the original notebook now before him in the courtroom that investigators had shown to him. The witness then said that he had also told investigators that another person had written in the book, but never mentioned Rebecca.
  • Anyah asked about the witness’s testimony yesterday that a message in the notebook from Benjamin Yeaten dated September 30, 2001 had been received from an operator named “Life”. Anyah then read from Wednesday’s trial transcript, in which the witness had said that the message had been received from radio operator “Sunlight”. The witness said that if he mentioned Sunlight on Wednesday, then it had been a slip of the tongue. He insisted that the message had come from Life, and noted that this is what he had consistently told the Prosecution.
  • Anyah read from notes of a previous statement to prosecution investigators in which the witness said he had relayed the Yeaten message from operator Life to operator “Elevation”, who worked for RUF General Issa Sesay because at the time the witness and Life had one set of codes, and the witness and Elevation another. The witness confirmed saying this to investigators, but initially did not agree with Anyah that this meant that there were periods when the RUF and Liberian operators did not use the same codes. He said that the fall of Foya to an anti-Taylor rebel group and the capture of the code there meant that the old code could no longer be used and he had to relay messages to Elevation, who had a different code from the new one supplied to Life. Anyah pressed the point that this meant that there were times that the RUF and Liberian operators had different codes, and the witness conceded that at certain moments this had been true.
  • Anyah asked if the witness had been captured by the RUF in the dry or rainy season of 1991, and the witness emphatically said it had been in the dry season. Anyah then read from notes of an interview with the witness, which stated that he had “joined the RUF in the rainy season of 1991”. The witness said that this was in reference to when he had been trained, not captured. He referred Anyah to two lines earlier in the same set of notes where it stated that he had been “captured in early 1991”. (The rainy season in Sierra Leone doesn’t begin until April-May.)
  • Anyah asked about the witness’s testimony that his training with the RUF had begun at Ahmadiyya Secondary School in Kailahun. He asked if the witness had ever mentioned the school’s name to investigators, because it appeared in none of their notes. The witness said he had mentioned it, and agreed with Anyah that it was something the Prosecution had failed to note.
  • Anyah put to the witness that he had been exaggerating when he told the Court that the number of recruits at his second RUF training base in Kailahun had reached up to 5,000. The witness denied exaggerating, which prompted Anyah to read from notes of a prior clarification interview with the witness, which stated that the figure 5,000 was “very approximate”, and that it had been a large number of people and overcrowded. The witness confirmed saying this, and Anyah asked why then he had reverted to the number 5,000 in his testimony. At this point Prosecutor Bangura objected that Anyah was misrepresenting the statements to create a contradiction where there really was none. Judge Sebutinde noted that she recalled the witness also saying in court that 5,000 was an approximation. Anyah read from the witness’s earlier testimony, which used the phrase “up to 5,000”. Judge Lussick said that Anyah was trying to make a very fine point. Anyah withdrew the question, but when Lussick said he wasn’t saying that the question shouldn’t be asked, Anyah said he would let the record stand and move on.
  • Late in the day, Anyah asked about the witness’s testimony of a fellow recruit, Jusu, at the RUF training base in Kailahun being shot in the leg and beheaded by a commander when he tried to escape in order to set an example for the other recruits. The witness confirmed the account. Anyah then read from July 2006 interview notes of the Prosecution that reflected the witness saying that Jusu had been shot to death with an AK-47. The witness insisted that he had told the investigators the same account about the beheading and denied exaggerating the story in Court.
  • Anyah showed the witness an RUF code book discussed in his direct examination. The witness confirmed that this had not been his book, and that he had first seen a copy of it when the Prosecution showed it to him this year. The witness agreed that there was handwriting from more than one person in the book, and noted that it was common for a code book to be written in by multiple operators. He said he recognized some of the writing in the book to be that of an RUF radio operator named “Daf”.
  • Anyah then recalled the witness’s testimony that the code book was from the time when Issa Sesay led the RUF, and the witness confirmed this. Anyah asked why then Sam Bockarie’s name would still be included on the list of commanders. At the end of the Court day, the witness explained that although Bockarie left Sierra Leone for Liberia in December 1999, he had remained involved in RUF operations there, including in the towns of Voinjama and Vahun. He said that at the time there were still radio conversations relating to Bockarie and it had still been necessary to have a radio code for his name.

Prosecution witnesses housed together in The Hague

In the early afternoon, Anyah asked the witness to confirm the names of his training commanders at the RUF base in 1991. When Anyah asked when the witness had last seen them, the witness said that he had last seen one of them, previous prosecution witness Isaac Mongor, this morning. After this revelation, Anyah aggressively pursued further information.

The witness confirmed that he was currently being housed together with Mongor and two forthcoming prosecution witnesses in The Hague. He said that the four of them had traveled together from Lungi Airport in Sierra Leone, and that he had sat next to one of them (not Mongor) on the airplane. They arrived on March 26 and have been staying together, sharing meals, playing draughts (checkers), and watching football (soccer) and CNN together ever since.

The witness confirmed knowing from the airport that they had all come to testify against Taylor. Anyah asked if the witness has ever discussed with Mongor their times in the RUF. The witness said that Mongor has told him and the other two witnesses about his time in Pademba Road Prison (about which Mongor recently testified in Court). Asked if they have discussed Charles Taylor, the witness said that the only mention was when Mongor said something to him about Taylor’s backing for establishment of an RUF training base in Liberia, Camp Naama. The witness said he also joked to Mongor about the Vanguards (of whom the witness said Mongor was one) – Liberians trained to fight in Sierra Leone – “bringing problems to us”. Anyah asked if he and Mongor have discussed arms, ammunition or diamonds, and the witness said that they haven’t. He did admit that Mongor said he had seen Taylor in Court, but claimed he has said nothing else about Taylor. The witness said he has not discussed Taylor with the other two witnesses, and has not heard Mongor discussing Taylor with them. Anyah asked if Mongor discussed his testimony during the days he was testifying, and the witness said that once he asked Mongor how it was going, and Mongor simply said “tough”. He said that he himself has not discussed his testimony with the other three witnesses, but when they asked how it was going, also has told them that it was “tough”. Anyah underscored that Mongor had been the witness’s training commander in the RUF, clearly hinting that Mongor may still have influence over him.

It is not clear who is responsible for the housing arrangements of witnesses in The Hague: the Office of the Prosecution or the Witness and Victims Section of the Special Court’s administrative arm, the Registry. (There were no immediate responses from Court officials to’s requests for clarification of this issue following today’s proceedings.) There may be cost benefits to transporting and housing witnesses together. But especially where there is overlap in the subject of their testimony, this practice may ultimately prove costly for the Prosecution as its witnesses become vulnerable to the kind of aggressive defense challenges to their credibility seen today.

At this point Court adjourned and proceedings will resume on Monday at 9:30 a.m.


Comments are closed.