Cross-examination of Isaac Mongor Takes on New Angles, Features Grisly Accounts of RUF Atrocities and the Rationales for Them

The Hague

April 3, 2008

As the cross-examination of prosecution witness Isaac Mongor entered its fourth day, the Defense added new elements beyond continued attacks on the witness’s credibility. Mongor’s testimony included grim accounts of RUF tactics and the reasoning behind them. Defense Counsel Terry Munyard led Mongor through accounts of atrocities he himself had committed, including killings, the burning of houses, and sexual assault. Additionally, the Defense seemed eager to show that there was no system of discipline within the RUF for abuse of civilians. Munyard was also able to elicit testimony from Mongor that from sometime in 1993 until 1998, the RUF had received no arms or ammunition from Charles Taylor, but had purchased weapons from the anti-Taylor Liberian faction ULIMO in 1996 and 1997.

This summary does not include about one-and-a-half hours of testimony missed due to a disruption in the video and audio feed from the courtroom in the late morning and early afternoon. Court sources said that the disruption was either due to a technical problem at the International Criminal Court or with the court’s commercial internet service in The Netherlands. Those interested in reviewing the portion of the trial missing from this summary and our earlier live-blog can find a link to the Special Court’s full official transcript of today’s proceedings on our Daily Summaries page tomorrow.

Mongor’s relationship with the OTP

The day began with the defense citing prosecution interview notes from September 2006, which stated that Mongor had offered to visit another former fighter, “C.O. Tactical”, who had refused to cooperate with the Prosecution, in order to convince him to cooperate. Mongor said he was a Liberian NPFL man and a Taylor loyalist, working as a taxi driver in Makeni in 2006. Munyard asked whether the plan was to threaten to get him in trouble for living in Sierra Leone as a foreigner if he refused to cooperate, but Mongor denied this. Munyard then asked whether Mongor had a reputation for violence, and Mongor said he didn’t.

Atrocities committed by Mongor and the RUF

That question led into a series of questions revealing atrocities that Mongor had committed during the war in Sierra Leone. These included killings of civilians trying to escape to Guinea in 1992 in the village of Sandiaru, near Kailahun. Mongor said “more than a dozen” men and women had been killed by himself and his fighters, but could not recall that children had been killed. Mongor said he had ordered the shooting deaths after receipt of an order from Sankoh that anyone coming from the direction of Guinea was to be killed, and this included civilians because they could act as spies.

At this point, the video and audio feed was lost for about an hour and a half. When transmission from the Court resumed, Mongor was answering questions about burning down houses, some of them with people inside. He testified that he ordered burnings and conducted them himself, and did not care if people were inside because they were considered enemies. In response to questions from Munyard, Mongor explained that civilians could be considered enemies if Kamajors or government troops simply passed through their village, even if the civilians had nothing to do with this.

Munyard then asked about killings conducted by Mongor and his fighters in Kissy Town. Mongor stated that he knew those people to be Kamajors because some wore “country cloth” that was sometimes used as a Kamajor uniform. Under further questioning, he conceded that those without the purported uniform had also been killed without any investigation into whether they were indeed Kamajors. Asked why Mongor and his RUF men had killed the civilians who were suspected spies if they had already been captured, Mongor replied that it was because they considered the villagers to be enemies.

Later in the day, Mongor said he could not recall whether he had personally given orders to execute civilians for spying, but he described the general RUF practice. Civilians, including women and children who Mongor said were as young as ten could be shot to death for “conniving” if they were suspected of spying, giving food to government or Kamajor soldiers, or merely moving from government-held territory. Additionally, their villages would be burned down in reprisal, even if just one or a few were suspected of “conniving”.

Asked if he himself had participated in sexual assaults, Mongor said that he had. He went on to say that he had taken a woman without paying a bride price to her people, and said that this was what constituted “rape”.

Inconsistent accounts

Munyard confronted Mongor with a statement he had given prosecution investigators in September 2006 in which he said that – in contradiction of his testimony before the court today – he had never ordered the burning of houses and had never been present when it happened. Mongor admitted that this was what he had told investigators at the time. He explained the discrepancy by saying that he only now recalled burning houses himself because Munyard had “gone deep” into it by asking about what he had done himself. When Munyard suggested that the investigator had asked the very same question in 2006, Mongor said “maybe you’re right”. Munyard accused him of lying, which Mongor denied, instead saying he may not have been composed at the time, and “maybe I had some fear”.

Under repeated questioning from different angles, Mongor said he could give no estimate of how many houses he had burned down during the war in Sierra Leone, or of how many times he had seen houses burned down by others in the RUF. Munyard read from the September 2006 interview notes, which stated that Mongor had explained that in most cases villagers had fled already, so there was no need to burn down their houses. Munyard contrasted this with Mongor’s earlier testimony that villages had been burned even when villagers fled, in order to make it impossible for people to come back. Mongor then explained that there were two kinds of relationships between the RUF and villagers: some villages had served as a supply of food for the RUF and these were not burned, while others, near where the RUF was attacking its enemies, were distrusted as possibly full of spies, and thus burned.

When Munyard asked Mongor about an RUF massacre of civilians in the town of Giehun in 1993, Mongor said he had not been there when it happened but passed through shortly afterwards, and had seen the corpses. Munyard asked why he had not mentioned to the investigator who conducted the interview with him in September 2006 that he had seen the corpses. Mongor said it was because he had not been specifically asked about that.

Was Mongor afraid of prosecution?

When Mongor noted Morris Kallon’s role in the burning of houses, Munyard asked if he knew where Kallon was in September 1996 when Mongor told prosecution investigators that he had not personally participated in the burning of houses. Mongor said he knew that Kallon was in the Special Court detention facility, where he had visited all three RUF accused (Morris Kallon, Issa Sesay and Augustine Gbao), but claimed to be unaware of the fact that their joint trial had already begun in 2004. Munyard asked Mongor whether he had ever had in mind that he might serve as a prosecution or defense witness in that case, and Mongor said it hadn’t occurred to him.

Later, Munyard went back to the September 2006 interview notes, which recorded Mongor explaining that most senior RUF commanders, including himself, Kallon and Sesay, had met in 1999 to discuss dealing with the problem of rape. Mongor confirmed that he’d told this to the investigator. When Munyard asked if this had been a serious effort to stop raping, or just intended “to make the RUF look good”, Mongor said that the aim of the meeting had been to minimize rape by RUF fighters, but that it hadn’t worked. Munyard again indicated that Sesay and Kallon were on trial at the Special Court, and that Mongor had been in the same class of commander. Mongor again denied knowing that their trial was underway, despite his repeated interviews with investigators in the Special Court compound and having visited the RUF accused at the detention facility.

Discipline in the RUF

The Defense seemed eager to establish that there had been no discipline within the RUF, perhaps to show that such a chaotic organization could not possibly have been controlled by Charles Taylor, as the Prosecution alleges.

Mongor described poor discipline in the RUF, but he said that what discipline there was only related to killings among RUF members. He confirmed that for offenses against civilians there had been no discipline at all. Specifically, Mongor testified that none of his fighters had ever been disciplined for executing civilians. Later, he testified that there was no discipline for sexual assault or rape. At one point he confirmed a prior statement about witnessing Issa Sesay execute three RUF men for gang-raping a girl, but Mongor said he thought this had been more an effort to make Sesay look strong in front of his tribesmen than any real effort at discipline for rape. Further, he confirmed having earlier told prosecution investigators that if he as a commander had tried to crack down on rape committed by his men, he would have lost fighters to other commanders who tolerated it.

Relationship between the RUF and Liberia

Near the end of the day Defense questioning shifted to Mongor’s knowledge of the relationship between the RUF and NPFL, as well as his knowledge of the RUF’s sources of arms and ammunition.

Munyard asked about tensions between the RUF and NPFL in 1992. Mongor confirmed that there had been tensions, resulting in an outbreak of fighting that killed two RUF fighters. He also agreed with Munyard that in mid-1992 an order came from Liberia for the NPFL to withdraw, and that some NPFL men then joined the RUF and stayed in Sierra Leone. However, he disagreed with Munyard’s suggestion that RUF leader Foday Sankoh had been annoyed with the NPFL. Mongor stated that there were some individuals in the NPFL who had caused problems – not the whole organization. In any case, he said, Sankoh himself was in the NPFL, and he had sorted out the problem with “his brother, Mr. Taylor”.

Through a series of questions, Mongor confirmed that at some point in 1993, the anti-Taylor Liberian faction ULIMO had taken control of Lofa County, Liberia – along the border to Sierra Leone – and that the RUF had been cut off from Liberia. He testified that from that point the RUF had to rely on captured arms and ammunition, as well as some amount of supplies bought from Guinean soldiers. From about 1996, when ULIMO had entered into disarmament in Liberia, Mongor said the RUF could also buy weapons from ULIMO, and that this lasted until the May 1997 coup in Sierra Leone. Asked directly by Munyard whether between the time the border was closed by ULIMO and 1998 the RUF had received no arms or ammunition from Charles Taylor or the NPFL, Mongor agreed.

As Munyard began asking about possible indirect transactions between Liberia and the RUF involving Ghana and Libya, the court session ended. Proceedings will continue tomorrow at 9.30 a.m.