Defense: Former RUF Radio Operator’s Story Is Not Believable

The Hague

April 15, 2008

On the fourth day of the cross-examination of prosecution witness TF1-516, Defense Counsel Morris Anyah pursued three main lines of attack on the credibility of the former Revolutionary United Front (RUF) radio operator. Anyah continued to point out discrepancies between the witness’s testimony and his prior statements to the Prosecution; he disputed the accuracy of the witness’s descriptions of Charles Taylor’s farm in Gbarnga and the Executive Mansion in Monrovia; and he cast doubt on why the RUF would have sent an inexperienced Sierra Leonean operator to fulfill such an important mission in Liberia when there were other operators to choose from who were Liberian and had more experience. Anyah also probed the witness’s testimony about Issa Sesay making unilateral decisions during the time that Sam Bockarie was still the leader of the RUF. In the course of the questioning, tension mounted between Anyah and the witness. At one point the Prosecution objected that Anyah was arguing with the witness instead of asking questions. At another, Judge Richard Lussick admonished the witness to get control of himself and stop being disdainful of the Defense Counsel.

There were two private sessions during the day, the first requested by the Defense and lasting about 15 minutes. The second private session, following the lunch break, dealt with two confidential procedural issues: one raised by the Defense and one by the Prosecution. It lasted for an hour and a half before proceedings resumed in open session. Presiding Judge Teresa Doherty explained that the matters concerned witness protection issues.


As he has for most of the cross-examination, Anyah again relied heavily on the notes of prosecution investigators to raise inconsistencies between the testimony of the witness in Court and his earlier explanations to the Prosecution.

  • Anyah began the day by asking the witness about investigators’ notes from October 2007 that falsely implied that there were three separate radio sets in Buedu: a stationary radio called “Bravo Zulu Four” and two mobile radios called “Planet One” and “Marvel”. The witness had not corrected this statement when given an opportunity one month ago, and only explained to prosecutors two weeks ago that “Bravo Zulu Four” was a call sign that later changed to “Planet One”. The witness said he had explained before this time that the call signs changed.
  • When Anyah showed the witness a photo, the witness confirmed that it was a picture of Sam Bockarie’s house in Buedu, and he marked the photo where he said there had been a room with a computer and a satellite phone. He said there had not been radios in that room because of the risk of jet bombers. Anyah produced notes from a prior statement to prosecutors in which the witness had said that radios were kept in the room together with the computer and satellite phone. The witness said that while radios were not operated in that room, some spare radios were stored there in case the active radios, used under a tree outside the house, had mechanical problems. He explained that the radios in the room had no call sign, but would take on the call sign of broken radios they replaced.
  • Anyah asked the witness to explain his testimony that the radios “Marvel” and “Planet One” were both mounted in vehicles when he had earlier told prosecutors that Marvel “was usually in a fixed location, but could be made mobile”. The witness responded that Marvel was always in a vehicle, but that it was usually parked in a fixed location.
  • Asked where he was during the Freetown invasion, the witness said he had been in Buedu. Anyah asked why then he had once told the Prosecution that he had already been in Liberia at the time. The witness explained that he had already corrected this in a subsequent interview with the Prosecution. He said he had initially thought prosecutors were asking about May 2000, when a confrontation outside Foday Sankoh’s house in Freetown led to Sankoh being shot in the foot and arrested – and that by that time he already had been in Liberia. He said that although the notes read “Freetown invasion”, when the investigator asked, he phrased it the “Freetown attack”.
  • The witness previously told investigators that he had not returned to Kono during his time with the RUF following the 1998 retreat from Kono to Buedu together with Gullit (Alex Tamba Brima), a commander of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC). The witness told Anyah that he had returned to Kono once in 2001 in a failed attempt to undertake private diamond mining. Asked why he hadn’t mentioned this to investigators, the witness said that their questions had been in the context of asking about Gullit, and that after 1998, he had never seen Gullit again. He said when he returned to Kono briefly in 2001, fighting there had stopped.
  • The witness said he saw Taylor at his farm in Gbarnga on one occasion, but did not meet him. When Anyah produced prosecution interview notes stating in the same paragraph that the witness saw Taylor in Gbarnga and was introduced to him by Yeaten, the witness claimed that the time Yeaten introduced him, it was at the Executive Mansion in Monrovia, not at Gbarnga.
  • The witness confirmed that Yeaten had taken his radio shortly after his arrival in Liberia and had given him another. He denied that it was the radio of the operator called “Life”. Anyah read from interview notes stating that the witness had to use Life’s radio after his original radio was taken. The witness insisted that Life hadn’t been with Yeaten at the time and had only come later. Anyah put to the witness that he was only saying this because he wanted to make it look like he was the exclusive radio operator for Yeaten.

Knowledge of Taylor’s farm and the Executive Mansion

The witness confirmed his earlier testimony that just after arriving in Liberia, he joined Benjamin Yeaten in a helicopter to travel to the town of Gbarnga, where Charles Taylor had a farm. Anyah asked the witness to describe the farm. The witness described the end of town where it was located; a number of fish ponds on the farm; said that there were many wild birds above the ponds (some of which Yeaten shot); said that he saw machines tilling the soil; and said he was told that they had just harvested beans. Anyah put to the witness that beans were not grown there, but rather rice. The witness said he saw that rice was also on the farm, but insisted he had been told that beans had been harvested on that part of the farm. Anyah then said that there were no birds on the farm, but rather horses. The witness agreed that there were horses, but said there were wild birds around the farm, and many of them.

Anyah recalled the witness’s testimony last week that he had been to the Executive Mansion in Monrovia twice. Asked to describe it, the witness said it had six stories and that he had been in the fourth floor, room 306. Anyah asked the witness if he was aware of the fact that the Executive Mansion is an eight-story building. Anyah put to the witness that the ground floor of the Executive Mansion is numbered in the 100s, and the fourth floor in the 400s, so room 306 could not be on the fourth floor. The witness admitted to not being able to describe much about the inside of the Mansion aside from its tiled floors, a cafeteria, and a mechanic’s repair shop next to the radio room. When Anyah asked, the witness said he had not known that the president’s office and a cabinet room were on the fourth floor.

Why was the witness sent to Liberia?

Anyah spent much of the day building up to the question of why this witness, of all the RUF radio operators, would have been sent by the RUF to Liberia on such a sensitive mission to smoothe communication between the top RUF commanders and their Liberian contacts, especially Benjamin Yeaten. Anyah also expressed incredulity about elements of the witness’s story.

Through his questions, Anyah made clear several reasons to doubt the selection of TF1-516 for the RUF assignment in Liberia:

  • The witness had never before met Benjamin Yeaten, to whom he was assigned.
  • The witness did not speak fluent Liberian English, and there were Liberian radio operators available within the RUF in Sierra Leone, as well as in Liberia.
  • Other RUF radio operators, including Liberians, had more experience.
  • The witness had not yet graduated secondary school.
  • The witness had been arrested twice while with the RUF for being absent without leave (AWOL), which was tantamount to insubordination, as well as another arrest for failure to rescue a satellite phone and fax machine while retreating from Zogoda.

In response, the witness said he didn’t know why he had been chosen, but that Sesay sent him and he was under orders, so he had to go.

Throughout the day, Anyah occasionally injected his questions with incredulity about the witness’s claims of proximity to power in Liberia. With reference to Yeaten, Anyah asked: “Are you saying that the second-most powerful man in Liberia took you to the fish ponds [at Taylor’s farm in Gbarnga]?” “Yeaten introduced you, a radio operator, to the president?” “The second-most powerful man in Liberia escorted you to the Executive Mansion?” The witness said Yeaten had given him a tour of Taylor’s farm, had introduced him to Charles Taylor, and had escorted him to the Executive Mansion. He also confirmed that Yeaten had allowed him to be present when the most senior RUF commanders visited Yeaten’s compound, and that Yeaten had allowed him to live on the same compound where his two wives and children lived. Anyah asked why then, if he had been allowed to do all of these things, when visiting the Executive Mansion his access had been restricted to the fourth floor. The witness said he didn’t know why.

Bockarie, Sesay, and decision-making in the RUF

Anyah showed interest in the witness’s testimony that it was Issa Sesay who had sent him to Liberia in mid-1999, even while Sam Bockarie was still the leader of the RUF, before his own departure for Liberia. The witness said that Issa Sesay was a Brigadier General at the time, while Bockarie was a full general, but confirmed that Sesay did have unilateral conversations with Benjamin Yeaten. Further, the witness described Sesay shooting dead the RUF doctor in Buedu while Bockarie was away and without his approval. Anyah asked if Sesay ever requested ammunition from Liberia without Bockarie’s approval, and the witness said that he went to Liberia for ammunition even when Bockarie was in Buedu. He said that Bockarie and Sesay referred to each other as “master”, and that he had seen them sharing a bench and eating from the same plate.

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