Prosecution and Defense Offer Divergent Views of Rebel Structures as AB Sesay Concludes his Testimony

The Hague

April 29, 2008

Prosecution witness Alimamy Bobson Sesay completed his testimony today, with Defense Counsel Morris Anyah completing his cross-examination, and Prosecutor Shyamala Alagendra conducting a brief re-examination. The Court sat half an hour beyond its normal time of adjournment in order to finish hearing Sesay’s evidence before adjourning for Dutch holidays observed for the remainder of this week.

In the remainder of the cross-examination, the Defense sought to establish that Liberians fighting in Sierra Leone had not been under the control of Charles Taylor and that the January 6, 1999 invasion of Freetown was carried out by the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), with no senior participation by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). In seeking to diminish Sesay’s credibility, Defense Counsel Anyah highlighted the witness’s participation in atrocities. Through a review of payments made by the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) to the witness, Anyah also implied that Sesay had a financial motive to testify against Taylor. During re-examination of Sesay, Prosecutor Alagendra focused on links between Taylor and the RUF, and the involvement of senior RUF leadership in the Freetown invasion.

Defense denies Taylor’s role in supporting AFRC/RUF

Anyah began the day by asking Sesay about Liberians fighting in Sierra Leone. He showed the witness prosecution notes from a previous statement in which Sesay had told prosecutors that of the Liberians sent to reinforce AFRC/RUF forces in 1998 and 1999, he only knew of Special Task Force (STF) members. (According to previous testimony, STF members had part of their roots in the army of former Liberian President Samuel Doe and the anti-Taylor rebel movement ULIMO.) Sesay explained that when they first came, he and others had assumed they were all STF, until the commander who brought them, “05”, introduced a number of them as being former fighters of Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). Anyah pointed to evidence from a previous witness, Perry Kamara, that the Liberians in the Red Lion Battalion were former bodyguards of Liberian RUF commander Dennis Mingo (“Superman”). Sesay said he didn’t know about that and didn’t dispute it, but stood by his contention that commander 05 introduced some of the Liberians as being former NPFL fighters.

Sesay repeated his testimony that a commander named “KBC”, a member of the Sierra Leone Army (SLA – a term often used interchangeably with AFRC after May 1997) who had fled to Guinea with a group of SLA members in 1998, had collectively sought refuge in Liberia from the hostile Guinean government. According to Sesay, KBC said that Charles Taylor reorganized these forces, armed them, and sent them to senior RUF commander Sam Bockarie (“Mosquito”) for use in the January 6, 1999 invasion of Freetown. When KBC arrived he was with only three other Liberian fighters. Anyah pointed to this, and Sesay’s testimony that there were about 20 former NPFL fighters in the Red Lion Battalion in seeking to diminish the prosecution contention that Taylor played a significant role in the Freetown invasion. Sesay responded by saying that KBC told him his group had been much larger, but that they had fought in places including Kono, Magburaka and Makeni, where attacks on ECOMOG forces had been an integral part of the larger invasion plan. Sesay said that without the rebel attacks in these places, ECOMOG would have been able to reinforce its troops in Freetown to repel the invasion force. Sesay testified that a further 50 reinforcements, some of them STF Liberians, came to reinforce the AFRC/RUF forces retreating from Freetown in the third week of January 1999. Anyah asked why Sesay had previously only spoken of SLA/RUF fighters with this group of reinforcements, and Sesay explained that apart from the SLA, all other fighters referred to themselves as RUF once they were fighting together.

Anyah read comments from Charles Taylor at a press conference during the war, in which Taylor said that Liberians fighting in Sierra Leone were mercenaries fighting on their own. Sesay agreed that some were in the STF, which was still officially a part of the Sierra Leone Army, but said that Liberian RUF fighters named by Anyah were not part of the SLA or STF. He asked to add a comment about the Taylor press conference, but Presiding Judge Teresa Doherty cut him off and told him that the Prosecution would have an opportunity to raise the issue on re-examination.

Anyah easily established that Sesay had no first-hand knowledge of diamond transactions between the RUF and Liberia, and had only been told about them by Dennis Mingo (“Superman”). Sesay agreed with Anyah that this was the case, and also said he had no knowledge of diamond transactions between AFRC leader Johnny Paul Koroma and Charles Taylor.

Argument that the AFRC acted without senior RUF involvement in Freetown

Anyah tried to establish that the AFRC had its own reasons for invading Freetown. In answer to his questions, Sesay confirmed that there was discontent in the military under the new president of Sierra Leone, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, following his 1996 election. He also agreed that talk of a coup had circulated before the army toppled Kabbah in May 1997, but that prior to this, there had been no cooperation between the SLA and the RUF. Sesay confirmed that when the junta period ended in February 1998, there were still separate AFRC and RUF commanders.

Anyah pointed to the Kabbah government’s execution of 24 AFRC (and no RUF) members in October 1998 as a main motivation for the January 6, 1999 Freetown invasion, and cited Sesay’s testimony of AFRC leader SAJ Musa referencing the executions as a reason for the invasion. Sesay agreed, but said that on the day of the executions, RUF leader Sam Bockarie had given a radio interview also citing the executions as a reason for the AFRC/RUF to invade Freetown. Although no RUF members were among those executed, Sesay said that the Kabbah government had imprisoned RUF members, including the group’s leader, Foday Sankoh. Anyah cited Sesay’s testimony of SAJ Musa’s exhortation to his fighters that they should invade Freetown “to reinstate the army” as a further rationale for the invasion held by the AFRC but not the RUF. Sesay rejected Anyah’s main contention that the AFRC acted alone, again stating that the invasion of Freetown was part of a larger, coordinated plan that included attacks on ECOMOG in other parts of Sierra Leone that had been led by the RUF.

In reviewing the movements of the rebel group that Sesay was part of, the witness confirmed that in the lead up to the Freetown invasion, and during the early part of the invasion itself, the most senior RUF fighter present had been a captain. However, Sesay said that once the rebels opened up the central Pademba Road Prison, RUF commander Gibril Massaquoi – a major – had become active in the invasion force. Anyah underscored that it was AFRC commander Alex Tamba Brima (“Gullit”) who had led the invasion force, and Gullit’s requests to the RUF for reinforcement did not arrive or only arrived late. Sesay testified again that the reinforcements faced delay by fighting in other parts of the country. He did not dispute that SAJ Musa and Sam Bockarie had argued over the radio, and that Bockarie had told Musa he would not send reinforcements. However, he said that following the death of SAJ Musa on the eve of the invasion, relations improved between the RUF and AFRC. Sesay testified that when RUF commander Issa Sesay arrived with reinforcements after the invasion, Gullit took orders from him for a second attempt at taking the capital.

Witness participation in atrocities

Anyah asked the witness a series of questions about atrocities that he personally had committed. Sesay admitted to killing more than 60 civilians from 1998 onwards. On further questioning, he also admitted that he had been part of an AFRC force that opened fire on protesting students in 1997, and that his group had killed two students. Asked whether he had participated in notorious rapes on the day of the shooting, Sesay responded, “I did not rape on that particular day.” Anyah asked when he did rape. He testified that in Kono he captured a young girl of about 16, kept her as his “bush wife”, and raped her. Then in Freetown, he said, he also captured a girl of around 15-16, kept her as a bush wife, and raped her.

Sesay further admitted to ordering 10 year-old soldiers to amputate the arms of civilians, shooting civilians in mosques, participating in the burning-to-death of eight civilians in a house in the village of Karina, the abduction of 30 women there, the killing of one of their babies, killings of civilians in Kukuna, and looting from civilians. He testified that he participated in “Operation Pay Yourself”, and “Operation Spare No Soul”. Asked how he felt at the time, Sesay said he did not feel good about it. He said these were orders, and that if they were refused, there would be consequences from the commander.

Sesay angrily denied a suggestion from Anyah that he had killed one of his “bush wives” by firing an AK-47 into her vagina after suspecting her of having sex with a junior RUF member, and that SAJ Musa had ordered Sesay’s execution following the incident. The witness said that if he had done such a thing, he would have told the Court, just as he’d admitted the other crimes. He said that the “bush wife” he abducted in Freetown had admitted to witchcraft during the retreat from Freetown and had named several other women. According to Sesay, Gullit then ordered all of these women killed, an order carried out by a commander named Keforkeh. He said that the incident happened after SAJ Musa’s death. Anyah suggested that a former prisoner at Pademba Road Prison, known to Sesay through shared time there, could be called to testify that there was a time when SAJ Musa ordered Sesay’s execution for killing his “bush wife”. Sesay said any such accusation would be a “big lie”.

Review of payments to the witness

Anyah concluded his cross-examination of AB Sesay with a review of documents detailing prosecution payments to the witness. He suggested that Sesay was being paid by the prosecution for meals on days during the period that the court’s impartial Witness and Victims Section provided him with a weekly food allowance. Sesay said that when he was brought to Court, he was not given money for food, but was provided with meals paid for by the Prosecution. Anyah paid particular attention to prosecution payments during 2006, a year for which he said there were no prosecution records of interviews with the witness. Prosecutor Shyamala Alagendra noted that Sesay testified in the RUF trial in July 2006, and that many previous meetings were witness preparation sessions. Sesay said that sometimes he was called to take prosecutors to a certain location, or to find someone for them. In these cases, he said, the Prosecution paid for his transportation. Anyah noted that at one point the Prosecution also bought him a new mobile telephone.

Asked about his income in 2006, Sesay said that he was paid a salary by his church, had savings in the bank from his army severance that he had invested, and had business income together with family members. Anyah noted that the sum of all prosecution payments on behalf of Sesay from 2003 came to just over 1 million Leones, or about 345 U.S. dollars, and that during much of this time, the witness had his rent and many other expenses paid by the Court’s Witness and Victims Section.

Anyah made a request to the Prosecution to check that all interview records for the witness had been handed over, and Prosecutor Nick Koumjian ensured that this would be done. After consulting privately with Charles Taylor for about two minutes, Anyah said he had no further questions for AB Sesay.

Prosecution re-examination of Alimamy Bobson Sesay

Late in the day, Prosecutor Shyamala Alagendra conducted the re-examination of Sesay. Alagendra went back through questions arising in cross-examination, and Sesay clarified parts of his testimony that were vague. He explained that by saying Taylor “had direct hands in the AFRC/RUF”, he meant that Taylor had threatened Sierra Leone just before the war started, that Mosquito confirmed support from Taylor, and that he had been present himself in a meeting with Taylor when he confirmed his support for the AFRC/RUF. He said this was why, when he and others from the West Side had been summoned to Liberia, they believed that Taylor would be able to mediate between the RUF and AFRC.

When read back the quote from Charles Taylor raised by the Defense, to the effect that Liberians fighting in Sierra Leone were acting on their own, Sesay disagreed. He said that while some Liberians in the STF had been under the control of the Sierra Leonean government, such people as Isaac Mongor, RUF Rambo, and Superman had been sent by Charles Taylor.

Alagendra also sought to counter the Defense argument that the AFRC and RUF were separate organizations, with the former being almost solely responsible for the January 1999 invasion of Freetown. Reading a BBC report in which Sam Bockarie said that he had around 5,000 troops, Alagendra asked which troops Bockarie included to get that number. Sesay said it was the AFRC and the RUF. In response to additional questions about ammunition deliveries he saw, Sesay recounted hearing talk within the RUF and AFRC ranks that these had come from Liberia, and had been ordered by Charles Taylor.

At the end of the day, Alagendra reviewed a list of RUF commanders that Anyah had cited to show that none of the senior members had been part of the invasion force that took Freetown on January 6, 1999. Sesay described roles of various commanders in the Freetown invasion, despite their absence. He said that Sam Bockarie gave Gullit the order to burn Freetown, that there had been constant communication with Issa Sesay, who eventually arrived with reinforcements, and that Superman had also been in frequent communication with the invasion force. He did not know of any role played by Morris Kallon.

Alagendra had no further questions, and the judges had no questions for the witness. Presiding Judge Doherty thanked AB Sesay for his testimony and excused him.

The trial chamber will observe Dutch holidays for the remainder of the week and remain adjourned until 9:30 a.m., Monday, May 5, 2008.