Prosecution Examination of Former AFRC Combat Commander Ends with Dramatic Testimony of Meeting with Taylor; Defense Cross-examination Begins amid Controversy over Witness Protection

The Hague

April 24, 2008

Prosecutor Shyamala Alagendra completed her direct examination of Alimamy Bobson Sesay today. The witness gave a dramatic direct account of a meeting with Charles Taylor, in which Taylor stated that he provided arms and ammunition for the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) and Revolutionary United Front (RUF), as well as armed reinforcements for the invasion of Freetown. Earlier in the day, Sesay recounted a series of attacks and atrocities by the West Side rebel group in western Sierra Leone, as well as their abduction of ECOMOG and United Nations officials. In the afternoon, Defense Counsel Morris Anyah began the cross-examination of Sesay. Anyah wasted no time in aggressively seeking to cast doubt on the witness’s credibility. His questions about the current locations of Sesay’s family members sparked a clash between the Defense and Pprosecution over witness protection issues. After some deliberation, two of the three judges decided to reject a Prosecution motion to redact the public record to remove information on the location of Sesay’s family members. The motion had not been opposed by the Defense.

Establishment of the West Side base

After clarifying several matters arising from his previous testimony, Alagendra began the day by asking Sesay about the establishment of the West Side base under the command of Ibrahim “Bazzy” Kamara. Sesay recounted numerous appointments made by Bazzy at the town of Magbeni. Among these, the witness said he was appointed as aide-de-camp to the second-in-command to Bazzy, Hassan Papa Bangura (“Bomb Blast”). Sesay said that in May or June of 1999, Bazzy sent one commander named Keforkeh and about 50 fighters across the river from Magbeni to Gberibana to kill all of the civilians there so that no one would know that Gberibana was their base. The entire force proceeded to establish the “West Side base” at Gberibana and the surrounding villages. Sesay said that there were around 500 fighters, including about ten Liberian members of the Special Task Force (STF), and a further ten Liberians who were former members of Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL).

In addition to the armed rebels, Sesay testified that around 400 civilians who had been abducted, including many from Freetown, were also based at West Side. There, they were forced to go on “food-finding missions” and to pound rice. Sesay testified that young girls and women were raped by the fighters. He said that Bazzy would select among the women and girls in camp to have sex with him. Sesay testified that his own cousin, a small 16 or 17-year-old girl, had been selected by Bazzy one day. When she refused to have sex with him, Bazzy ordered her beaten until she finally relented. Sesay said he heard her screams from the room where she went to join Bazzy, but said there was nothing he could do.

Sesay testified that among the combatants were about 200 child soldiers aged 8-12. He said there were both boys and girls, but mostly boys. The child soldiers had been captured in places that the rebels had taken, including Kono and Freetown. Sesay said the children went on operations with the other combatants and carried AK-47s.

Attacks from the West Side base in the western area of Sierra Leone

Following a delivery of ammunition that Sesay said had been arranged by RUF leader Sam Bockarie (“Mosquito”) following radio communication with Bazzy, Sesay testified that Bazzy began ordering various attacks in the area. According to Sesay, Bazzy said that civilians should be killed and houses burned down.

  • Port Loko Town: Sesay testified that in June 1999, Bazzy ordered an attack on Port Loko town because he’d heard that there were Guinean and Malian ECOMOG forces there. Sesay said he was part of the operation. The forces burned two villages on the way to Port Loko, and hacked a woman to death. In Port Loko, the troops attacked the Guineans and Malians, and captured two Malian commanders in the process. After burning the ECOMOG headquarters at a school, the force returned to West Side. The witness said he was present when Bazzy called Mosquito on the radio to tell him of the operation and the two Malian peacekeepers. Shortly afterward, they heard Mosquito on a BBC radio broadcast threatening to execute the two commanders unless Mali withdrew its forces from Sierra Leone. Shortly afterwards, Mali withdrew its contingent from the ECOMOG force.
  • Makolo: Sesay testified that soon after the Port Loko attack, Bazzy ordered an attack on the town of Makolo. Sesay said he was part of the operation. In a dawn attack, the rebel force captured and executed Nigerian ECOMOG soldiers, burned vehicles and houses and the few killed civilians they encountered. Sesay said a commander named “Captain Blood” executed about three captured civilian women with an axe to the head, “like when you split wood”. The force took ammunition from the ECOMOG base and withdrew. When they got back and reported to Bazzy about everything they’d done in Makolo, Bazzy responded, “wow, you’ve really done me proud”.
  • Gberi Junction: Still in June 1999, Bazzy sent a commander named Amara Kallay to lead an attack on Gberi Junction at which the witness was not present. He said that when Kallay’s force returned it had many looted items, but that his men told Bazzy, that all Kallay had ordered done was looting – he had not attacked Gberi Junction. Bazzy ordered Kallay beaten, and two days later a second operation was launched in Gberi Junction. Sesay said he went on this operation. He said they attacked ECOMOG forces there, burned houses, took ammunition and withdrew.
  • Magbuntoso (also called Mile 38): Sesay testified that two days after the second operation in Gberi Junction, Bazzy ordered an attack on Magbuntoso. The witness participated. He said they attacked ECOMOG, burned some of their tents, took ammunition and withdrew back to West Side.
  • Mansumana: Shorly before a cease-fire was declared, Bazzy ordered an attack on Mansumana in order to claim more territory. A commander called Keforkeh led a group there and created a checkpoint.

Taking ECOMOG and UN officials hostage

Sesay testified that following the July 1999 Lomé Peace Accord, Bazzy grew angry that the agreement made no mention of the AFRC or its leader, Johnny Paul Koroma. Sesay said that at this time, after the cease-fire for the peace talks took effect, there was direct communication between the opposing sides. He stated that Bazzy radioed the protocol officer of President Ahmad Tejan-Kabbah in Freetown to tell him that he wanted to hand over some child combatants to the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL).

According to Sesay, shortly after this discussion, a group of ECOMOG and UNAMSIL officials arrived in Magbeni together with a bishop and some others. Sesay testified that on Bazzy’s orders the West Side group feigned a handover of the child soldiers, then moved in to take the international officials hostage at gunpoint. A journalist with the group, Christo Johnson, spoke with Bazzy and said he could publicize the demands of the group at West Side. Johnson was released, and Sesay testified that later that day, they heard Johnson’s reports on BBC and Voice of America. According to Sesay, Johnson reported that the West Side group demanded their reinstatement in the Sierra Leone Army and a position in government for Johnny Paul Koroma in exchange for the release of the ECOMOG and UNAMSIL officials.

Sesay testified that on the day of the radio broadcasts, Sam Bockarie called Bazzy and told him to release the hostages. Bazzy told Mosquito that he needed to speak with Johnny Paul Koroma, whom he believed had been detained by the RUF in Kailahun, before releasing the officials. Shortly afterwards, Sesay said, Johnny Paul Koroma called Bazzy on the radio and told him to release the officials. Bazzy told him he needed to see him in person before doing so. Koroma called back later that day, telling Bazzy that Liberian President Charles Taylor was sending a helicopter to pick him up in Kailahun and take him to Liberia. Koroma told Bazzy to prepare a delegation to travel to Freetown, which should then fly to meet him in Liberia to discuss the problem.

Meeting with Taylor

Sesay testified that Bazzy selected an 11-man delegation, which Bazzy himself headed. The witness was one of the delegation members. They were escorted to Freetown by ECOMOG and UNAMSIL officials, then flown to Liberia together with President Kabbah’s protocol officer. The group was met at Roberts International Airfield outside of Monrovia by men who said they were Taylor’s bodyguards and driven to a hotel in the capital. There they were met by Momoh Gibba, who Sesay said introduced himself as Taylor’s aide-de-camp. Sesay testified that the next day, two cars came to take the West Side delegation to another hotel where Johnny Paul Koroma was staying. Koroma had heavy security, which he told the delegation had been provided by President Taylor. There were also some RUF guards nearby, whom Sesay said Koroma distrusted. At the meeting, Bazzy explained the reasons for the abduction, and Koroma agreed that he should be in the new broad-based government in Sierra Leone. According to Sesay, Koroma also said that Taylor was concerned because he was being pressured over the hostage situation and didn’t want to have a division between the AFRC and RUF. He told Bazzy to select some men from the delegation to meet with Taylor.

The witness was among the four men Bazzy chose later that day to accompany him to the meeting with Charles Taylor, along with Johnny Paul Koroma. They were taken to a conference room in the Executive Mansion and waited. Sesay said that Taylor entered with Momoh Gibba and Liberian Defense Minister Daniel Chea. Johnny Paul Koroma introduced the members of the West Side delegation. Then, Sesay said, Taylor welcomed them and said he was concerned. Taylor said that he had been giving assistance to the AFRC and RUF in the form of food, arms and ammunition, and had also mobilized some AFRC men who were in Liberia and had sent them to Mosquito for the advance to Freetown. Sesay testified that Taylor told them that they should not be fighting amongst themselves, but rather remain concentrated on overthrowing the Kabbah government and taking the Sierra Leonean presidency. Taylor warned that if they remained divided, politicians would use them and they would end up in jail. Taylor went on to say that RUF leader Foday Sankoh would be coming to Liberia from Togo, and they should wait for him in Monrovia, and then return to Sierra Leone together with him. In the course of the meeting, Taylor explained that he was feeling pressure from an invasion of insurgents from Guinea led by “Mosquito Spray”, and told the West Side delegation that he had ordered RUF commander Sam Bockarie to come to Voinjama to help repel the attack. Sesay said that Johnny Paul Koroma explained their concerns about being excluded from the Lomé Peace Agreement. Sesay testified that at the end of the meeting, Taylor pulled 15,000 US dollars from a bag and gave it to Koroma to distribute to the delegation, so that the West Side members could buy new clothing and other items while waiting in Monrovia for Sankoh.

Sesay testified that after the meeting, Bazzy distributed the money from Taylor, and the delegation waited for about a week in Monrovia. But while still waiting for Foday Sankoh, Johnny Paul Koroma informed them that there was infighting at the West Side base, and that commander “Tito” had been killed. Koroma told them to go solve the problem, and Sesay testified that the whole delegation except for one returned to Sierra Leone in August 1999.

Sesay explains his turn to religion

Prosecutor Alagendra concluded her questioning of Alimamy Bobson Sesay by asking why he had become an Evangelist. Sesay explained that he had read a passage from the Bible about the Apostle Paul. He said when he read that Paul had persecuted and even killed Christians, but had then been forgiven by Jesus Christ and told to proclaim the Gospel, Sesay thought, “If God did it for Paul, I believed that God can do it for me, too.” He said he wanted to be a living example in Freetown: people would see a known killer who has changed.

Cross-examination begins

Defense Counsel Morris Anyah picked up on this discussion of religion at the very outset of his cross-examination by asking Sesay a series of questions about the content of the Bible. Presiding Judge Doherty interrupted to say that she failed to see the relevance of the line of questioning. However, Judge Lussick said he thought that because the Prosecution had raised the issue of religion, it was fair to let Anyah continue. Judge Sebutinde agreed with Judge Lussick and Anyah continued to quiz Sesay on his knowledge of the Bible. Sesay answered a series of questions, but said he didn’t know everything, and was still studying the Bible. Anyah then asked Sesay why, if he was an Evangelist, he had not sworn on the Bible at the beginning of his testimony, but instead had chosen to make a “solemn declaration” to tell the truth. Sesay explained that his pastor had told him it was not right to swear on the Bible, and cited a verse in the Book of James to make his point.

A dispute over witness protection

From religion, Anyah turned to questioning Sesay’s credibility by hinting that he had come to The Netherlands to testify against Charles Taylor because he had plans to seek asylum in France, joining his sister there, after giving his evidence. Sesay denied having any such plan. In the course of this questioning, Anyah asked about the location not only of Sesay’s sister, but also his daughters, brother, and uncle. Prosecutor Shyamala Alagendra twice objected that this was irrelevant, but Judge Doherty allowed the first questions.

When Anyah later asked Sesay to confirm the street his brother lives on in Freetown, Alagendra again objected. Judge Sebutinde asked what the problem was, since the witness was testifying in open court. At this point Prosecutor Nick Koumjian explained that the Prosecution was trying to encourage all witnesses to testify publicly, but that the Prosecution was not telling witnesses that if they testify, the locations of their family members will be given in open court. He said doing so deters other witnesses from testifying in open session. Anyah responded that he had good reason for asking these questions, and the judges allowed the questioning to continue. Anyah went on to ask Sesay to confirm the specific part of Freetown where his uncle lives.

Soon after, Prosecutor Koumjian again rose to request that the public record be redacted to remove references to the locations of the witness’s family members. Koumjian told the Court that he wouldn’t want the locations of his family members discussed in open court, and he doubted that many in the room would wish that for their family members either. He said that the Court “should have the same respect for the brave witnesses who have come forward to testify in this case”. Anyah responded that if it was only the public record being redacted, then he had no objection to the prosecution motion. Judge Doherty asked the witness for his view. Sesay said that he had testified in the AFRC case at the Special Court (against Alex Tamba Brima – “Gullit”, Ibrahim “Bazzy” Kamara, and Santigie Borbor Kanu – “Five-Five”) and had faced intimidation. He said he was willing to testify openly and take the risks, but he did not want to risk his family’s security. After several minutes of deliberation, Presiding Judge Doherty announced that the bench was split. The majority view was that the Prosecution motion to redact the public record should be denied because no names or specific addresses had been given.

By the end of the Court day the purpose of the testimony about the streets on which Sesay’s brother and uncle live had not yet become apparent.

Other Defense attacks on Sesay’s credibility

Anyah asked about an issue first raised during the cross-examination of prosecution witness Isaac Mongor. Sesay confirmed that he was being housed in the same location as other prosecution witnesses, including one whom he recognized to be a former member of the RUF. Sesay said he had not discussed the trial or Charles Taylor with this person. He also explained that all over the residence there are notices stating that they are not to discuss their testimony. He also said that there are staff from the Special Court’s Witness and Victims Section (which is not part of the Office of the Prosecutor) present at meals. He said the residents only discussed such things as the news on CNN and football. When Anyah pressed him on whether he spoke to them about the Gospel because he was an Evangelist, Sesay said he didn’t. He said that he tried to proselytize the staff at the residence, and said that the other witnesses might hear him singing religious songs, but he avoided talking to them.

Anyah produced records from the Witness and Victims Section showing expenses relating to Sesay since March 2005 of over 31,000 US dollars. These included such items as his rent, utilities, medical bills, “miscellaneous”, transportation and childcare over the time in which Sesay was a witness in three trials: the AFRC, RUF, and Taylor trials. Sesay did not dispute the figures.

At 4.30 p.m. Court was adjourned; proceedings will continue tomorrow at 9:30 a.m.