RUF Radio Operator Tells of Diamond Deliveries to Taylor; Defense Begins Cross-examination

The Hague

April 10, 2008

The Prosecution finished its direct examination of protected witness TF1-516 today, and the Defense began its cross-examination. Prosecutor Mohamed Bangura spent most of the remaining direct examination asking about the diamond trade. The witness testified that RUF commanders delivered diamonds that had been mined in Sierra Leone using forced labor to Charles Taylor in Monrovia. He said he had been involved in making arrangements for such trips by radio communication, and additionally had heard senior commanders say that they took diamonds to Taylor.

Defense Counsel Morris Anyah then began the cross-examination of witness TF1-516. For the second witness in a row, it quickly became clear that questionable procedures by the Prosecution in the investigations stage may end up damaging the credibility of their own witness in the courtroom. As with Isaac Mongor, this witness confirmed that prosecution investigators reviewed the charges in Taylor’s indictment before asking him questions. Anyah then focused on the witness’s operational notebook and movements between Sierra Leone and Liberia.

The Court twice went into brief private session to hear arguments on a Prosecution application to redact portions of the morning transcript in order to protect the witness’s identity from public disclosure. The Court ended the day in private session.

Diamonds from forced labor in Sierra Leone delivered to Charles Taylor in Liberia

Prosecutor Bangura asked how the witness knew of various aspects of his testimony about diamond mining yesterday, such as how mining by the RUF and Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) was organized. The Prosecution placed particular emphasis on how the witness knew that civilians were forced to mine at gunpoint and beaten if they refused. The witness said he knew about diamond mining in Weima, Tongo district in 1995-1996 because Sam Bockarie (“Mosquito”), who was in charge of the mining, reported to RUF leader Foday Sankoh in Zogoda, where the witness worked in the radio station and monitored the reports. He said he knew details about mining in Kono district during the period of the AFRC/RUF junta, May 1997 – February 1998, because he had been stationed there and had seen details himself, and because he personally had transmitted messages from the RUF mining commander, Captain Moriba, to RUF leader Sam Bockarie, who was in Kenema. After being sent by Issa Sesay to Liberia in June-July 1999, the witness said that he remained informed about diamond mining in Kono through frequent contact with Sesay’s radio operator, “Elevation”. The witness said that mining expanded and intensified in this period and that there were more frequent reports of large diamonds being found.

Bangura then focused on what the witness knew about what next happened to the diamonds that were mined. The witness said that during the time of the junta, Captain Moriba brought the diamonds to Bockarie in Kenema, and communicated about this through the radio operated by the witness. Later in Kono district, from late 1998, the witness said that Captain Kennedy was then the mining commander, and that his radio operator had been in frequent contact with the witness, who said he was now stationed with Bockarie in Buedu. The witness said that when Kennedy reported having diamonds, about every two weeks or every month, Bockarie would order him to bring the diamonds to Buedu, and Kennedy sent a message that he was coming with “parcels”, meaning diamonds. The witness then saw him in Buedu. He testified that Kennedy had this position until sometime in 1999 when intelligence officers accused him of stealing diamonds; he was “mercilessly beaten” and removed from his position.

Bangura asked what happened to the diamonds then. The witness testified that most often, Bockarie would then send a radio message to the radio stations of Benjamin Yeaten or Charles Taylor, or speak with Yeaten, to let them know that a commander named Eddie Kanneh was coming to Monrovia with diamonds to meet the “chief”, Charles Taylor. The witness said he sent some of these messages himself. Additionally, he said that in this period, 1999, Bockarie would tell him and the other radio operators that Kanneh was taking the diamonds to Taylor. In addition to the frequent trips of Kanneh, the witness said that sometimes Bockarie and Kennedy traveled together to Monrovia, then called back to Buedu from Taylor’s 020 radio station in the Executive Mansion to confirm their arrival. Before leaving, Bockarie said openly that they were taking the diamonds to Taylor. When the witness was in Liberia and Issa Sesay had taken command of the RUF from Bockarie, the witness said that Kanneh still brought diamonds to Charles Taylor. The witness said that he received communications from Kanneh’s radio station, saying that he was coming to bring “parcels” to the “chief”. The witness also described seeing Kanneh in Foya, underway on one such trip, and said that Kanneh was with two white men who were diamond traders on their way to see Issa Sesay. The witness said that radio communications about RUF diamond deliveries to Taylor continued until his last day in Vahun, Liberia, in late 2001.

Loose ends

In the course of the morning, Prosecutor Bangura asked the witness to clarify some of his earlier testimony. This included an explanation from the witness of why the radio code chart about which he had testified had to be from the time that General Issa Sesay was in command. He said it was because various codes were changed and others added since the time that Sam Bockarie had been the RUF leader.

At the end of the direct examination, the witness told the judges that he wished to clarify something he had said yesterday. He stated that on further reflection, he recalled visiting the Executive Mansion in Monrovia twice, not just once.

Defense cross-examination begins

Defense Counsel Morris Anyah began the cross-examination of TF1-516. He began by asking whether the witness had heard in March 2006 that Charles Taylor had been taken into the custody of the Special Court for Sierra Leone. The witness said he hadn’t been aware of this because he was too busy studying and didn’t have time to read newspapers or listen to the radio. He said the first time he learned that Taylor was in the custody of the Court was at his first meeting with a prosecution investigator who had come to Kailahun to find him. A chart produced by the Defense showing prosecution interview dates with the witness, based on disclosures from the Prosecution, indicated that this was in July 2006. The witness said he had met with the prosecution investigators in Kailahun, Freetown and in Bo. The chart showed that he spent a week in Freetown being interviewed by investigators later in July 2006.

Prosecution investigators explained the charges, then asked questions

Defense Counsel Anyah read from investigators’ notes of an interview with the witness in Freetown: “Went through the Charles Taylor indictment with the witness to explain the various counts and give witness an idea of the scope of the prosecution, and explain the concept of (those most responsible), etc.” The witness said he recalled going over the indictment and that investigators had told him that the most responsible were already indicted. Besides Taylor, he recalled them mentioning others as being most responsible, including Issa Sesay and Sam Bockarie. The witness said he hadn’t understood the legal terms in the indictment, but confirmed that specific charges had been discussed, for example, atrocities committed during the Freetown invasion.

The previous prosecution witness, Isaac Mongor, also said that prosecution investigators first reviewed Taylor’s indictment with him and then asked questions. As in Mongor’s case, the defense will clearly use this to argue that the Prosecution has told the witness in advance what it wants to hear. Joined to an argument that the witness had ulterior motives for cooperating with the prosecution, the witness’s credibility with the judges may suffer.

Indeed, Anyah’s very next questions hinted that the Defense is laying a foundation to argue that the witness had a financial incentive to cooperate. The witness confirmed to Anyah that in July 2006, he was 32 years old, had just completed secondary school, and was unemployed.

Prior witness introduced witness TF1-516 to investigators

The witness confirmed that he knew Sahr James (“Zedman”), who had been his superior officer in the signals unit of the RUF. He then confirmed that before he met with investigators the first time, Zedman had come to see him and had requested from him his operational notebook, personal books, and a scrapped radio kept from the war period. The witness said that although these materials were important to him, he gave them to Zedman without asking why he wanted them.

The witness said that over a month later, he first met three investigators through Zedman, who was present for their first discussion. The investigators provided transportation money for him to come from Kailahun to Freetown to be interviewed ten days later.

Operational notebook and its missing pages

The Defense noted that the operational notebook, containing what the witness had testified were two messages from Benjamin Yeaten, originally had contained 96 pages, but that only 44 remained. Anyah asked what had happened to the missing pages. The witness said that some pages had been torn out to be used for plain paper or personal messages and that messages in code had been discarded after they had been transcribed. He also said that the book now had fewer pages than it did when he had given it to Zedman. Anyah asked if there had been other transcribed messages in the book that were now missing, and was particularly interested in knowing whether other messages from Yeaten were missing. The witness said he could see that at least one transcribed message from an RUF commander that he recalled was now missing, but said he could not remember if there had been additional messages from Yeaten in the book at the time he had given it to Zedman.

Anyah asked why there was different handwriting in the book if the whole thing was a replica of an earlier book that had become too worn, then transcribed by a girl named Rebecca, as the witness had testified. The witness clarified that she had only transcribed his signals training notes from the old book. The Defense observed that she also had written Biblical passages on some pages. The witness said that the transcribed messages from Yeaten were original to this book, and confirmed that they were in his handwriting.

Anyah asked about the dates of the messages from Yeaten in comparison with the witness’s statements and testimony about his location at those times. The witness could not say precisely when he had disarmed to the UN Mission in Sierra Leone, only that it was in late 2001. The messages in the book from Benjamin Yeaten to Issa Sesay were dated September 30, 2001 and October 22, 2001, and the witness confirmed having received both while in Buedu. Asked why he had received the messages there if they had been intended for Issa Sesay in Kono, the witness explained that he had relayed the message. He was eager to go into details of why and how this was done, and in his evident excitement to be talking about radio procedures, had to be reminded by the Defense and the Presiding Judge to just answer the questions put to him. Returning to the dates, Anyah asked whether the witness had ever told investigators that he had left Liberia in November 2001, and how that could be reconciled with him having received these messages in Buedu before that time. The witness confirmed telling investigators this, but noted that in his testimony he had already described many trips from Liberia back into Sierra Leone during his posting there. He pointed in particular to the retreat of RUF and Liberian forces from Foya to Buedu in 2001. Asked how many times the witness had returned from Liberia to Sierra Leone between his posting to Liberia in mid-1999 and the end of 2001, the witness said he could not give a number, but rattled off accounts of numerous border crossings.

Prosecution application for redaction of the transcript

Following the lunch break, Prosecutor Mohamed Bangura told the judges that he wished to make an application to have the morning’s transcript redacted to hide from public view certain passages that the Prosecution felt might identify the witness. The Court went into a brief private session to hear arguments on the matter. Fifteen minutes before the day’s end, the court went into private session again to hear further arguments. The outcome is not yet public.

The proceedings will resume tomorrow at 9:30 a.m.