May 16, 2008
Today the Prosecution completed its direct examination of Charles Taylor’s former vice-president, Moses Blah. Chief Prosecutor Stephen Rapp used most of the morning to wrap up loose ends, and asked Blah to identify individuals in several photographs. In the course of his testimony, Blah stated that he and his family had faced threats in reaction to his cooperation with the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Upon completion of the direct examination, Lead Defense Counsel Courtenay Griffiths requested that the Court adjourn early so that he might have time to review an autopsy report for former Revolutionary United Front (RUF) leader Sam Bockarie. Although, according to the Prosecution, that report was disclosed to the Defense over a year ago, Griffiths said it had just come to his attention today.
Video and audio transmitted from the courtroom was repeatedly disrupted throughout the shortened court day, so this summary does not reflect all of the day’s proceedings. A Court official noted to charlestaylortrial.org that demands on the video bandwidth had increased during the testimony of Blah, and that this was likely responsible for the technical problems. A full official transcript of today’s proceedings is available [pdf] here.
In response to questions from Prosecutor Rapp, Blah clarified various loose ends, including the following:
- Blah was asked about his testimony regarding the arrival of an arms shipment from Libya that was seized by peacekeepers shortly after a week-long absence by Taylor in August 2003, just before Taylor left power. Blah said that Taylor arrived back in Liberia late at night and the arms shipment arrived early the following morning.
- Asked what military units were under former President Taylor’s control besides the Liberian Army, Blah listed the ATU and Marine Unit, but could not remember the names of others. Blah said that the various unit commanders could not give each other orders, and that orders always came from Taylor. However, shortly thereafter he added that Benjamin Yeaten was the overall commander of these units and moved among them, taking instructions and giving commands from Taylor.
- Blah underscored that Yeaten was more senior than himself and cabinet ministers, including Defense Minister Daniel Chea. Asked if Yeaten had been even more powerful than Taylor himself, however, Blah said no.
- Rapp recalled Blah’s evidence about Yeaten’s involvement in such atrocities as the mass killing of disabled fighters of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), and asked if Yeaten had ever faced discipline or investigation for such atrocities. Blah said no.
- Asked whom Taylor regularly consulted as president, Blah named various officials, including National Patriotic Party chairman Cyril Allen, Commissioner of Maritime Affairs Benoni Urey, and Speaker of the House of Representatives Nyundueh Monkomana.
Blah’s brief presidency
Rapp asked Blah a series of questions about his own presidency, which lasted 60 days from Charles Taylor’s resignation and departure into exile in Nigeria on August 11, 2003.
Blah said that he sought to establish peace in the region, and described traveling to meet the presidents of Sierra Leone, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria. Blah testified that he told Sierra Leonean President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah that he was “sorry because I saw what happened during Taylor’s presidency.” With the presidents of Guinea and Ivory Coast – sponsors of the anti-Taylor rebel groups Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and MODEL, respectively – Blah said he exchanged promises to end cross-border proxy warfare that took place during Taylor’s government.
Blah described the tense security situation that continued upon his return to Liberia. He said that his decision to unilaterally disarm eventually led LURD and MODEL to accept disarmament, and he described his dependence on security from ECOWAS and UN peacekeepers. Blah said that in response to disarmament, he faced threats from former government fighters.
Rapp asked about the country’s finances when he became president, and Blah said that the treasury was empty when he took power, with Taylor’s government having emptied what little remained. With continued fighting, companies closed, and Liberia was broke. He said that he never has been paid for his tenure as president. Blah described the international community as having been surprised when he stepped down from the presidency after 60 days, as agreed.
Blah’s relationship with the Special Court and security threats
Blah recounted his first contacts with investigators from the Special Court’s Office of the Prosecutor (OTP). He said that at first they were particularly interested in whether he knew about the killing of senior RUF commander Sam Bockarie. Blah said he asked investigators whether he was a target of the Court, and received assurances that he was not. Prosecutor Rapp showed the Court a copy of a letter sent to Blah by the Prosecution, assuring him that he would not be prosecuted.
In a series of questions arising during Defense cross-examination for many witnesses so far in the trial, Rapp asked Blah about payments he received from the Special Court. Payments from the Prosecution included reimbursements for travel, medical expenses, restitution for lost wages during his cooperation, provision of meals, and telephone cards so that Blah could maintain communication with Court officials in Freetown. In addition, the Witness and Victims Section in the court’s Registry covered costs including further medical expenses and security.
Blah testified that pamphlets had been left around his house, threatening him and his family with death if he testified. He said he did not want to accuse anyone because he had not seen who did it. However, Blah said that his assumption was that these threats came from former NPFL fighters.
At the end of the day, Blah explained that he had come to testify in the trial only in response to a subpoena, but that once he had received this, he saw it as necessary to cooperate with an international court.
Photographs, news items, and laws
Near the end of questioning by the Prosecution, Rapp showed seven different photographs to the witness. Blah identified many individuals in the photos, including Charles Taylor, himself, Benjamin Yeaten, Joseph Montgomery (one of Yeaten’s deputies) and Taylor’s aide-de-camp, Momoh Gibba.
Rapp also showed various news articles to Blah covering such incidents as the death of Sam Bockarie, the January 1999 invasion of Freetown, and massacres committed by Taylor’s NPFL. Blah testified that he recalled reading or hearing similar news reports at the time.
Finally, Blah confirmed that copies shown to him of the Constitution of the Republic of Liberia and a law establishing Yeaten’s Special Security Service had been in effect during Taylor’s presidency.
Delay in commencement of cross-examination
With Prosecutor Rapp’s examination in chief over, Lead Defense Counsel Courtenay Griffiths rose to request a delay in starting his cross-examination. He explained that a copy of Sam Bockarie’s 18-page autopsy report had just been called to his attention during the mid-morning break. Griffiths said that because Bockarie’s death was central to Blah’s testimony, he wanted time to read through the report carefully. Rapp noted that the document had been disclosed to the Defense in February 2007, but said he had no objection to the request for more time. Presiding Judge Teresa Doherty, noting that there was no prosecution objection and that Taylor’s defense team had changed since the document had been disclosed, granted the Defense request. Court adjourned 20 minutes early.
The proceedings will resume Monday morning at 9:30 a.m. with the Defense cross-examination of Moses Blah.