May 14, 2008
In a highly anticipated development, Charles Taylor’s former vice-president, Moses Blah, took the witness stand today. Chief Prosecutor Stephen Rapp questioned him. Blah testified about the formation of Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), its training in Libya, and arming through Libya, Burkina Faso, and Ivory Coast. Blah fingered Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi and Burkinabe President Blaise Compaore as key supporters of Taylor’s 1989 rebel invasion of Liberia. In recounting the wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone, Blah frequently said that he did not know about key developments. However, among the information he provided that supported the Prosecution was a first-hand account of Taylor shrugging off reports of killings, rapes and looting directed at civilians by his forces in Sierra Leone. Blah also testified that eating human flesh was required before anyone could join Taylor’s Executive Mansion Guard unit.
Before Blah took the stand this morning, Defense Counsel Terry Munyard completed his cross-examination of former Revolutionary United Front (RUF) commander Karmoh Kanneh and Prosecutor Julia Baly conducted a brief re-examination of the witness.
Karmoh Kanneh completes his testimony
Defense Counsel Terry Munyard resumed his cross-examination of Karmoh Kanneh by continuing to point to inconsistencies between his testimony and his prior statements to the Prosecution. At the conclusion of the cross-examination Munyard asked the witness about payments from the OTP, as well as an accusation that he had brought marijuana with him from Freetown to The Netherlands.
Inconsistencies highlighted by Munyard included the following:
- Munyard read from notes of a prior statement in which the witness was reported to have said that he thought an RUF member named BS Massaquoi had been ordered killed by senior RUF commander Sam Bockarie because he had helped two people escape from prison. Kanneh denied having said this to the Prosecution, and answered yes when Munyard asked if this had been an invention of the Prosecution.
- Munyard recalled Kanneh’s testimony that Sam Bockarie told a meeting of RUF commanders in December 1998 that he had planned the invasion of Freetown together with Charles Taylor in Monrovia. Asked whether he told this to prosecutors in November 2007, Kanneh said yes. Munyard reviewed passages from prosecution notes of that interview and asked why Kanneh had not included this key detail. Kanneh pointed to part of the notes about commander “Jungle” telling the meeting that Taylor ordered the diamond mining areas to be taken first as proof that he had indeed told prosecutors about Taylor’s involvement in making the plan.
- Kanneh testified that Bockarie told him in 2000 that Taylor was worried about being handed over to the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Munyard said that in all of his previous statements to the Prosecution, Kanneh had mentioned the Sierra Leone government but not the Special Court. Kanneh disagreed, but the Prosecution did not object to Munyard’s contention.
Munyard briefly reviewed payments made to the witness by the Prosecution and the Court’s Witness and Victims Section (WVS). These included travel reimbursements, food when he came to the Court, and a witness attendance allowance, which Kanneh said had come from WVS and amounted to 16,000 Leones (just over 5 US dollars) per day.
The cross-examination ended with Munyard raising a report from a WVS official, in which an accusation had been leveled against Kanneh for allegedly bringing marijuana with him to The Netherlands. Kanneh said that WVS officials had confronted him, and he asked them to search his room in The Hague. He denied bringing marijuana from Sierra Leone and said he didn’t even smoke. Munyard had no further questions for Kanneh.
Prosecutor Julia BaLy conducted a brief re-examination of Kanneh:
- Returning to the question of the killing of BS Massaquoi and the reference in Kanneh’s prior statement to two people escaping from Sam Bockarie’s custody in Kenema, Kanneh explained that he had been the main person to help them escape. He said they would have been executed and one was a small boy combatant. He said others also helped to arrange the escape.
- BaLy asked about one of the participants Kanneh listed as attending a December 1998 meeting of RUF commanders at Sam Bockarie’s house. Kanneh said that “Martin” had been an operator for Bockarie, in charge of his satellite phone and computer.
- In reference to Munyard’s review yesterday of a prior statement of Kanneh’s relating to Armed Forces Revolutionary Council commander Saj Musa, Baly reviewed notes from a different interview with Kanneh. Kanneh confirmed that he told prosecutors in March 2008 that Sam Bockarie had ordered the death of Musa, and that commander “Gullit” (Alex Tamba Brima) was to carry it out.
Baly had no further questions for Kanneh on re-examination. When the Prosecution sought to admit into evidence a resolution of the United Nations Security Council, the Defense objected. The resolution was from 2000, and the Prosecution sought to use it to show that the Special Court had been contemplated at the time, and so it was not impossible for Taylor to have been worried about it at that time, as Munyard had implied in his cross-examination of Kanneh. Munyard argued that Baly had not introduced the document through the witness. Baly responded that the witness had already testified that he was not familiar with UN documents, so there would have been no purpose in trying to introduce the document through the witness. After several minutes of deliberation, the judges ruled in favor of the Defense and refused to admit the document into evidence.
Former Liberian President Moses Blah begins his testimony
Chief Prosecutor Stephen Rapp called Moses Blah to the stand. Blah, dressed in a dark suit, began by answering questions about his background. He said he was a retired president of Liberia. A member of the Gio tribe, Blah said he was born in Liberia’s Nimba County and attended school there before training as a mechanic. During the regime of Samuel Doe, Blah’s cousin, Thomas Quiwonkpa, was the commanding army general and Blah took a job in the government.
In 1985, Doe turned on Quiwonkpa, ordering his death, and began targeting all Gios and Manos in Liberia. Blah fled with many others to Ivory Coast, where they plotted their return to Liberia. There he learned of Charles Taylor, who at the time was in jail in Ghana for attempting to invade Liberia from that country. However, Blah said that he and other Doe opponents were advised to fly to Burkina Faso to meet with one of Taylor’s wives, Agnes. Blah said she provided transport and food for a group of 22 Liberians, including Blah, to travel from Abidjan, Ivory Coast to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. For six months, the group undertook physical training in a military camp in the Burkinabe capital.
Libyan training camp
Blah testified that from Ouagadougou, the group was flown to Tripoli, Libya, where they were taken to a military camp. Libyan trainers began instructing them, including in how to use a variety of weapons. Over the next two-three months, the group of 22 was joined by other fighters, eventually swelling to 180. Blah said that before the group reached that size, Charles Taylor came to the camp, and that this was the first time he ever saw Taylor. Blah testified that Taylor called a formation, introduced himself, and said that the group’s name was the National Patriotic Front of Liberia.
Blah said that Taylor was based in Burkina Faso and came and went, leaving two others in charge of the camp in his absence. However when these two attempted to take control from Taylor while he was away, Taylor ordered their arrest. At this point, Taylor appointed Blah as Adjutant General and placed him in charge of the training under the commander Isaac Musa.
Blah testified that the group spent about a year and a half at the camp in Libya. He said that there was a group of Gambians who had trained there, launched an unsuccessful coup attempt in The Gambia, and then returned. Additionally, there was a group of 10-15 Sierra Leoneans led by Foday Sankoh. Blah said Sankoh told him he was planning to overthrow Sierra Leone’s government, and added that Sankoh called Taylor “chief”. Beyond physical and weapons training, Blah said that those in the camp received ideological training at Mataba, a nearby school that taught revolutionary theory as espoused by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Blah said that from Libya, the troops returned to Ouagadougou. They did not take weapons or ammunition with them, but were told that Libya would provide these. The NPFL fighters stayed in Burkina Faso for another year, but were getting restless and had to be relocated to Ivory Coast. There, they stayed in ethnic Gio and Mano areas close to the Liberian border. Blah said that Taylor sent him back to Libya to wait for weapons to transport to the NPFL. Blah was in Libya when he heard from the Libyans that Taylor had not waited for the weapons shipment, but had invaded Liberia with shotguns and machetes on December 24, 1989. The Libyans were unhappy about it, Blah said, because they were under pressure from American sanctions and had wanted to launch the invasion tactically.
Blah returned to Burkina Faso, and Taylor sent him to Abidjan, Ivory Coast. There, Blah said that he met with the country’s defense minister, who had a consignment of arms and ammunition for the NPFL. However, the defense minister said that he didn’t want to use army trucks for their transport. While waiting for civilian trucks to be arranged, Blah came to the NPFL’s first camp in Liberia, Gborplay, and was promptly arrested by Small Boy Units. They accused him of sending weapons to Prince Johnson, an NPFL member who had split away and formed the Independent NPFL.
Blah testified that the small boys with the NPFL were 13-15 years old or younger, and said that they were unreasonable and aggressive. He said some had volunteered, while others had been captured by the NPFL. Blah said that Benjamin Yeaten had actually conducted the arrest. Yeaten had been a 14 or 15-year old in the Libyan camp and had impressed Taylor with his physical fitness, hard work, and aggressiveness. Blah remained in detention for about a week. Taylor returned from Abidjan, where the Ivorian defense minister told him how loyal Blah had been, and released Blah from custody. Taylor ordered Blah back to Abidjan to bring the trucks filled with arms and ammunition.
Blah describes brutality, cannibalism among Taylor’s forces
During 1990, Blah said that the NPFL took about 90% of Liberia, and continued to fight Prince Johnson’s NPFL. In that year, he said, Taylor appointed him as Inspector General of the NPFL. Blah was responsible for the investigation of illegal acts carried out by NPFL fighters against civilians, including killings, rapes, and looting. Blah recounted a few occasions when punishments had been carried out against soldiers and said he had been present for one execution, but said that only Taylor had the authority to order punishments.
Blah said that there were NPFL people whom he was not allowed to investigate. These included Taylor’s Executive Mansion Guard unit. Blah said that he received many reports of the commander of that unit, Cassius Jacob, executing and abusing civilians at checkpoints. Further, Blah testified that he had seen a man named Nelson Gaye who was attached to the unit as head of the Marine Unit eating roasted human hands. In addition to this incident, Blah said he heard of another incident involving Gaye where he had eaten the intestines of a farmer, cooked together with the man’s own cassava harvest. Blah said that Gaye had not been a member of the guard unit at the time, but “at that time you wouldn’t join that unit if you do not eat human beings.” Blah said he was reluctant to complain to Taylor about these reports. When Rapp asked why he was reluctant, Blah responded that it would have been seen as an attack on the Executive Mansion Guard unit.
Asked to describe Taylor’s relationship with Benjamin Yeaten, Blah said that Taylor had made him his bodyguard. Blah said that he himself had been friendly with Yeaten, but that later when Yeaten became more powerful, he no longer respected Blah, and Blah kept his distance.
NPFL atrocities in Sierra Leone and Taylor’s indifference
Blah testified that in 1991, he learned that the NPFL had fighters in Sierra Leone, where they initially outnumbered members of Foday Sankoh’s RUF. Blah recalled speaking with Sankoh in Gbarnga after the fighting in Sierra Leone began. He said Sankoh complained that the NPFL soldiers were committing a lot of atrocities in Sierra Leone: raping women, killing people and looting, and that this was leading to a loss of respect for him among his people. Sankoh had come to discuss this problem with Taylor. Blah said he spoke with Sankoh again after he had met with Taylor, and that Sankoh had not been satisfied with the meeting.
Prosecutor Rapp asked Blah whether he discussed Sankoh’s complaint with Taylor. Blah said that it wasn’t much of a conversation, but that in Gbarnga, Taylor complained to him about Sankoh, saying, “This type of thing happens in war. You are not eating bread and butter. You are fighting.” This direct evidence of Taylor’s knowledge of atrocities committed by his forces and refusal to do anything about it falls outside the timeframe of the 1996-2002 temporal jurisdiction of the Special Court and his indictment. However, it may serve to support the credibility of similar allegations against him that do fall within the scope of the indictment.
Blah testified that throughout the conflict, from the early days when he was headquartered in Gbarnga through his presidency in Monrovia, Taylor constantly listened to BBC news on the radio and watched CNN News on the satellite television. This is important to the Prosecution effort to prove that Taylor was aware of reports of atrocities being committed by rebel forces in Sierra Leone, whom the Prosecution alleges were under Taylor’s command.
Blah becomes ambassador, then vice-president
Blah said that Taylor appointed him to serve as a liaison between the NPFL and ECOMOG, but that this had lasted for less than a month. In 1997, Blah said he played a role in Taylor’s presidential election campaign. He said their main slogan for the campaign had been “You killed my mother, you killed my father. I’ll still vote for you.”
After Taylor’s victory, he appointed Blah as ambassador to Libya and Tunisia. Blah said that he had met with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi on several occasions. Gaddafi gave Taylor a bulletproof Mercedes jeep, crude oil to provide money for military hardware and uniforms, and on one occasion, half a million dollars. However, Blah said that Taylor grew impatient with Gaddafi’s many promises and frequent failures to deliver. Blah said that in turn, Gaddafi was not happy with Taylor because he was not implementing the revolution but just looting the state. Blah remained ambassador to Libya and Tunisia for three years, until 2000, but remained in Liberia for most of his posting.
Taylor appointed Blah as vice-president in 2000, following the death of the incumbent. Asked whether Benjamin Yeaten had a position in Taylor’s government, Blah said Taylor appointed Yeaten as the director of the Special Security Service (SSS) and a battalion commander of the “Jungle Fire Unit”. He said that Yeaten was immensely powerful in Liberia, more powerful than cabinet ministers or even himself when he was vice-president. Only Taylor was more powerful, Blah said. The only other member of the Jungle Fire unit that Blah could name was “Zigzag” Marzah. He said that Yeaten’s deputies in the SSS had been Joseph Montgomery and Joe Tuah.
Blah said that he had gone with Tuah to visit Burkinabe president Blaise Compaore at one point in order to rekindle a strained relationship between Taylor and Compaore. While there, they saw Taylor associates Musa Cisse and Grace Minor in the hotel, and they said they were also there to see Compaore. Blah said he returned to Monrovia on an airplane full of arms and ammunition that had Russian writing on the boxes.
Moses Blah’s testimony will continue tomorrow at 9:30 a.m.