Morning Session: 42nd Prosecution Witness TF1-588 Stephen Smith takes the stand

The Hague,

September 22, 2008

This morning, while giving appearances, Defense Counsel Terry Munyard introduced a new member of the Defense team, Simitie Lavaly, an intern from Sierra Leone. Presiding Judge Teresa Doherty welcomed her and wished her an edifying time with the Court.

Subsequently the 42nd prosecution witness was called to the stand, TF1-588, Stephen William Smith, a factual witness. Prosecutor Mohamed Bangura will lead the witness; Defense Counsel Terry Munyard will later do the cross-examination.


Stephen William Smith, 51 years old, is a professor at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, USA and adjunct professor at the John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. He teaches African Studies, Culture and Anthropology and Public Policy. He has studied at the Free University of Berlin, Germany and at the Sorbonne, Paris, France. He started his journalistic career as a regional correspondent in West-Africa for Reuters and later worked as a journalist for the French newspaper Le Monde. He has written articles for various newspapers in different countries: Le Monde (France), Der Spiegel (Germany), El Pais (Spain) and La Stampa (Italy). He has also written more than ten books, all but one on sub-Saharan Africa. Stephen Smith has received the Soweto award for all his writing on Africa as well as several other awards. He has been in the West-African region since 1984.

Start of the civil war

Stephen Smith has written several articles on “Liberia, the collapse of a nation” putting the start of the civil war in December 1989 in the context of the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and this conflict being the first post cold war conflict in Africa. Since December 1989 he has covered the Liberian civil war in from different angles. To cover the story from the side of Charles Taylor and the AFRC he would travel from the Ivory Coast to the border town of Nanane; he would cover the story from President Doe’s side in Monrovia and later, after Prince Johnson had fallen out with Charles Taylor, he would cover Johnson’s side from the port of Freetown. Smith was in Liberia from January 1990 to August 1990, but left following an incident with Charles Taylor, returned in 1991 and stayed in the region until about 2004 and has visited Sierra Leone several times while he covered the civil war there. Since January 2005 he no longer writes on a daily basis.

Covering the civil war

The witness explained that he covered the movements of Charles Taylor from the time Taylor with the AFRC (then a small force) entered Liberia from Ivory Coast in the north east part of the country. They moved rather swiftly into the direction of the capital Monrovia, where they reached in the summer of 1990. There they got stalled and faced difficulty in taking over the capital. While covering the war he spoke with and interviewed Sam Bockarie, Foday Sankoh, Charles Taylor and Lebanese people in Taylor’s entourage. There were also Sierra Leoneans in his entourage, which contributed to spawn the war from Liberia to Sierra Leone: Sierra Leoneans turning to their own country to undertake a similar enterprise, namely start a revolution. It was at that time expected to become a regional war linked to fundamental causes, however the war did not reach Ivory Coast and Guinea. Smith explained that he met with Charles Taylor on various occasions, usually in a group of journalists. They would have a briefing with Taylor where they would be updated on the present situation; sometimes they would stay on for weeks, moving to and from the frontline.

Incident with Charles Taylor

In August 1990 the witness wanted to cover the story from a different angle. The first front line at that time was in Freetown where the advance of Taylor’s NPFL had been stopped. There was a second front line in a swamp area. On the 16th or 17th of August 1990 Smith went here alone, met Charles Taylor here, seeing him and his men retreating from the area. That same night the witness met Taylor at the Roberts International Airport (officially closed down at the time), however this time not alone but in company of other journalists in about five cars. The meeting was not planned. Smith was singled out and his colleagues were advised to leave the scene without him. He was made to understand that Charles Taylor was angry with the press and especially with him. After some deliberations with his colleagues, the others left and would inform French and American authorities. He was taken away in a jeep by two bodyguards of Taylor. Later he learned that the name of one of them was Boyou. Smith was verbally abused, yelled at but not beaten. At one moment the jeep stopped, he was made to kneel down in the headlights of the jeep and a gun was pointed at his head. He thought he was going to be shot. A shot went off, but he was not hit, it was a mock execution. He was taken to a detention centre where he was questioned but only regarding his identity. Later he was put in a cell with about ten others. After two or three days he was released, but his passport, removed from him when Taylor was present, was not returned to him. His colleagues had informed Paris and Washington and the American State Department had protested against his treatment. Subsequently it was decided that all journalists would leave the area.

When asked what the reason has been for this treatment, Smith replied there were basically two reasons:
– being the wrong man at the wrong place in the morning (he was alone during the incident, which distinguished him from his colleagues who were not present) seeing Taylor’s convoy retreating; the NPFL later gave a communiqué stating Smith had overtopped his journalistic work and was involved in spying activities;
– being the wrong people at the wrong place in the evening at Roberts International Airport, since a weapons delivery was supposed to take place that night.

Objections of the Defense

At this moment Defense Counsel Munyard objected to the witness giving this testimony, as it is a personal experience particular to this incident having taken place in August 1990, having no obvious relevance to the time span of this case being from the end of 1996 until 2002.
Prosecutor Bangura brings out that similar submissions of evidence by other witnesses have been accepted by this Court.
After deliberating, the judges upheld the objection that it is a personal experience particular to this incident.

Munyard also objected to going into Stephen Smith’s personal résumé as the Defense had not received documents relating to this. Bangura replied that it was among documents disclosed to the Defense on November 6, 2007.

Meetings with Taylor following the incident

At a later stage Smith and Taylor both decided to move on at a professional level. Further meetings and interviews took place in 1996 in Liberia, in 1998 in Paris where Taylor was on an official visit as the then democratically elected President of Liberia and in November 2000 when Taylor visited Paris on a private visit. The interview was published in Le Monde, a French newspaper, the interview having taken place in English and translated into French. At the same moment an article was published, written by Smith and another journalist to put into perspective this interview and to explain the context of the situation and recent history of Liberia. The interview and the article in French are put before the witness as well a translation of both.

At this point Court is adjourned for the mid-morning break.