Wednesday January 14, 2009.
10:00am: Court resumed and defense counsel for Mr. Taylor, Courtenay Griffiths QC continued the cross-examination of prosecution witness Hassan Bility. Counsel sought to establish inconsistencies in the witness’s statement given to prosecution investigators and his oral testimony in court. Counsel also suggested reasons why the witness is testifying against Mr. Taylor.
Defense counsel Mr. Griffiths told the witness that he was associated with two Liberian rebel factions fighting against Mr. Taylor in Liberia. These he said were ULIMO-K and LURD. Counsel also told the witness that he was a spy for several international groups that were bent on underming Mr. Taylor’s presidency in Liberia. He told the witness that his desire to testidfy against Mr. Taylor was motivated by ethnic animosity and political affiliation as he was closely related to Alhaji Kroma, leader of ULIMO-K and Sekou D Konneh, leader of the LURD rebel movement. Mr. Griffiths also told the witness that his secret trip to Sierra Leone in August 1997 was not done in his capacity as a journalist but as a spy. Legal arguements ensued between prosecution and defense counsels as to who sponsored Mr. Bility’s trip to Sierra Leone. The witness disclosed that he was taken to Sierra Leone by Nigerian ECOMOG soldiers but counsel asked that the specific names of the Nigerian ECOMOG soldiers who facilitated the trip be mentioned. Prosecution counsel Mr. Santora responded that the witness as a journalist was protected by several international laws not to disclose his source. After listening to arguements from both parties, the judges ruled that the defense should make a written submission to the Chamber by Friday January 23, 2008 on the issue. Defense counsel Griffiths insisted that the witness’s trip to Sierra Leone was a secret trip organized by ECOMOG soldiers. Counsel told the witness that the reason why ECOMOG chose him to go to Sierra Leone was because of his ULIMO-K connections. The witness denied this assertion. Mr. Griffiths further said that Mr. Bility’s hatred for Mr. Taylor was based on his affiliation with the All Liberians Coalition Party (ALCOP) whose standard bearer was/is Alhaji Kroma. Mr. Bility admitted that he did some professional writings for ALCOP for which he was paid but denied being a member of the party. The witness agreed with counsel that ALCOP was the political wing of the former ULIMO-K.
Defense counsel also sought to dispute certain things the witness has spoken about in his direct examination. For example, the witness said that Mr. Taylor’s first press conference when he became president of Liberia was held at his private residence but counsel suggested that the said press conference was held at the Executive Mansion. The witness also agrred with counsel that during the said press conference, Mr. Taylor spoke about the need to end factionalism in Liberia, the need for the cooperation of journalists to rebuild Liberia and the need for reconciliation in the country. Defense counsel disputed the witness’s assertion that Mr. Taylor also told journalists that if they wrote anything that went against his givernment, they would be in trouble. The witness told the court that in his article of August 1997 entitled “Who is the Judas in ECOMOG”, he mentioned countries like Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Liberia and Niger as those supporting the AFRC junta in Sierra Leone. The witness said he quoted Taylor’s press secretary who said that the government would find it difficult to support sanctions against the AFRC junta in Sierra Leone. When asked about the countries where the AFRC sent delegates, the witness said that he knew of Burkina Faso and Niger but did not know of Liberia. Counsel put it to the witness that he was telling lies since he was supposed to know more about the country in which he lived. The witness said that he did not know because since the international community was monitoring the relationship that Taylor had with the AFRC, the government was being very careful not to do anything obvious. He also said that RUF soldiers were already present in Liberia.
Counsel asked the witness about the numerous arrests that he said he was subjected to by Taylor’s government and the articles that he wrote which warranted such arrests. The witness reiterated that when he was taken to Taylor’s NPP office, Taylor adviced him to stop writing those articles, that he was too young to lose his life. The witness said that Taylor was opposed to Kabba’s reinstatement after his overthrow in 1997. He said that from the onset, Taylor was opposed to Kabba’s election as president.The witness said that he saw Vamunya Sherrff when he was taken to Taylor’s party headquarters. He said he knew Sheriff as a ULIMO-K commander but he defected to the NPFL. Counsel told the witness that the presence of Vamunya Sherriff in his story was only a recent invention. The witness disagreed with counsel. He said that the second time he was arrested, he was taken to the National Police Station and not to Taylor’s party headquarters. In the articles that the witness wrote for which he was arrested, he quoted a confidential report of the meeting of the ECOWAS leaders to address the situation in Sierra Leone. Counsel asked the witness how he had access to the said document. He said he got it from a diplomat based in Liberia. Asked whether the diplomat worked at the US embassy, the witness responded that he was from the Nigerian embassy. He said that while the meeting was held in Abuja to settle the impasse in Sierra Leone, the Ivorian government recalled its foreign affairs minister and this was a serious dent to the talks. He said that the french speaking countries in ECOWAS wanted a shift in the power base from Nigeria.
Counsel also sought to establish inconsistencies in the witness’s statements made to prosecution investigators and that of his oral testimony in court. For example, in his first statement made to investigators in November 2003 in New York, the witness was quoted as having said that he ran into Taylor at the German embassy in Monrovia, during which Taylor warned him to desist from writing offensive articles. Counsel told the witness that this ran contrary to what he had said in court that he was taken to Taylor’s party headquarters where he gave him that warning. The witness responded that his account had been wrongly recorded since there was no German embassy in Monrovia at that time. He said that the said statement was not shown to him for correction. The witness said that when he was interviwed in November 2003, he did not know that Taylor was a target of the Special Court. Counsel told him he was lying since at that time, Taylor had already been indicted and had stepped down as president of Liberia. The witness said that when he was interviewed, he discussed a large range of issues and was not shown the notes for any correction. Counsel pointed out the witness’s meeting with the prosecution in Freetown during which time he had to clarify several issues in his statements. The witness said that during these interviews, they told him he was going to testify against the RUF and not Taylor. He said they told him that they would talk to him about Taylor’s trial later for which they asked him to travel to Liberia and Ghana to collect more evidence. Counsel also told the witness that he had said he was arrested the first time and in one week was re-arrested and that he had conflicted that account by saying that the two arrests happened in over one month space. Counsel pointed out other inconsisties in the witness’s testimony but the witness insisted that they were just mistakes that he had not corrected.
Court adjourned for the day and the witness’s cross-examination is set to continue tomorrow Thursday January 15, 2009.