In a dramatic day of testimony, former Liberian president Charles Taylor told of his 1985 escape from an American maximum security jail with alleged United States government help, only days before a failed US-backed coup attempt to overthrow the then Liberian government.
With his prison cell unlocked by a US prison guard late one night in November 1985, Taylor walked out of the maximum security area of the Plymouth County Correctional Facility in Massachusetts, he told the Special Court for Sierra Leone today. Taylor said he was escorted by the same guard to the minimum security area. Tying a sheet to a window, Taylor climbed out the window and over the prison fence, where a car containing two men was waiting to whisk him to New York, he said.
Taylor told the court that he believed the guard who set him free “had to be operating with someone else.” Taylor also said he assumed that the car that took him to New York “had to be a [US] government car” because the men driving him feared he may be “picked up” if Taylor changed cars to be with his then wife, who had driven to meet the escape car with money to get Taylor out of the country.
Taylor was in US custody in 1985 pending a US government decision on an extradition request by the Liberian government on charges of embezzlement.
Taylor’s escape took place only days before his friend and Liberian military leader, Thomas Quiwonkpa, staged an unsuccessful coup against the Liberian government of President Samuel Doe in November 1985. Taylor alleged that the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was working with, and arming, Quiwonkpa to overthrow the Doe government in the months leading up to the coup attempt.
Taylor told the court that he was “one hundred percent positive” that the weapons Quiwonkpa was using “were paid for by the CIA.”
Taylor later went on to describe his efforts to recruit a total of 168 men and women to be part of his National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) group to undertake military training in a former US military base in Libya between 1987 and 1989. Taylor told the court that the training aimed to produce a “well-trained and disciplined force” which were “trained in the laws of war” and could “work with the local population” in Liberia.
His overall aim, Taylor said, was for the NPFL to support the Liberian people in staging a revolution in Liberia and then “to submit ourselves to fair and free elections.”
Taylor told the court that for a revolution to be successful, he would have to rely on the civilian population in Liberia. He said it would be “stupid to terrorize civilians” because he would “lose their support.”
He also described the separation of military and civilian activities when he eventually attacked Liberia in 1989, telling the court that military people who carried out atrocities would be dealt by military courts under the military justice code.
In speaking of the NPFL in the 1980s, Taylor also said that he “did not encourage any children under the age of 17 to be involved in military activities.”
Charges against Taylor by the Special Court include, among others, the war crime of terrorizing the civilian population, and the conscription, enlistment and use of child soldiers under 15 years of age (categorized as other serious violations of international humanitarian law) in neighboring Sierra Leone after November 30, 1996.
Taylor continues his testimony tomorrow.