Charles Taylor today said he did not order the the assassination of one of Sierra Leone’s top rebel commanders during the country’s civil war, and dismissed as “lies” allegations that he knew that Sierra Leonean rebels were recruiting fighters in Liberia in areas controlled by Mr. Taylor’s own fighting force.
In a day of testimony focused on refuting prosecution witness testimony against him, Mr. Taylor told the Special Court for Sierra Leone “I did not order the killing of Sam Bockarie.”
Mr. Taylor was responding to the testimony of the 37th Prosecution Witness, a Revolutionary United Front (RUF) insider and mining commander who testified under protective measures, using the pseudonym TFI-367. In his testimony from August 20 to September 1 2008, Witness TFI-367 explained that a relative of Sam Bockarie’s wife had told him that Mr. Taylor ordered the assassination of the RUF commander and his entire family because Mr. Taylor was concerned that Mr. Bockarie knew too much about his involvement with the RUF. In order to protect such information, Mr. Bockarie and his entire family had to be killed.
In his response today, Mr. Taylor said that “it is the silliest thing that I have heard. What will Bockarie have to say about me? That I was giving arms to RUF? If this is true, he would have said so to Foday Sankoh when he returned from custody in 1999.”
“What is there to hide that he would not have told his boss, that I will have to kill him for many years later?” Mr. Taylor asked.
Several prosecution witnesses have testified that when RUF leader Foday Sankoh was detained in Nigeria in 1997, he gave orders to Sam Bockarie that all diamonds mined on behalf of the RUF were to be handed over to Mr. Taylor for safe keeping. Witnesses also said that Mr. Sankoh told RUF commanders to take all orders from Mr. Taylor.
In his testimony today, Mr. Taylor questioned why Mr. Bockarie had not mentioned anything in his report to Mr. Sankoh about diamonds given to, or orders received from, Mr. Taylor after Mr. Sankoh’s release in 1999.
“Except they were ungrateful people but he [Bockarie] would have told Sankoh. As a good commander on the ground, he is supposed to give a full report to his boss,” Mr. Taylor said.
Mr. Taylor also refuted Witness TF1-367’s testimony that RUF leader Foday Sankoh was recruiting fighters for the RUF in National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) controlled territories in Liberia and that Mr. Sankoh was making public pronouncements in Liberia about Mr. Taylor’s support to the RUF. The witness claimed that he was personally recruited by Mr. Sankoh in Liberia and that he was trained alongside other RUF commanders like Issa Sesay and Morris Kallon at Camp Nama in Liberia. Mr. Taylor dismissed the witness’ claims as lies.
“I have no knowledge of Sankoh’s recruitment in Liberia. I was not even aware that Sankoh was in Liberia, not to talk about recruiting there. There is no way Sankoh would have been in Liberia in 1990 and speaking my name publicly there. I did not know that there was a Foday Sankoh training Sierra Leoneans at Camp Nama and planning to invade Sierra Leone,” he said.
Also in his testimony today, Mr. Taylor made efforts to refute the testimony of the 42nd Prosecution Witness, Stephen Smith, an American professor who worked as a journalist in West Africa and has written extensively about issues in the region.
In his testimony on September 22 and 23 2008, Mr. Smith testified that the conflict in Sierra Leone was fuelled by the conflict in Liberia and that the same faces could be identified in Mr. Taylor’s NPFL and Mr. Sankoh’s RUF. “It felt like a regional war that was spreading out like a regional cancer,” Mr. Smith said in his testimony in 2008.
Dismissing Mr. Smith’s claims that the war was like a regional war, Mr. Taylor told the judges today that “I don’t accept that at all. If we say so, then it should have gone to Guinea or Ivory Coast. Why didn’t the war in Mozambique spur conflicts in other countries?”
Mr. Taylor dismissed Mr. Smith’s work as a “one man workshop.” Mr. Smith, he said “wrote a lot of nonsense across the African continent.”
Mr. Taylor also said that Mr. Smith had traveled to Liberia at the start of the conflict in order to locate Americans who were in the country. He said that the NPFL had instructions from the United States to protect Mr. Smith, which the NPFL did. He said that Mr. Smith did not travel to Sierra Leone and that by the end of 1990 to early 1991, Mr. Smith was escorted out of Liberia by NPFL rebels through the Liberian border with Ivory Coast. The RUF, Mr. Taylor said invaded Sierra Leone in March 1991, by which time, he said, Mr. Smith was already out of the country.
“He got his facts all mixed up. I don’t see how he could have spoken about something that had not happened. I mean, there was no war in Sierra Leone then,” Mr. Taylor said.
Mr. Taylor dismissed Mr. Smith’s entire report, saying that “It is very immature of him to speak in such loose terms. This is not a language of a journalist. This is a language of an intelligence analyst.”
Mr. Taylor’s testimony continues on Monday.