Charles Taylor this week made efforts to refute the evidence of key prosecution witnesses against him, including allegations that he made a pact with Sierra Leone’s rebel leader to help each other in their respective wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone. He also rebuffed as “lies” prosecution evidence that he ordered the execution of a key Sierra Leonean rebel commander or that he had a common plan with Sierra Leonean and Gambian rebel leaders to destabilize West Africa.
On Monday, Mr. Taylor told the Special Court for Sierra Leone that he did not did not have any pact with the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels to help each other out with their respective wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia.
“I had no pact with RUF leader Foday Sankoh for mutual assistance. That could not have been necessary,” Mr. Taylor said during his trial in The Hague.
Mr. Taylor asserted that if such mutual pact ever existed between himself and Revolutionary United Front (RUF) leader Foday Sankoh, the prosecution would have led evidence to show the assistance that Mr. Sankoh rendered to Mr. Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL).
“There has been no evidence in this court about Sankoh being involved in the conflict in Liberia or commanding an NPFL post. There was no such thing because I did not know him at this time,” he said.
Mr. Taylor was responding to questions from his defense counsel, Courtenay Griffiths, about allegations that while in Libya in the late 1980s, Mr. Taylor entered into an agreement with Mr. Sankoh for the RUF rebels to assist the NPFL during its initial war efforts in Liberia in exchange for Mr. Taylor’s assistance to the RUF in attacking Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor denied that this was ever the case. The accused former president reiterated his earlier position that while he was in Libya, he did not know about the existence of the RUF and that he did not meet with Mr. Sankoh.
“I did not know about the creation of the RUF in 1989. I did not know Foday Sankoh. I only knew Alie Kabbah and the Sierra Leone Pan African Movement,” he said.
On Tuesday, Mr. Taylor said that he did not order or know about an infamous operation launched by rebel forces in Sierra Leone during its civil war aiming to ensure that anything that had life must be killed.
“I was not aware of ‘Operation No Living Thing’,” Mr. Taylor said.
During the presentation of the prosecution’s case, witnesses testified that Mr. Taylor worked in concert with RUF and Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) rebels to plan “Operation No Living Thing” against the Sierra Leonean population.
“I did not instruct anybody to launch such an operation. I had no control over anybody in Sierra Leone. There is no way that I would be in control or even acquiesce in any type of situation of this sort when throughout the revolution in Liberia we never had these kinds of atrocities, so this is impossible,” Mr. Taylor said.
On Wednesday and Thursday, Mr. Taylor focused on refuting the testimonies of key prosecution witnesses who testified that he had plans to destabilize West Africa and that he ordered the execution of RUF Commander Sam Bockarie for fear that Mr. Bockarie had too much knowledge of his involvement with the RUF — information which the witnesses said Mr. Taylor was determined to protect.
Between February 8 to 11 2008, the Prosecution’s eleventh witness, a Gambian named Suwandi Camara, testified that that Mr. Taylor, together with RUF leader Foday Sankoh, and a Gambian rebel leader named Dr. Manning, met in Burkina Faso and developed a common plan to destabilize West Africa. The witness also testified that Mr. Taylor recruited and armed children under the age of 15 years. (Mr. Camara was a linkage witness who said he was trained alongside Mr. Taylor in Libya and later became part of Mr. Taylor’s Special Security Service (SSS)).
In his testimony on Wednesday, Mr. Taylor denied ever knowing the Suwandi Camara and dismissed as “lies” the witness’ claims that Mr. Taylor had plans to destabilize West Africa.
“There was no such thing like this that occurred,” Mr. Taylor said.
Asked by Mr. Griffiths whether he did “coordinate such a movement with Dr. Manning and Foday Sankoh,” Mr. Taylor said no. He elaborated that ”there was not one Sierra Leonean, not one Sierra Leonean in Burkina Faso. The only people that were in Burkina Faso were the Gambians and Dr. Manning had come to Burkina Faso not along with the Liberian group.”
In his testimony in February, Witness Camara claimed that he was a training instructor for the NPFL at the Gbartala training base in Liberia and that under his command, the NPFL recruited and trained young children who were under the age of 15 years. Mr. Taylor told the judges that “that was a blatant lie and there will be witnesses to prove that it is a lie.”
Explaining the role that children played in NPFL territory, Mr. Taylor said “people that were under the age of 18 were not trained as military personnel in the NPFL. They were family members associated with soldiers that helped to take care of them in their home, cooking for them, but they were not recruits of the NPFL. They did not have any command structure. If you have a bigger brother, you follow him, you were with him, but there was no fixed command structure of any group calling themselves SBU[Small Boys Unit].”
The prosecution has alleged that Mr. Taylor maintained a relationship with RUF rebels throughout the conflicts in both Sierra Leone and Liberia. Together with the RUF’s leader, Foday Sankoh, Mr. Taylor allegedly developed a common plan to wage war against the people and government of Sierra Leone. Prosecution witnesses have testified to the pattern of operations in Mr. Taylor’s NPFL such as the use of child soldiers called SBUs, and have related the same patterns in the RUF where the child combatants were also called SBUs. Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations.
On Thursday, Mr. Taylor 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.
Mr. Taylor was responding to the testimony of the 37th Prosecution Witness, an 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 on Thursday, 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.
“I did not order the killing of Sam Bockarie,” he maintained.
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, 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 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.
Witness TFI-367 had also testified that Mr. Taylor supplied the RUF with arms and ammunition, food and medical supplies. In his testimony on Thursday, Mr. Taylor vehemently denied this allegation, saying that “I Charles Ghankay Taylor never authorized any food or weapons or whatever say, take this to Foday Sankoh for his men, never did.”
Also in his testimony on Thursday, 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 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 also dismissed Mr. Smith’s assertions that RUF leader Foday Sankoh lived in Monrovia in 1990 before invading Sierra Leone in 1991.
“Foday Sankoh is in Monrovia before he goes to Sierra Leone. What does that say? Its total nonsense,” he said.
Mr. Taylor said that his NPFL rebels never totally controlled Monrovia throughout the Liberian civil war and it would therefore not have been possible for him to host the RUF leader in Monrovia in 1990.
Mr. Taylor is responding to allegations that he provided support for RUF rebels in Sierra Leone through the supply of arms and ammunition in return for diamonds. The prosecution also alleges that Mr. Taylor gave direct orders to RUF commanders and that through his acts or omissions, he bears responsibility for the crimes committed by RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor has denied all these allegations. He is presently testifying as a witness in his own defense at the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
Mr. Taylor’s testimony resumes again on Monday.