Charles Taylor did not have a “master-servant” relationship with Sierra Leone’s notorious rebel commander Sam Bockarie (“Mosquito”), the former Liberian president told Special Court for Sierra Leone judges in The Hague today.
“There was nothing like a boy or master-servant relationship between Sam Bockarie and I,” Mr. Taylor told the judges today.
Mr. Taylor was responding to testimonies of prosecution witnesses who have told the court that Revolutionary United Front (RUF) commander Sam Bockarie took orders from Mr. Taylor. Several witnesses testified that before Mr. Bockarie undertook operations in Sierra Leone, he sought advice from Mr. Taylor. Witnesses have also testified that Mr. Bockarie made regular trips to Liberia, taking diamonds for Mr. Taylor with him. When he returned to Sierra Leone, they said, he had arms and ammunition for the RUF.
In his testimony today, Mr. Taylor made efforts to describe the relationship that he had with Mr. Bockarie, arguing that he was not Mr. Bockarie’s boss.
“For me, I will look at him as a young man and as an African man, a son. There was no cozy relationship between us, but I dealt with him as leader of his own group. I respected him, I did not order him,” Mr. Taylor said.
Mr. Taylor refuted the testimonies of witnesses who have quoted Mr. Bockarie as saying he was taking orders from “his chief,” referring to Mr. Taylor.
“Chief has nothing to do with direct control, it is just a title,” he said. He explained that several other people referred to him as “chief” because of his position as President of Liberia.
A huge portion of the prosecution’s case throughout 2008 centered on the relationship that existed between Mr. Taylor and Mr. Bockarie. The prosecution has alleged these two men had a “superior-subordinate” relationship, with Mr. Taylor being the “superior.” This relationship, the prosecution alleged, put Mr. Taylor in a joint criminal enterprise with the RUF, and one where he had control over RUF actions and hence could act to prevent or punish crimes committed by the RUF. Under the prosecution’s theory of the case, then, Mr. Taylor’s alleged acts or omissions in relation to the RUF would make him responsible for crimes committed by the rebels in Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor has argued that his relationship with Mr. Bockarie was purely geared towards bringing the conflict in Sierra Leone to a peaceful conclusion, and not one geared towards supporting RUF crimes. He has denied all charges against him related to the RUF.
Mr. Taylor also refuted the testimonies of a protected prosecution witness who in his 2008 testimony told the court that Mr. Bockarie had told him that it was Mr. Taylor who ordered him to leave Sierra Leone and relocate to Liberia in December 1999. (When RUF leader Foday Sankoh was released from jail in 1999, after his arrest in Nigeria in 1997, it is reported that he had disagreements with his once trusted commander Mr. Bockarie, who himself had been interim leader of the RUF in Mr. Sankoh’s absence. This disagreement, evcentually led to Mr. Bockarie leaving Sierra Leone and relocating to Liberia with hundreds of RUF fighters who were loyal to him). Witnesses have testified that it was Mr. Taylor who asked Mr. Bockarie to relocate to Liberia.
Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations and has repeatedly said that he did not act unilaterally to get Mr. Bockarie out of Sierra Leone. Rather, Mr. Taylor has argued that he worked with other West African leaders – specifically former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo – to get Mr. Bockarie out of his neighboring country because Mr. Bockarie had become a hinderance to the peace process in Sierra Leone.
“It was not a case of leave Sierra Leone and come to Liberia,” Mr. Taylor said. “We did take a very hard line, we, I mean Obasanjo and I took a hard line in our meeting with Bockarie and Sankoh. We did threaten him [Bockarie] with keeping him in Liberia until the disarmament goes on in Sierra Leone.”
Mr. Taylor denied allegations that he was the one who decided the replacement RUF leader when the group’s head commander, Foday Sankoh, was arrested in 2000 after the abduction of United Nations peacekeepers by the RUF. West African leaders, he said, advised that another high level RUF commander, Issa Sesay should serve as interim leader of the rebel group. He referred to Mr. Sesay as a being “very trustworthy.” (Issa Sesay’s conviction for 16 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for crimes committed during Sierra Leone’s war was upheld on appeal this week, with the Special Court for Sierra Leone’s appeals chamber confirming his sentence of 52 years imprisonment – see our overview here: http://www.charlestaylortrial.org/2009/10/26/news-just-in-ruf-appeals-judgment-handed-down-in-freetown-today-upholds-sentences/)
Also during his testimony today, Mr. Taylor’s defense team showed the court a video as well as pictures of Mr. Taylor’s White Flower residence in Monrovia, Liberia. Mr. Taylor’s defense team also showed the court pictures of Mr. Taylor’s Executive Mansion at the former Gbangha headquarters of his fighting force, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL); his unfinished house on his farm at Gbangha, as well as pictures of the NPFL’s training base at Gbartala, Liberia. The pictures and video were marked for identification and admitted into evidence by the judges.
While the defense submitted these exhibits without making their meaning explicit to the court today, it is anticipated that the defense may use these exhibits at a later stage to try to discredit prosecution testimony that these places were used to store arms and ammunition, some of which Mr. Taylor allegedly supplied to RUF rebels.
Mr. Taylor’s testimony continues on Monday.