Charles Taylor took the witness stand again this week after a three-week judicial recess, refuting prosecution allegations that he ordered the execution of Sierra Leone’s notorious rebel commander Sam Bockarie in 2003, helped Sierra Leonean rebels plan specific operations during the country’s 11-years conflict, or ordered Sierra Leonean rebels to attack the Ivory Coast.
On Monday, Mr. Taylor, responding to the testimony of a protected prosecution witness who in her September 2008 testimony said that Revolutionary United Front (RUF) commander Sam Bockarie (“Mosquito”) was executed in Liberia while returning from Ivory Coast in 2003 on the orders of Mr. Taylor, the accused former Liberian president told the judges about his affection for Mr. Bockarie and denied wanting him killed.
“I never wanted him [Bockarie] dead. I liked him as a son. I never gave such an order that Bockarie should be killed,” Mr. Taylor said.
Mr. Taylor dismissed as “nonsense” the witness’ assertion that he ordered the execution of Mr. Bockarie to silence him, given Mr. Bockarie’s level of knowlege about Mr. Taylor’s relationship with the RUF.
“That is nonsense. Who knows more than Issa Sesay or all those RUF commanders on trial at the Special Court? What did Bockarie know that the other senior RUF officers did not know?” Mr. Taylor asked.
Mr. Taylor explained that Mr. Bockarie was killed in a cross-fire with Liberian goverment troops who had tried to stop him (Bockarie) from entering into Liberia with armed men from Ivory Coast.
Mr. Taylor also denied allegations by prosecution witness and former Sierra Leonean member of Mr. Taylor’s Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU) Jabaty Jaward who in 2008 testified that Mr. Taylor sent Mr. Bockarie with a group of fighters to attack Ivory Coast. The witness himself said he was part of the fighters who went to Ivory Coast and fought under Mr. Bockarie’s command, based on orders from Mr. Taylor. Mr. Taylor on Monday denied this allegation, referring to Ivory Coast as a friendly country against which he would not have ordered any attacks.
Mr. Taylor explained that the Sierra Leonean members of the ATU decided they no longer wanted to be part of the Unit and decided to travel to different places, including Ivory Coast. Mr. Taylor explained that because they had left the country and launched attacks in Ivory Coast, he (Taylor) gave orders to his soldiers that Mr. Bockarie and his troops must be disarmed before they would be allowed to enter Liberia.
Mr. Taylor said that he personally sent his Vice President, Moses Blah, to travel to the border and put the situation under control. Mr. Taylor said he asked Mr. Blah to ensure that Mr. Bockarie was disarmed and personally brought to Mr. Taylor in Liberia. When Mr. Bockarie and his allied fighters refused to be disarmed, Mr. Bockarie was killed in an exchange of fire, Mr. Taylor said.
“I was very hurt when Blah told me that Bockarie was killed. I sent Blah there because I did not want that boy killed,” Mr. Taylor said. “Blah lied here to say that he was just in the area when Bockarie was killed. I sent him there.”
Mr. Blah testified as a Prosecution witness in Mr. Taylor’s case in 2008 and discussed, among other things, Sam Bockarie’s death. Indeed, the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Bockarie have been controversial throughout the trial. Several prosecution witnesses have testified that Mr. Bockarie was killed on the orders of Mr. Taylor, but accounts of how Mr. Bockarie died have differed among the witnesses.
Also on Monday, Mr. Taylor denied allegations by a protected prosecution witness who in 2008 testified that when Sierra Leonean rebels attacked the country’s capital in January 1999, he (Taylor) and his Director of Special Security Service, Benjamin Yeaten, called Mr. Bockarie to congratulate him. The witness said that immediately after the attack, Mr. Bockarie visited Mr. Taylor in Liberia and returned to Sierra Leone with supplies of arms and ammunition. Mr. Taylor called the witness’s claims “a blatant lie.”
“That is a blatant lie,” Mr. Taylor said. “Bockarie never came to Liberia immediately after the Freetown invasion. Everyone was upset when we heard about the attack because we were trying to put Sierra Leone back on track,” he added.
Mr. Taylor also denied that he sent RUF fighters to Voinjama in Liberia to fight against Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebels who were threatening to unseat his government in Liberia.
“There were no instructions or knowlege on my part of RUF being called into Liberia to fight,” he said.
Meanwhile, as his testimony continued on Monday, Mr. Taylor again returned to a consistent theme throughout his time on the witness stand: that he was a peacemaker in Sierra Leone and acted with the knowledge, consent and backing of other West African leaders in his dealings with Sierra Leonean rebels. This theme emerged on Monday when Mr. Taylor returned to the issue of Mr. Bockarie’s relocation to Liberia in 1999, after he (Bockarie) had fallen out with RUF leader, Foday Sankoh.
In responding to Prosecution witness testimony that Mr. Bockarie’s relocation was at Mr. Taylor’s invitation, Mr. Taylor countered that he did not act alone. Instead, he said Mr. Bockarie’s relocation was a collective decision by West African leaders who considered Mr. Bockarie’s continued presence in Sierra Leone a hindrance to the country’s peace process.
On Tuesday, Mr. Taylor denied allegations that he sent rebel forces to attack Ivory Coast as part of a grand plan to destabilize the West African sub-region.
“I had nothing to do with the war in Ivory Coast,” Mr. Taylor told the Special Court for Sierra Leone judges.
Mr. Taylor denied ever wanting to attack the Ivorian government of President Laurent Gbagbo, whom he described as a “close friend”.
“In so many ways, I ensured that Laurent Gbagbo became president and I was the first African leader that went there after his election,” he said.
In discussing the Ivory Coast, the testimony Tuesday also turned back to Mr. Taylor’s relationship with the RUF, and particularly his closeness with RUF commander, Mr. Bockarie. Prosecution witnesses have testified that Mr. Bockarie took orders from Mr. Taylor as rebel commander in Sierra Leone, and that after Mr. Bockarie left Sierra Leone for Liberia in December 1999, Mr. Taylor sent him on military missions in other countries including Ivory Coast. Mr. Taylor has insisted that after Mr. Bockarie left Liberia in 2001, he did not have any further contact with him.
“I had absolutely no contact with Sam Bockarie after he left Liberia in 2001. Once Bockarie left Liberia, I Charles Taylor and my government had nothing to do with him,” he said today in his testimony.
On Wednesday, Mr. Taylor denied allegations that he planned operations with Sierra Leonean rebels during the country’s 11-year civil conflict.
“I did not plan any operations with them [Sierra Leonean rebels],” the accused former president said on Wednesday in response to allegations that he helped the RUF rebels in planning specific operations against the government and people of Sierra Leone.
“I never did. It is beyond my comprehension, how did these people manage this? It did not happen,” he added.
Mr. Taylor was responding to the testimony of a former RUF insider Karmoh Kanneh who testified in May 2008 that Mr. Taylor helped the RUF rebels in planning how to attack Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown in 1999. Mr. Kanneh’s testimony reinforced prosecution allegations that Mr. Taylor was involved in a joint criminal enterprise with the RUF and the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) which overthrew the elected government of Ahmed Tejan Kabbah in May 1997. The AFRC junta, which formed an alliance with the RUF, was forcefully removed from power by West African peacekeepers in February 1998. As the AFRC/RUF forces withdrew to Sierra Leonean’s hinterland, they committed various attrocities and in May 1999, there was an attack on the country’s capital Freetown during which civilians were killed or amputated, houses set on fire and committed crimes of sexual violence. The prosecution alleges that Mr. Taylor was part of the plan to commit these crimes and therefore bears responsibility for war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international humanitarian law. Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations.
Dismissing Mr. Kanneh’s testimony on Wednesday that he (Taylor) was part of the “plan and design” to attack Freetown in 1999, Mr. Taylor claimed that the witness was “put together” with these legal terms (plan and design).
“This sounds like legal language, designed and planned, he was put together” he said. “I was never part of the plan. Who ever put this together is definitely lying,” he added.
Mr. Taylor again rebuffed allegations that he supplied the RUF rebels with arms and ammunition, which were used to commit attrocities in Sierra Leone, in exchange for diamonds. Prosecution witnesses have testified that RUF commanders – including Sam Bockarie, Issa Sesay and Eddie Kanneh — made regular trips to Liberia, taking with them diamonds for Mr. Taylor. Mr. Taylor has consistently denied these allegations.
“Nobody is bringing me diamonds, not Eddie Kanneh, not Issa Sesay, nobody ever brought me diamonds. I never received diamonds from any human being in Sierra Leone,” the accused former Liberian president persisted.
Mr. Taylor also told the court that he did not have a “master-servant” relationship with RUF rebel commander Mr. Bockarie.
“There was nothing like a boy or master-servant relationship between Sam Bockarie and I,” Mr. Taylor told the judges.
Mr. Taylor was responding to testimonies of prosecution witnesses who have told the court that RUF commander Mr. 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 on Thursday, 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.
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 on Thursday, 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, 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 is on trial for 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international humanitarian law. He is responding to allegations that he was involved in a joint criminal enterprise with RUF rebels to wage war in Sierra Leone, and had control over RUF activities, including the crimes the group committed. The prosecution also alleges that Mr. Taylor provided aid and support to RUF rebels in Sierra Leone through the supply of arms and ammunition in return for the country’s diamonds. Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations. He is testifying as a witness in his own defense.
Mr. Taylor’s testimony continues on Monday.