Charles Taylor this week told Special Court for Sierra Leone judges that he did not order Sierra Leonean rebel forces to attack the country’s capital Freetown and to free the country’s rebel leader from jail in 1999. Mr. Taylor also called prosecution allegations that he was involved in ritual sacrifice and cannibalism “racist.”
Mr. Taylor spent the week refuting the evidence of prosecution witnesses who testified in 2008 that Mr. Taylor was the head of Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in Sierra Leone, that RUF commanders constantly took orders from him and that he gave regular supplies of weapons to RUF rebels in return for diamonds mined in Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor dismissed these allegations as “lies.”
On Tuesday, Mr. Taylor dismissed as “lies” the testimony of a protected prosecution witness that he (Taylor) gave orders and supplies of weapons to RUF rebels to attack Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown in 1999 and free the RUF’s leader Foday Sankoh who was incarcerated by the government of Sierra Leone.
“That I sent people to Freetown to free Sankoh is a blatant lie,” Mr. Taylor said.
The protected witness, whose testimony Mr. Taylor sought to discredit, told judges in October 2008 that RUF commanders started discussing plans to attack Freetown in 1998. He said that while Mr. Sankoh was in jail, the group’s interim leader, Sam Bockarie, did not listen to members of the RUF War Council, of which the witness himself was a member. Rather, Mr. Bockarie traveled to Liberia to seek advice from Mr. Taylor and returned from Liberia with direct instructions from Mr. Taylor that the RUF should attack Freetown, the witness said.
“The instruction to attack Freetown originated from Taylor” and it was a “planned invasion,” the witness had told the Special Court for Sierra Leone in 2008.
In an effort to distance himself from any such plans to attack Freetown, Mr. Taylor told the judges today that “I sure did not plan it. I don’t know if Sankoh did, but I did not. I did not plan any invasion of Freetown, never.”
The protected witness had also said that the weapons used in the Freetown attack were obtained from Burkina Faso and deposited in Liberia before they were eventually taken to the RUF in Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor said that he had no knowledge of such shipment of weapons into Liberia.
“I have nothing to do with this so I really don’t know what this man is talking about,” the accused former president said.
Mr. Taylor also denied the witness’ claims that between 1997 and 1999, Mr. Taylor facilitated three major shipments of arms and ammunition for use by RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. The witness said that diamonds were given to Mr. Taylor in return for the shipments. According to the witness, the RUF gave Mr. Taylor, “through his special envoy to the RUF Ibrahim Bah” about 90 carats of diamonds as payment for the first shipment of weapons. As payment for the remaining two shipments, Mr. Bockarie personally delivered nine plastics of diamonds to Mr. Taylor.
“This is a number of complicated lies in this thing. It is so terrible. It’s a lie, no diamonds were given to me,” Mr. Taylor asserted.
Mr. Taylor further refuted the witness’ claim that Liberia under Mr. Taylor’s presidency was not a transit point but a base for RUF rebels.
“I will not use the word base but RUF were given a guesthouse and communications access in line with the peace process but I will not call it a base,” he added.
The witness also testified that between 1997-1999, Mr. Taylor sent a series of envoys to the RUF including Ibrahim Bah, who was sent to meet with Johnny Paul Koroma, leader of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), a group of soldiers who overthrew the government of president Ahmed Tejan Kabbah in Sierra Lone in 1997. Mr. Taylor dismissed this assertion as “nonsense.”
“How will I send Ibrahim Bah to meet with Johnny Paul Koroma when I didn’t even know him?” he asked.
Also in his testimony on Tuesday, Mr. Taylor refuted the evidence of a prosecution witness and a former member of Mr. Taylor’s NPFL, Joseph Marzah (alias “Zig Zag” Marzah), who in his 2008 testimony told the judges that Mr. Taylor was the overall boss of both the RUF and NPFL. Witnes Marzah said that the RUF and NPFL were one and the same group. He said that when NPFL rebels crossed the Sierra Leonean border, they became part of the RUF and when RUF rebels moved to the Liberian side of the border, they became part of the NPFL. They all looked up to Mr. Taylor for instructions, Witness Marzah had said.
“It is a proofing lie. RUF and NPFL were never the same,” Mr. Taylor said.
Witness Marzah further said that Mr. Taylor gave him supplies of weapons from his White Flower residence in Liberia, which he took to RUF rebels in Sierra Leone and that on several occasions, he obtained diamonds from RUF rebels in Sierra Leone and handed them over to Mr. Taylor in Liberia. Mr. Taylor dismissed these claims as “lies.”
On Wednesday, Mr. Taylor called prosecution allegations that he was involved in ritual sacrifice and cannibalism ”racist”. Mr. Taylor was responding to the testimony of Witness Marzah who in his 2008 testimony alleged that he was present at Mr. Taylor’s residence when the former Liberian president buried a pregnant woman at the back of his house as a ritual sacrifice to obtain power in Liberia. Witness Marzah also testified that he feasted on human beings together with Mr. Taylor while he served as Chief of Operations for the NPFL.
A very angry Mr. Taylor today dismissed the allegations against him as being “racist.”
“It is not true. But you know, there is something deeper to this whole thing. I don’t care what the prosecution says but this is racist, it is as racist as it ever gets,” Mr. Taylor said in a very angry voice.
“All the murderous regimes of Europe throughout World War II coming on, nobody is eating human beings and burying pregnant women and being sadistic as this as an African. You go to Liberia and bring four uneducated people that never even went to the ninth grade, Moses Blah never went to the ninth grade, Vamunyan Sherif hardly went to school, Abu Keita hardly, and this other one that never entered a class room, never, cannot read, cannot write and you bring him here, and you have a president eating people and burying pregnant women, this is beyond racism, it shows bigotry, and that’s what this case is all about,” the former president said.
Mr. Taylor also vehemently denied allegations in Witness Marzah’s testimony that he (Taylor) gave orders for the execution of Superman, a Liberian commander of Sierra Leone’s rebel group RUF. Witness Marzah also said that based on Mr. Taylor instructions, Superman’s hand was cut off and his heart removed and taken to Mr. Taylor. Together with Mr. Taylor, they feasted on Superman’s heart, Witness Marzah said in his testimony.
Denying Witness Marzah’s allegations, Mr. Taylor said that “there was no hand, no nothing taken to my house. I am not aware of how Superman was killed, when or how. It is not true.”
Mr. Taylor in his testimony, also told the judges on Wednesday that his trial is part of a wave of regime change policies by western powers especially the United States and Great Britain.
“I did know that certain countries like the United States and United Kingdom were against me and were seeking regime change in Liberia. I am brought here by Britain and America,” Mr. Taylor said. “At this particular time in the world when there was Iraq and regime change, it was good to go into Africa, snatch one little leader from a small country, let’s set an example of him to show there is no impunity.”
“Listen, there is nothing that is just about this, I have no control over it, I am going through it, and I will go through it. There is nothing legal about this,” Mr. Taylor said. “Until I go to my grave, there is nothing just about this. The big powers have executed their powers, they have brought me here.”
Mr. Taylor denied other allegations by Witness Marzah that he (Taylor) ordered the NPFL and RUF to subject civilians to sexual violence and forced labour.
“To give any order for violence against women and civilians could have never happened under Taylor because all of those who did that knew the punishment they received. This is why the NPFL was the most disciplined force in Liberia,” he said.
He also denied giving orders to kill and eat the members of the Krahn tribe in Liberia, or to kill United Nations and West African peacekeepers. Mr. Taylor further denied supplying arms and ammunition to rebel forces in Sierra Leone.
On Thursday, Mr. Taylor responded to the testimony of protected prosecution witness TFI-338 who in her September 2008 testimony spoke of the alleged relationship between Mr. Taylor and the RUF as demonstrated by the radio communications between the two.
Allegations that Mr. Taylor was in control of the RUF and in a position to prevent and punish crimes committed by the rebel group, along with allegations that Mr. Taylor aided and abetted the RUF in crimes committed in Sierra Leone during its brutal conflict, go to the heart of some of the key charges against the former Liberian President at the Special Court for Sierra Leone. The existence of radio communications between Mr. Taylor and the rebels were part of the prosecution’s efforts to demonstrate Mr. Taylor’s alleged role in the crimes committed after 1996 in Sierra Leone’s war.
According to the protected witness, regular radio communications existed between Liberian radio stations controlled by Mr. Taylor and his Special Security Service (SSS) Director Benjamin Yeaten on the one hand, and RUF radio stations controlled by rebel commander Sam Bockarie on the other. The witness testified that the RUF also maintained three radio stations in Liberia, including one at Liberia’s main international airport, Roberts International Airport (RIA). These stations, the witness said, operated with Mr. Taylor’s approval. The radio station at RIA, called Sky 1, was responsible for informing the RUF whenever West African peacekeepers based in Liberia took off in their Alpha Jet fighter aircraft to bomb RUF positions in Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor dismissed the witness’ assertions as “lies”.
“How will the RUF have a radio station installed at the international airport of Liberia? That is total foolishness,” he said.
Asked by his defense counsel whether the RUF could have had radio stations in other parts of Liberia outside of Monrovia, Mr. Taylor said that “it is possible may be they might know someone at the radio stations in Liberia but to have a radio station there, it is impossible.”
Mr. Taylor, however, admitted that sometime in 1998, the RUF maintained a radio station with his consent at the guesthouse that was assigned to them in Monrovia. The guesthouse and radio station were mainly geared towards facilitating discussions with the RUF for a peaceful end to the conflict in Sierra Leone. Other West African leaders involved in the Sierra Leone peace process knew about the guesthouse and radio station, Mr. Taylor explained.
“The only RUF radio station in Liberia was in 1998, installed at the guesthouse allocated to them. My other colleagues involved in the Sierra Leone peace process knew about it,” Mr. Taylor said.
Mr. Taylor also denied Witness TFI-338’s testimony that members of Mr. Taylor’s SSS named Jungle, Samson and Junior visited Sierra Leone in 1997 wearing their SSS uniforms.
“That will be a silly thing to do, to send people in uniform to Sierra Leone. I am fighting for peace in Sierra Leone and I send my security men to parade in Sierra Leone? That is silly,” Mr. Taylor said.
Mr. Taylor is accused of providing support for RUF rebels through the supply of arms and ammunition in return for diamonds mined by the rebels in Sierra Leone. The prosecution further alleges that Mr. Taylor helped plan rebel attacks in Sierra Leone and that he occupied a superior position over RUF commanders, during which time he knew or had reason to know that crimes were being committed by the rebels but that he failed to punish or prevent the commission of those crimes. By his actions or inactions, the prosecution says that he is responsible for the crimes committed by rebel forces in Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations and he is presently testifying as a witness in his own defense.
On Thursday, the judges also announced that the court will take a “much needed” recess from October 2-26, 2009 in place of the summer recess which it had refused to take because there was need to commence the defense phase of the case in July. Court resumes on Monday October 26, 2009 with a continuation of Mr. Taylor’s testimony.