Former Liberian President, Charles Taylor, took to the witness stand again today after a three week judicial break, denying allegations that he ordered the execution of a key Sierra Leonean rebel commander, Sam Bockarie, during his neighboring country’s vicious civil war. Mr. Taylor is on trial in The Hague for his alleged role in war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious crimes committed by rebel forces in Sierra Leone.
“The last person on this planet that I wanted killed was Sam Bockarie. I did not order him killed,” Mr. Taylor told the Special Court for Sierra Leone judges today.
Mr. Taylor was responding to the testimony of a prosecution witness who in her September 2008 testimony said that Revolutionary United Front (RUF) commander Sam Bockarie (alias “Mosquito”) was executed in Liberia while returning from Ivory Coast in 2003 on the orders of Mr. Taylor. Mr. Taylor denied the witness’ claim.
“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 denied claims that he sent Mr. Bockarie with a group of fighters to attack Ivory Coast. He referred to Ivory Coast as a friendly country against which he would not have ordered any attacks.
Mr. Taylor was responding in part to the 2008 testimony of a former Sierra Leonean member of Mr. Taylor’s Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU), Jabati Jaward. Mr. Jaward had testified that he was among those sent by Mr. Taylor to Ivory Coast under Mr. Bockarie’s command. Mr. Taylor denied Mr. Jaward’s claim, arguing 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.
Meanwhile, as his testimony continued today, 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 today 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 hinderance to the country’s peace process.
“Bockarie was invited by me after consultations with other African leaders. It was decided by ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States],” he said.
Mr. Taylor also denied allegations that he ordered RUF rebels to fight Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebels in Voinjama, Liberia in 1998.
“There were no instructions or knowlege on my part of RUF being called into Liberia to fight,” he said.
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 tomorrow.