In a surprising move, Charles Taylor today reinforced the truthfulness of his former vice president’s testimony against him last year, but dismissed the evidence of a Liberian journalist as full of “lies” and “exaggeration.”
“To a great extent, Moses [Blah] told the court the truth,” Mr. Taylor said when asked by his defense counsel to give his view on his former vice president’s testimony. “There were three areas where unfortunately, he was wrong but 90-95 percent of what he said is true.”
Mr. Taylor’s analysis of Mr. Blah’s testimony came as part of his ongoing effort to respond to evidence provided by several prosecution witnesses, disputing their claims that he provided support for Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in Sierra Leone after November 1996, amid the country’s 11-years conflict. In May 2008, Mr. Taylor’s former vice president Moses Blah, had testified for the prosecution against his former boss (Taylor), a testimony which covered Mr. Taylor’s activities from the late 1980s when the two men were together in Libya and planning to invade Liberia, up to 2003 when Mr. Taylor handed the presidency of Liberia to Mr. Blah and sought asylum in Nigeria.
Mr. Taylor went through some aspects of Mr. Blah’s testimony and agreed with him that as vice president, he had no knowledge that arms and ammunition were transported from Liberia to Sierra Leone for use by RUF rebels. Mr. Blah said in his May 2008 testimony that while Liberians fought as part of the RUF in Sierra Leone, he was not aware of any support given to the RUF by the Liberian government, a point on which Mr. Taylor agreed with him today. Mr. Taylor also agreed with his former vice president’s testimony that when the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) attacked Liberia in 1989, current Liberian president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was responsible for the NPFL’s fund raising issues in the United States.
Mr. Taylor did disagree with his former vice-president on specific issues arising in his testimony.
“I can specify three areas where he lied,” Mr. Taylor told the Special Court for Sierra Leone judges. “One is how he spoke about the Sam Bockarie issue was wrong. He was sent to handle the Sam Bockarie situation, he took the body to Monrovia and delivered it at the funeral home. Unfortunately, I don’t know why he lied.”
“The second thing is he said he did not know he’d become vice president. The third area he could have been more forthcoming was about the activities of Sam Lato. He knows that Sam Lato was tried by court martial before he was executed. Other than that, for whatever reason he came here, he was as factual as he could,” he said.
Also in his testimony today, Mr. Taylor dismissed claims made by a previous prosecution witness, Liberian journalist Hassan Bility, as “lies.”
In his 2008 testimony against Mr. Taylor, Mr. Bility told the court that he was arrested and tortured by Mr. Taylor’s government in June 2002. He said that Mr. Taylor personally interrogated him, telling him to stop writing about Mr. Taylor’s support for the RUF. Mr. Bility said Mr. Taylor accused him of transporting arms and ammunition to Liberia and keeping them at the United States embassy in Monrovia, with the aim of unseating his government. Disputing the witness’ claims, today Mr. Taylor said that he never accused Mr. Bility of transporting arms into Liberia and that he did not tell him anything about his association with the RUF.
Mr. Taylor today accused Mr. Bility of working as an agent for the United States government and an active member of the United Liberation Movement for Democracy (ULIMO) and the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebel groups.
Mr. Taylor described Mr. Bility as “an enemy combatant” because he was LURD’s main contact in Monrovia. He explained that when the Liberian government’s intelligence agents went to work, they discovered some emails that Mr. Bility had exchanged with various people who were trying to destabilize Liberia.
“He was an enemy combatant,” Mr. Taylor said. “I told him that the only thing that will set him free is for him to confess. There was a plan made to attack my residence in Kongor Town and he was supposed to find the people to launch the attack. He worked as a combatant at a different level,” he added.
Mr. Taylor denied Mr. Bility’s assertion that Mr. Taylor had said he was not “going to allow anybody to arm twist the RUF.”
Mr. Taylor further refuted Mr. Bility’s testimony that on October 20, 1997, while visiting the headquarters of Mr. Taylor’s National Patriotic Party (NPP) in Monrovia, he made handwritten notes of Mr. Taylor’s comments in which he threatened to unseat Sierra Leone’s president, Ahmed Tejan Kabbah.
“Taylor said that if I thought he would not unseat Kabbah’s government, then I must be from an alien planet. He said that he had the best ground force in the country and Kabbah wanted to try him,” Mr. Bility was quoted in his 2008 testimony in The Hague. Mr. Bility also said that RUF commander Sam Bockarie was present at the NPP office during his visit to the office.
Mr. Taylor dismissed Mr. Bility’s statement as a “fabrication.”
“The whole thing that you just read is just fabrication,” he said. “I don’t know how I’ll remove Kabbah in October 1997 when he is already out of power. There was no Sam Bockarie at no NPP headquarters in 1997, that’s a lie,” he added.
In May 1997, President Kabbah was overthrown by soldiers of the Sierra Leone army, during which time Mr. Kabbah sought refuge in Guinea. The soldiers formed a merger with the RUF rebels and together, they ruled Sierra Leone until February 1998 when they were forcefully removed from the country’s capital Freetown. They retreated to the country’s hinterland and continued fighting the government and people of Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor is accused of supporting the rebel forces through the supply of arms and ammunition as well as planning military operations with the rebels, during which time war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international humanitarian law were committed. Mr. Taylor is accused of bearing responsibility for the crimes committed by rebel forces in Sierra Leone. He is presently testifying as a witness in his own defense.
Mr. Taylor’s testimony continues tomorrow.