As the cross-examination of former Liberian president Charles Taylor continued into a second week, Prosecutors this week told Special Court for Sierra Leone that the former Liberian president was “not honest” with the United Nations Panel of Experts set up to investigate his alleged dealings with Sierra Leonean rebels. Mr. Taylor also this week admitted to prosecutors that he shared information with the spy agency of the same country he has accused of plotting his downfall: the United States.
The UN Panel of Experts report released in 2000 accused Mr. Taylor of fuelling the conflict in Sierra Leone through diamonds and arms trade with Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels, a group that fought an 11-year conflict in Sierra Leone. In cross-examining Mr. Taylor on Thursday, lead prosecution counsel Ms. Brenda Hollis pointed out that when the UN Panel of Experts met with Mr. Taylor in 2000, the former president lied to them about the whereabouts of notorious Sierra Leonean rebel commander Sam Bockarie. In 1999, Mr. Bockarie, having fallen out with the leadership of the RUF, relocated to Liberia where Sierra Leonean rebels loyal to him were recruited into Mr. Taylor’s Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU). According to some prosecution witnesses, Mr. Bockarie relocated to Liberia on Mr. Taylor’s invitation. Mr. Taylor on the other hand has said that Mr. Bockarie’s relocation to Liberia was based on a decision by West African leaders. In 2000, reports indicate that Mr. Bockarie left Liberia for Ivory Coast, where he was involved in the conflict there, allegedly on Mr. Taylor’s orders. Mr. Taylor has refuted such assertions. In his cross-examination today, the former president denied prosecution claims that when asked by the UN Panel of Experts about the whereabouts of Mr. Bockarie, he told them he “did not know where Bockarie was.”
“Well, I could not tell where he was,” Mr. Taylor said.
When told by Ms. Hollis that Mr. Bockarie “was carrying out your duties undermining other governments,” Mr. Taylor responded that such an assertion was “a blatant hallucination.”
“Charles Taylor had no money, so why is he undermining other governments?” Mr. Taylor asked.
Mr. Taylor insisted that he was honest in his response to the UN Panel of Experts, asserting that he was not asked directly where Mr. Bockarie was.
“I was never asked precisely where he was. I was being honest with the UN because as president of Liberia, I needed to be sure of where he was. I told them the official position of my government that he was escorted to the Ivorian border,” he said.
Mr. Taylor explained that when Mr. Bockarie indicated that he wanted to relocate to Burkina Faso, he asked to be escorted through Ivory Coast and therefore the Liberian government had to escort him to the Liberian border with Ivory Coast.
Asked by Ms. Hollis whether he informed the Ivorian government that Mr. Bockarie, though on a UN travel ban, was being escorted to their border and was passing through their territory, Mr. Taylor said that he did not see the need to share such information with the Ivorian government.
“I did not feel the obligation to tell them. It is not the function of the government to tell other governments that somebody is on a travel ban and was on his way to their country,” he said.
Ms. Hollis further pointed out that Mr. Bockarie travelled on a Liberian passport with the name Solomon Johnson.
“This could have been a travel document given to him in 1998 because we gave him a passport in 1998. I don’t know what name he travelled on,” Mr. Taylor responded.
Mr. Taylor agreed that when Mr. Bockarie was given a Liberian passport in 1998, he was not a Liberian citizen. He said the RUF commander and his followers were given Liberian citizenship only when they left Sierra Leone for Liberia in December 1999.
Ms. Hollis also pointed out that in Mr. Taylor’s direct-examination, he had said that the UN Panel of Experts had not asked him about diamonds from Sierra Leone during their interview with him in Liberia. Ms. Hollis read portions of notes prepared by a member of the Panel of Experts, Ian Smillie, on his October 6, 2000 meeting with Mr. Taylor. The notes indicate that the UN Panel of Experts asked Mr. Taylor about comments made by the then United States Under-Secretary of State, Thomas Pickering, to Mr. Taylor that he had evidence of Mr. Taylor’s dealings in diamond with RUF rebels. Mr. Taylor insisted that those notes were prepared by Mr. Smillie and could well not reflect what was discussed in the meeting.
Mr. Taylor’s association with RUF commander Mr. Bockarie has occupied a huge portion of the case against him. Witnesses have testified that Mr. Bockarie used to take orders from Mr. Taylor and that when the RUF commander left Sierra Leone in 1999 and relocated to Liberia, the former Liberian president sent him to launch attacks in Ivory Coast, with an aim of destabilizing that country. These allegations add to charges against Mr. Taylor that he was involved in a joint criminal enterprise with RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. It is alleged that while the RUF rebels took orders from him, he also received diamonds from the rebels in return for supplies of arms and ammunition. The prosecution argues that Mr. Taylor bears responsibility for crimes such as rape, murder, terrorizing the civilian population and recruitment of child soldiers by the RUF in Sierra Leone.
On Monday, Mr. Taylor denied suggestions that he was an agent of the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). He admitted, however, that his rebel group, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), exchanged information with the CIA – a collaboration and exchange that continued into his presidency.
“The organization [NPFL] provided information to the CIA. The NPFL at the time did provide information to the CIA and there was information from the CIA to us too. There was exchange of information, mostly from between 1991-92,” Mr. Taylor said.
“The NPFL and the CIA exchanged information on certain operations. They were mostly internal to the Liberia operation,” he added.
Mr. Taylor explained that the collaboration with the CIA continued when he became president in 1997.
“The government of Liberia associated in so many ways in exchange of information with the CIA. Throughout my presidency, an agency of my government collaborated with the CIA,” the former president said.
Despite this previous collaboration with an agency of the United States, the accused former president has consistently accused the United States of plotting his downfall through support to rebel forces who fought to unseat him in Liberia, and his subsequent trial at the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
Also in his cross-examination on Monday, the prosecution accused Mr. Taylor of misusing his phone services in his Hague cell to influence prospective defense witnesses to tell lies in his favor. Mr. Taylor denied Ms. Hollis’ suggestion that he has been calling prospective defense witnesses in Sierra Leone and Liberia, telling them to “testify in a certain way” or promising to give them money if they travelled to The Hague and told lies in his favor. Mr. Taylor has been “misusing the privileged access lines,” Ms. Hollis suggested. Mr. Taylor denied these claims.
“I have never misused the privileged access lines. To the best of my knowledge, I have never been advised that I cannot use the privileged access lines to talk to prospective witnesses,” he said.
Mr. Taylor also on Monday dismissed as “nonsense” Ms. Hollis’ suggestions that when he (Taylor) resigned as president of Liberia and sought asylum in Nigeria, West African leaders had to accompany him to Nigeria because they wanted to make sure that he got to where he was supposed to go.
“Maybe that is your assessment. Your assertion that I would have escaped to another country is totally nonsense,” he said.
Ms. Hollis spent much of Tuesday’s cross-examination of Mr. Taylor reading out statements by other West African leaders condemning Mr. Taylor’s NPFL for crimes committed against Liberians and members of international humanitarian agencies, including American Catholic nuns and peacekeepers during his country’s civil war.
In a 1992 statement read by Ms. Hollis, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) leaders condemned Mr. Taylor’s rebel group (the NPFL) for their actions against West African peacekeepers serving in Liberia under the banner ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG). The ECOWAS leaders had “warned all warring factions against the commission of war crimes” in Liberia. The statement alluded to the killing of civilians, peacekeepers and American Catholic nuns during “Operation Octopus,” an operation launched by Mr. Taylor’s NPFL on the Liberian capital Monrovia in October 1992.
Mr. Taylor, in his response explained the circumstances surrounding the death of the nuns.
“That issue remains contested. They were killed in the area controlled by Senegalese forces. It remains contested. The United States raised that issue, we investigated it and it was determined that they were not killed deliberately by the NPFL but they were killed by crossfire,” Mr. Taylor explained.
“If you have a document showing that they were deliberately killed by NPFL, then you can bring it here,” the former Liberian president challenged the prosecution counsel.
“We will bring it later,” prosecutor counsel Ms. Hollis responded.
On Wednesday, Mr. Taylor told the court that he did not support plans to attack Sierra Leone while he was in Libya in the late 1980s. Mr. Taylor was responding to questions under cross-examination on his associations in Libya where rebel forces where being trained to eventually invade Liberia and Sierra Leone in 1989 and 1991 respectively. Mr. Taylor has on numerous occasions insisted that he never knew about the formation of the RUF and that he never met the group’s leader, Foday Sankoh, in Libya. The former president has said that he instead met the leader of Sierra Leone Pan-Africanist Movement, Ali Kabbah, who was a former University of Sierra Leone student leader.
As Mr. Taylor was being cross-examined on Wednesday, he challenged prosecution claims that Mr. Kabbah and Mr. Sankoh had a schism in Libya because they both had disagreements as to what measures were needed to bring about change in Sierra Leone. Mr. Kabbah, the prosecution claimed, met with Mr. Taylor and told him he wanted to embark on ideological education in Sierra Leone as a means of bringing about change in the country, while Mr. Sankoh preferred a military revolution. The prosecution put it to Mr. Taylor that he supported Mr. Sankoh over Mr. Kabbah because he (Taylor) was also in favour of a military revolution in Sierra Leone, just like the one he was planning for Liberia. Mr. Taylor denied the prosecution’s claim, insisting that he never knew Mr. Sankoh in Libya.
“You favoured Foday Sankoh over Ali Kabbah because Sankoh was in favour of a military option right?” Ms. Hollis asked Mr. Taylor on Wednesday.
“I could have only favoured one over the other if I knew the other but I did not know Sankoh,” the former president responded.
“I do not know what happened behind the scenes but that is not what Ali Kabbah told me and other people,” Mr. Taylor added.
Mr. Taylor challenged prosecution claims that Mr. Kabbah had told him (Taylor) that he did not want a military solution to Sierra Leone’s problems but rather an “ideological training as a means of taking power” in the country.
“That is not my information,” Mr. Taylor said. “The Ali Kabbah I met did tell Charles Taylor that he had contacts within the government and the military in Sierra Leone and that he only needed a spark for a military takeover in the country,” he added.
Mr. Taylor is responding to charges that he was involved in a joint criminal enterprise with RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor has denied allegations that he supplied arms and ammunition to the rebels in return for Sierra Leone’s blood diamonds and that he helped them plan certain operations during which atrocities such as rape, murder and amputation of civilian arms were committed. From July 14 to November 10, 2009, Mr. Taylor testified in direct-examination as a witness in his own defense. He is currently being cross-examined by the prosecution.
Mr. Taylor’s cross-examination continues on Monday.