After his cross-examination got off to a stumble last week over the use of “new evidence,” Charles Taylor today 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. Mr. Taylor also dismissed as “nonsense” prosecution allegations that he has been misusing his phone privileges while in jail to try to influence testimony of his defense witnesses.
When court resumed this morning, the prosecution’s lead counsel Ms. Brenda Hollis indicated her team’s willingness to go ahead with Mr. Taylor’s cross-examination, having had more time to “rearrange strategies” after the court refused to allow the use of “new evidence” which had not been part of the prosecution’s case and was not raised in Mr. Taylor’s direct-examination. As the cross-examination proceeded, 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 today, 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 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.
Mr. Taylor agreed with Ms. Hollis that while in Nigeria, the host government imposed certain conditions on his asylum status — but such restrictions, he said, were not established specifically for him. He said that the restrictions were part of Nigerian law for anybody obtaining asylum in the country. The restrictions, as stated by Ms. Hollis, included restrictions on Mr. Taylor’s involvement in military and political activities in Liberia; not travelling out of Calabar, Nigeria, without authorization; and not talking to the press without informing the Nigerian authorities. Mr. Taylor responded that while in Nigeria, he had several press interviews and he was able to travel to visit several individuals, including then Nigeria president, Olusegun Obasanjo.
Mr. Taylor dismissed the notion that President Obasanjo imposed these restrictions on him because of evidence that while as president of Liberia, he had meddled in the politics of other countries and there were concerns that he would do the same thing with Liberian politics while in Nigeria.
“To suggest that Obasanjo will put these restrictions because I was meddling in other states is total nonsense,” he said.
The former president dismissed as “misleading” prosecution suggestions that West African leaders invited him for peace talks in Ghana in 2003 and then forced him to resign as president of Liberia. Mr. Taylor told the lead prosecutor that her team needs to do their work well.
“If they do their work and stop misleading this court, that will be good,” Mr. Taylor said. “I can tell you 100 percent that I volunteered to resign.”
Mr. Taylor is responding to charges that he was involved in a joint criminal enterprise with Revolutionary United Front (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 tomorrow.