Charles Taylor this week accused the prosecution of “misleading the court” by introducing evidence that as Liberian president, Mr. Taylor acted to resolve conflicts between Sierra Leone’s rebel commanders, appointed a chief rebel leader in his warring neighboring country, and then independently offered safe haven in Liberia to a top Sierra Leonean rebel on the run. Mr. Taylor also reinforced the truthfulness of his former vice president Moses Blah’s testimony against him last year, but pointed out three areas where he disagreed with Mr. Blah. Also in his testimony this week, Mr. Taylor accused Britain of transporting arms to Sierra Leone in violation of a United Nations arms embargo and then using him as a scapegoat by falsely accusing him of being responsible for the flow of arms into Sierra Leone.
On Monday, Mr. Taylor told the judges that “the prosecution misled the court” when he responded to the testimony of Vamunya Sherif, a previous prosecution witness and former Deputy Director of Operations in the Liberian Secret Service during Mr. Taylor’s presidency. Mr. Sherif, in his January 2008 testimony, told Special Court judges that Mr. Taylor served as mediator between two senior rebel commanders of Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF), Issa Sesay and Sam Bockarie. According to Mr. Sherif, Mr. Taylor invited the two RUF commanders to Liberia in order to resolve a conflict between them, during which time Mr. Taylor changed the leadership of the RUF, making Mr. Sesay the RUF’s frontline commander in place of Mr. Bockarie. The witness said that Mr. Bockarie eventually departed for Liberia where he sought a safe haven. Mr. Taylor on Monday dismissed the witness’s account as “lies.”
“No such situation occurred where I sent for Sam Bockarie and Issa Sesay to discuss a conflict between them that will lead to the departure of Bockarie,” Mr. Taylor said.
“The prosecution knows that no such meeting took place because they have gone through major documents that tell how Bockarie left Sierra Leone, so for them to ask that question when they know that no such meeting took place is sinister, and the prosecution misled the court,” the accused former Liberian president added.
Mr. Taylor also explained that there is no “correlation” in the time at which Mr. Bockarie left Sierra Leone in 1999 and the time at which Mr. Sesay became interim leader of the RUF in 2000.
“We are talking about seven months beginning in December 1999 when Bockarie left Sierra Leone and August 2000 when Issa Sesay took over the leadership of the RUF, so there is no correlation between the two,” he said.
Mr. Taylor further denied the witness’ claims that RUF commander Mr. Bockarie transported arms and ammunition from Liberia for use by RUF rebels in Sierra Leone and that in 1998, Mr. Bockarie travelled to Burkina Faso and returned with arms and ammunition via Liberia for RUF rebels in Sierra Leone.
“I think that this witness is confused or is deliberately mistating the evidence as he is told to do,” Mr. Taylor said.
Also on Monday, Mr. Taylor refuted the testimony of a previous prosecution witness Samuel Kargbo, a former member of Sierra Leone’s illegal Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) junta, which overthrew the elected government of President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah in May 1997. The witness in his testimony told the court that Mr. Taylor gave his support to the illegal junta in Sierra Leone and the AFRC’s leader Johnny Paul Koroma was in constant communication with Mr. Taylor. Mr. Taylor denied the witness’s claims on Monday.
“That is totally not true,” Mr. Taylor said. “He tells several lies here. I never spoke to Johnny Paul Koroma even before my presidency, and during my presidency, except in August 1999,” he added.
Mr. Taylor asserted that Liberia, like other West African states did not recognize the illegal AFRC junta in Sierra Leone.
On Tuesday, Mr. Taylor, in a surprising move, told the court that a huge portion of his former vice president Mr. Blah’s May 2008 testimony against him was true.
“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 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. 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.
Mr. Taylor also insisted that he did not order the execution of Mr. Bockarie as alleged by several prosecution witnesses, but rather sent Mr. Blah to arrest him on the Liberian border with Ivory Coast.
“Moses lied to this court when he said that he was just going to his farm. I dispatched him to go and effect Bockarie’s arrest,” Mr. Taylor told the judges on Wednesday.
In his May 2008 testimony, Mr. Blah told the judges that he was in his village in Nimba on the night of May 5, 2002 when Mr. Taylor’s Director of Special Security Service (SSS), Benjamin Yeaten, stopped by his house and greeted him in the company Mr. Bockarie, his wife and other Sierra Leoneans. At about 2-2:30AM, Mr. Blah said, he was woken up and told that fighting had erupted at the Liberian-Ivorian border. The following day, on his way back to Monrovia, he said he bumped into Mr. Yeaten who invited him to a Saw Mill Camp and told him they had gone on a special operation the previous night. He said that Mr. Yeaten then showed him the corpse of Mr. Bockarie, which he said was still dressed like he had seen him the previous night.
In response, Mr. Taylor disputed his former vice president’s account, insisting that Mr. Bockarie’s corpse was driven to Monrovia and delivered to the funeral home by Mr. Blah himself.
“Sam Bockarie’s body, on anything under the sun, was taken to Monrovia by Blah. Nobody under this planet took the body to Monrovia other than Moses Blah. I don’t know why he lied,” Mr. Taylor said.
Mr. Taylor also disputed Mr. Blah’s account that when he saw Mr. Bockarie’s corpse at the Saw Mill Camp on the way to Monrovia, Mr. Yeaten had told him that Mr. Bockarie was executed because they wanted to “destroy evidence,” not wanting “anything exposed.” Mr. Blah told the court in May 2008 that he believed that if Mr. Bockarie had not been killed, the NPFL and Mr. Taylor’s secret support to the RUF would have been exposed.
Mr. Taylor on Wednesday dismissed Mr. Blah’s account, insisting that there was no secret he feared to be exposed.
“There was no such thing. Expose what? What is about Sam Bockarie to be exposed? Bockarie to my understanding was not indicted. I didn’t lure Bockarie to Liberia to kill him because I didn’t want to be exposed,” Mr. Taylor said.
Mr. Taylor also dismissed Mr. Blah’s account that when he arrived in Monrovia following Mr. Bockarie’s death, he asked Mr. Taylor why Mr. Bockarie had been killed. According to Mr. Blah, Mr. Taylor dismissed his inquiry into the matter, saying that “that is not your business, it is a military operation.”
“He is a military man and how will I not discuss that with him? Mr. Taylor asked.
“Blah was sent to that operation. I swear to my life, he took the body to the funeral home. He is lying. The fact of the matter is that Bockarie is killed by Liberian forces. I liked Bockarie as a son and Moses knows how hurt I was to hear of Bockarie’s death. Blah was negligent, I sent him to save this boy but he failed,” Mr. Taylor told the judges.
Mr. Taylor also told the judges that while he was attending peace talks in Ghana in 2003 and during which time the Chief Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone unsealed the indictment against him, United States officials convinced his former vice president Mr. Blah to stage a coup and unseat him. Mr. Taylor said that on his return, he ordered the arrest of Mr. Blah, after which, the former vice president admitted that he had indeed been encouraged by the US officials to unseat Mr. Taylor.
Also on Wednesday, Mr. Taylor declared the prosecution’s expert witness, Dr. Stephen Ellis, as biased. Mr. Ellis had testified in 2008 about Mr. Taylor’s activities in the West African sub-region. According to Mr. Taylor, Dr. Ellis has had a long standing association with certain Liberians, including current Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who he said have made all efforts to bring Mr. Taylor down. Mr. Taylor’s defense team produced transcripts of a telephone conversation that Dr. Ellis had with Madam Johnson Sirleaf several years ago for a book he was writing about developments in the sub-region.
On Thurday, Mr. Taylor accused Britain of transporting arms to Sierra Leone and falsely accusing him of sending arms to rebel forces in the war-ravaged country. The accused former Liberian president told the judges that when the AFRC overthrew the elected government of Sierra Leone in 1997, the country’s ousted president, Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, engaged a British mercenary group, Sandline, to dislodge the illegal AFRC junta regime from the country’s capital Freetown. He explained that the arrangement was facilitated by then British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone Peter Penfold, whom he said already had links with Sandline prior to his assignment to Sierra Leone in March 1997. Sandline, Mr. Taylor said, provided training and arms for Sierra Leonean civil militia, the Kamajors, as well as Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) peacekeepers. Mr. Taylor said that the British navel ship HMS Conway was also in the high seas supplying arms and ammunition to forces loyal to President Kabbah. According to Mr. Taylor, the British — who had drafted a United Nations resolution imposing an arms embargo on Sierra Leone — were the ones violating the sanctions.
“The British government was breaking the United Nations resolution,” Mr. Taylor alleged.
According to Mr. Taylor, when it became clear that the British were the ones violating the UN sanctions on Sierra Leone, they decided to use him as a scapegoat, alleging that he was the one supplying arms to rebel forces in his neighboring country.
“The explanation as to how arms are flowing into Sierra Leone is that they are coming from Liberia. They will bring in these arms and build this lie that arms are coming from Liberia,” he said.
“They were aware but they put the blame on Taylor and I say to the world that how can I supply arms to Sierra Leone when I do not have arms in Liberia?” the former president asked.
The accused former president reiterated a familiar position that these allegations are part of a conspiracy theory to destroy him.
“All of this is an orchestration for my destruction,” he maintained.
Mr. Taylor also made attempts to discredit international press reports that he was involved in a diamond trade with Sierra Leone’s RUF rebels. Referring to a June 2000 Washington Post and an August 2000 Wall Street Journal reports which both accused him of being involved in a diamond trade with the RUF, Mr. Taylor told the judges on Thursday that these were “deliberate attempts to spread disinformation to destroy me.”
Also in his testimony on Thursday, Mr. Taylor discussed in detail a report by a Washington Post reporter Douglas Farah, which linked him with the terrorist group Al Qaeda. The report, published in October 2003 and titled “The Role of Conflict Diamonds in Failed States” alleged that Al Qaeda operatives made regular visits to Liberia during which they purchased diamonds from Sierra Leone’s RUF rebels. According to the report, Ibrahim Bah, an alleged agent of Mr. Taylor, had close ties with an Islamic fundamentalist group in Afghanistan. The report further alleged that armed guards associated with Mr. Taylor escorted Al Qaeda operatives into Liberia to purchase conflict diamonds. Mr. Taylor denied the contents of the report, saying that if he had any knowledge that Ibrahim Bah was involved in such actions, he would not have entered Liberia.
“Bah would not have stayed in Liberia if we had known,” he said. The former president told the judges that “there are no armed guards escorting Al Qaeda into Liberia.”
Mr. Taylor also refuted contents of the Mr. Farah’s report which alleged that by the end of 2001, Al Qaeda dispatched two operatives to Liberia offering to buy all diamonds the RUF could produce.
“That is so not true,” Mr. Taylor told the judges.
Mr. Taylor explained that when these allegations were made, his government cooperated with the United States authorities. After a thorough investigation, it was revealed that there were no Al Qaeda operatives in Liberia, he said. He explained that by the time Mr. Farah wrote his report in October 2003, “the matter was already properly investigated and dismissed.”
Mr. Taylor further challenged the contents of a report by Belgian Federal Criminal Investigators, which alleged that Al Qaeda had a relationship with RUF rebels in Sierra Leone, through Liberia, under Mr. Taylor’s supervision.
“It is totally untrue. The report does not contain any factual evidence of the conclusion reached in that statement,” Mr. Taylor responded.
Mr. Taylor said he was not aware of any meetings between RUF and Al Qaeda operatives in the Hotel Boulevard in Monrovia, as alleged in the Belgian report.
Dismissing the report, Mr. Taylor told the judges that “this gives all the signs of a well orchestrated set of lies. How can professional people behave like this? This is a very amateurish report here destined to destroy people.”
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.