Prosecutors this week grilled Charles Taylor on allegations that his rebel forces committed widespread and systematic crimes in Liberia similar to those committed by rebel forces in Sierra Leone, that he trained and used children for combat in Liberia, that he stashed away huge amounts of Liberian government money into foreign bank accounts, and that he has lied and given inconsistent testimony while testifying as a witness in his own defense. Mr. Taylor denies all charges against him, but this week did admit to inconsistencies in his own testimony.
During the former Liberian president’s cross-examination, prosecutors have been seeking to prove that Mr. Taylor established control over Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in Sierra Leone. These rebels, prosecutors say, replicated the types of widespread and systematic crimes that Mr. Taylor’s own forces committed in Liberia during its civil war, including sexual offenses and recruitment of child soldiers. Prosecutors have also been seeking to impeach Mr. Taylor’s credibility as a witness, trying to highlight inconsistencies in the former president’s testimony and telling the judges that he has lied as a witness and therefore his accounts cannot be relied on. Cross-examination of Mr. Taylor is expected to finish in the coming week.
On Monday, lead prosecution counsel, Brenda Hollis, questioned Mr. Taylor about crimes committed by his National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) rebel forces during the conflict in Liberia as part of a broader effort to show consistent crime patterns with RUF rebels in Sierra Leone for whom Mr. Taylor is accused of providing support. In doing so, she sought to demonstrate that while the specific types of crimes committed in each country may have differed, the approach used by both sets of rebels were the same in that they involved widespread and systematic attacks against civilians. Mr. Taylor has consistently denied he was in control of the RUF rebels. The former president has also sought to show in his direct testimony that he held his own rebels in Liberia to account for any crimes committed – and that in any case, such crimes were not, he argues, widespread in nature.
“Crimes committed by all factions in Liberia including your NPFL were widespread and systematic in nature,” Ms. Hollis told Mr. Taylor on Monday.
“I’ll say it’s incorrect,” Mr. Taylor responded.
Ms. Hollis also pointed that “the NPFL did not put in place the minimum standards to mitigate against these widespread abuses” in the NPFL.
In his response, the former president said that “the NPFL had military tribunals to mitigate abuses.”
Mr. Taylor has previously maintained that crimes committed by rebel forces in Sierra Leone were a surprise to him because they did not occur in Liberia. Ms. Hollis disagreed with Mr. Taylor on this, pointing that Liberian rebel forces also subjected civilians to amputations, just like RUF rebels did in Sierra Leone.
“There were no amputations in Liberia. That is a blatant and diabolical lie,” Mr. Taylor said.
On Tuesday, Ms. Hollis told Mr. Taylor that he recruited and used children for military purposes in Liberia and it was therefore no surprise to him to learn that child soldiers were being used by RUF rebels and the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), an illegal junta regime that overthrew the elected government of Sierra Leone in 1997. Mr. Taylor dismissed the claim as untrue.
“You yourself had armed children, some as young as eight years old,” Ms. Hollis accused Mr. Taylor on Tuesday.
“That is total nonsense. Every child that I held I put in an orphanage,” Mr. Taylor responded.
In response to prosecution allegation that he “used children as young as 10 to man check-points,” Mr. Taylor said that “I did not use any children as young as 10 to man check-points. There were soldiers and some of them had their relatives around them but I did not use any children to man check-points.”
As Ms. Hollis asserted that “use of child soldiers by the RUF and AFRC was no surprise to you,” Mr. Taylor responded that “I have no knowledge of what the AFRC and RUF did in Sierra Leone.”
In pointing out the activities of Mr. Taylor’s NPFL rebels in Liberia, Ms. Hollis has been trying to convince the judges that Mr. Taylor knew of similar activities by Sierra Leonean rebel forces but could do nothing to stop them because he was doing the same things in Liberia.
“No surprise to you of what they (RUF) did in Sierra Leone because it is the same that you did in Liberia,” Ms. Hollis persisted. “You were not truthful when you said that crimes committed in Sierra Leone were of surprise to you because they did not happen in Liberia,” she added.
“I had no knowledge of the inner workings of the RUF and AFRC.” Mr. Taylor responded, adding that crimes such as amputations were not committed in Liberia and cases of rape were severely dealt with.
Also on Tuesday, Ms. Hollis told Mr. Taylor that he failed to take actions against some of his NPFL commanders who massacred civilians in various towns and villages in Liberia. Mr. Taylor insisted that he did take actions for any crimes that were brought to his knowledge.
On Wednesday, prosecutors questioned Mr. Taylor about bank transfers which they say allowed him to secretly buy weapons while his country was under a United Nations arms embargo. Mr. Taylor said he could not remember specifically what the money was used for.
Prosecution counsel Nicholas Koumjian sought to demonstrate that Mr. Taylor’s Liberian government purchased arms and ammunition in violation of a United Nations arms embargo on Liberia. Mr. Koumjian went through portions of a United Nations Expert report which accused Mr. Taylor and his government of busting UN sanctions, as well as involvement in Sierra Leone’s conflict.
Mr. Koumjian, reading from the UN report told Mr. Taylor that in October 2000, the Bureau of Maritime Affairs transferred 150,000 USD into a bank in Dubai and the said money was used for “sanction busting.”
“Did you know about this?” Mr. Koumjian asked Mr. Taylor.
“Not specifically,” Mr. Taylor responded.
Mr. Koumjian also told Mr. Taylor that during his administration as president of Liberia, a letter originating from the Liberian Ministry of Finance instructed Mr. John Teng, the General Manager of Oriental Timber Company (OTC) in Liberia, to transfer 500,000 USD into a bank in Switzerland. The money, Mr. Koumjian said, was OTC’s tax payment to the Liberian government.
“Were you familiar with this instruction to transfer this tax amount not to the Central Bank of Liberia or the Ministry of Finance but to a Swiss Bank?” Mr. Koumjian asked Mr. Taylor.
In his response, Mr. Taylor said that he could not say what the money was transferred for but agreed that an amount like that could have had clearance from the presidency.
“I do not know. I cannot recollect specifically. All I can say is that an amount like that will need some presidential clearance,” he said.
According to the UN report, Mr. Taylor’s government provided money to Mr. Sanjivan Ruprah, the former Deputy Commissioner of the Bureau of Maritime Affairs in Liberia. As Mr. Koumjian pointed out on Wednesday, Mr. Ruprah was described by the UN Sanctions Committee on Liberia as “Businessman, Arms dealer in contravention of UNSC resolution 1343. Supported former president Taylor’s regime in effort to destabilize Sierra Leone and gain illicit access to diamonds.”
Mr. Taylor denied that in 1999-2000, he authorized the disbursement of 1 million USD to Mr. Ruprah for the purchase of arms and ammunition.
“I did not authorize money to him to buy arms. I would have authorized money to him but the details of it, I do not know. I do not recall the details of why these amounts were paid. All I can say is that I authorized them,” Mr. Taylor said.
While agreeing that he approved Mr. Ruprah’s status as a Liberian diplomat, he, however, added that he does not know every detail of Mr. Ruprah’s life. Asked if he has been honest about his knowledge of Mr. Ruprah, the former president said that “yes, what I have said is what I know. I do not know every detail of Mr. Ruprah’s life.”
On Thursday, Mr. Koumjian told Mr. Taylor that he told lies in his direct-examination because he was too desperate to discredit prosecution witnesses. Mr. Taylor dismissed this assertion as “incorrect” – but the former president did admit to a series of inconsistencies in his own previous testimony as the day wore on. Mr. Koumjian accused Mr. Taylor of giving different accounts of his relationship with National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) rebel leader the late General Jonas Savimbi. In his previous testimony, Mr. Taylor had said that he had met Gen. Savimbi in Ivory Coast but later denied ever meeting the Angolan rebel leader, asserting that he only had communications with him. When the inconsistency in his testimony was brought out to him, Mr. Taylor said that ““to be honest, I’ve never met Gen. Savimbi. I concede, what I said then was incorrect.”
Mr. Koumjian also questioned Mr. Taylor about his earlier denial that his Chief of Protocal Musa Sesay had not accompanied RUF commander Sam Bockarie to Zambia in February 2001. Mr. Bockarie, it is alleged had traveled to Zambia in February 2001 on route to Angola where Mr. Taylor had allegedly sent him to render military assistance to UNITA rebels. Mr. Taylor had previously said that it was not possible for Mr. Sesay to have travelled to Zambia without his knowledge because according to him, he saw Mr. Sesay everyday. During cross-examination on Thursday, Mr. Koumjian presented to Mr. Taylor a Liberian diplomatic passport with a photograph of Mr. Sesay, which indicated that Mr. Sesay had entered Zambia on February 10 and departed the country three days later, at about the same time Mr. Bockarie is alleged to have travelled to Zambia.
“We may have to determine the authenticity of this passport. We have seen many fake passports and fake stamps, so we’ll have to determine the authenticity of it,” Mr. Taylor responded.
“The reason you lied to these judges that you are 100 percent certain that Musa Sesay was not in Zambia and you did not know Mr. Savimbi is because you were desperate to discredit the witness who spoke about these issues,” Mr. Koumjian told Mr. Taylor.
“That is incorrect,” the former president responded.
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.
Mr. Taylor’s cross-examination continues on Monday.