Charles Taylor’s first defense witness said that prosecution witnesses lied when they testified that the former Liberian president recruited and used children for combat purposes in Liberia.
Yanks Smythe, whose cross-examination by prosecutors started today, has spent the week rebutting prosecution evidence against Mr. Taylor who is charged on 11-counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in the territory of Sierra Leone between 1996 and 2002. Mr. Taylor, who is never said to have been present in Sierra Leone during the civil conflict, is alleged to have supported Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels through the supply of arms and ammunition as well as the planning of specific operations which were launched against the civilian population of Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor has denied all the allegations against him.
In seeking to prove that Mr. Taylor established control over rebel forces in both Liberia and Sierra Leone, prosecutors have led evidence to show that the modes of operation by Mr. Taylor’s rebel forces in Liberia were reflective of how RUF rebels conducted themselves in Sierra Leone. One such area that prosecutors have focused on is the recruitment of child soldiers, trying to prove that just as the former president used child soldiers in Liberia, he similarly encouraged RUF rebels to do same in Sierra Leone. Indeed, during the presentation of the prosecution’s case, several witnesses, including Mr. Taylor’s former vice president Moses Blah, testified that child soldiers were used by Mr. Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia, and that some served as bodyguards to the former president and other NPFL commanders. Mr. Taylor’s witness today said otherwise.
“There were never child soldiers as part of the security of Charles Taylor,” Mr. Smythe said.
Prosecution counsel Nicholas Koumjian, who conducted the cross-examination of the witness, pressed further.
“Mr. Witness, I’ve read to you the testimony of Moses Blah, Stephen Smith the journalist and Vamunya Sherif, is it your testimony that all of these sources talking about child soldiers were lying and you are telling the truth?” Mr. Koumjian asked the witness.
“As far as I am concerned, they are lying and I am telling the truth,” the witness responded.
Also in his cross-examination today, Mr. Smythe denied prosecution assertions that Mr. Taylor’s action in enlisting Gambians into his NPFL rebel group was part of his plan to later provide assistance to Gambian rebels in order to destabilize their own country (Gambia). The witness insisted that Gambians only joined the NPFL to provide security for Mr. Taylor after Prince Johnson had led a break-away faction from the NPFL. Defense counsel Mr. Koumjian asked why the Gambians had decided to protect Mr. Taylor as against Mr. Johnson.
“Now why did you feel you wanted to help Charles Taylor against Prince Johnson? Why did you want to be on one side of that Liberian dispute as opposed to the other?” Mr. Koumjian asked the witness.
“Who is Prince Johnson, I don’t know Prince Johnson to be anybody for me to provide security for him. We went in there to provide security for Mr. Taylor because of the fact that Prince Johnson and some other Special Forces had broken-away from him,” the witness responded.
“Well sir, you didn’t know Charles Taylor, did you?” Mr. Koumjian pushed further.
In his response, the witness said “I knew Charles Taylor.”
When asked how many times he had spoken to Mr. Taylor before joining him in Liberia, the witness said that “I talked to him when I came to Burkina, I talked to him once, twice, I saw him and we spoke.”
Prosecutors have alleged that Mr. Taylor was involved in a common plan with Sierra Leonean and Gambian rebel leaders to destabilize West Africa. It was in pursuit of this agenda that Mr. Taylor provided support to leader of the RUF, Foday Sankoh, when his rebel group attacked Sierra Leone in 1991 — and was to do same to Gambian dissident leader Dr. Kukua Sambasanja, prosecutors have alleged. Mr. Smythe denied these assertions today.
Today’s cross-examination saw some heated exchanges between Mr. Koumjian and the witness, as the prosecutor sought to know the witness’ sources of income in Liberia. On some occasions, the witness refused to answer the prosecutor’s question but the intervention of the presiding judge Justice Julia Sebutinde obliged the witness to answer.
Mr. Smythe’s cross-examination continues on Monday.