Prosecutors this week concluded the cross-examination of former Liberian president Charles Taylor, asserting before Special Court for Sierra Leone judges that the former president persecuted human rights activists and suppressed press freedom in Liberia, that he executed politicians and rebel commanders who he saw as threats to his quest for political power, that he had ulterior motives when he negotiated the release of United Nations peacekeepers held hostage by Sierra Leonean rebel forces, and that through his support to rebel forces in Sierra Leone, he brought untold suffering to the people of the West African country. Mr. Taylor denied these allegations, insisting that his trial is part of a “let’s get Taylor” conspiracy by western countries, specifically Britain and the United States.
On Monday, lead prosecution counsel Brenda Hollis told Mr. Taylor that he did not tolerate press freedom in Liberia while he served as the West African country’s president from 1997 to 2003 and that during his tenure as president, several radio stations were closed down and several journalists were harassed and imprisoned. Reading from a report on press freedom in Liberia by the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ), Ms. Hollis told Mr. Taylor that his government was “repressive and intolerant to press freedom.” Mr. Taylor dismissed the claim as “incorrect.”
“Indeed Mr. Taylor, during your presidency, independent news reporting was cut back substantially, isn’t that correct?” Ms. Hollis asked Mr. Taylor.
“That is not correct,” Mr. Taylor responded.
Responding to allegations that his government closed down media institutions including religious radio stations that questioned his government’s violation of human rights, Mr. Taylor said that media institutions were closed down because they failed to pay taxes. For religious stations, Mr. Taylor said that such stations which deviated from their religious broadcast were warned not to engage in politics.
Also in court on Monday, Ms. Hollis questioned Mr. Taylor about his September 2009 testimony that it was only in court that he heard about “Operation No Living Thing”– an operation that was launched by RUF rebels in Sierra Leone which aimed to ensure that anything that had life must be killed. Mr. Taylor has previously denied giving orders to RUF rebels to conduct such an operation. In today’s cross-examination, Ms. Hollis asked Mr. Taylor about his September 2009 testimony that he did not know about such an operation.
“Were you telling the judges that prior to coming to this court, you’ve never heard of ‘Operation No Living Thing’?” Ms. Hollis asked Mr. Taylor.
“I could have but I cannot recall,” The former president responded.
Mr. Taylor reiterated that he never gave any order for such an operation.
Ms. Hollis also told Mr. Taylor that he ordered Operation No Living Thing in Liberia, an operation that involved Mr. Taylor’s Director of Special Security Service (SSS) Benjamin Yeaten and former prosecution witness and National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) member Joseph Zig Zag Marzah.
“I was not aware and I gave no such order,” Mr. Taylor said.
On Tuesday, Ms. Hollis told Mr. Taylor that when he helped secure the release of United Nations peacekeepers held hostage by Sierra Leonean rebels ten years ago, he was really trying to help the rebels gain more control over his neighboring country. Mr. Taylor disagreed: the safety of the hostages was forefront on his mind, he said.
Ms Hollis questioned Mr. Taylor’s motives in calling for a ceasefire during the hostage crisis, arguing that it would have helped the rebels consolidate control over a key town, Masiaka. Such a ceasefire, prosecutors argued, would have placed the rebels closer to the capital, Freetown, and also provided a bigger buffer zone between the rebel-held diamond mining fields and government-controlled areas. Mr. Taylor denied being motivated by the enlargement of rebel control in Sierra Leone.
“I don’t know the different positions in Sierra Leone where they (the Revolutionary United Front) were,” Mr. Taylor said.
In May 2000, Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels captured hundreds of UN peacekeepers in Sierra Leone — an action that provoked international outrage. Mr. Taylor, who was sitting president of Liberia at the time, negotiated with the RUF rebels and secured the release of the UN peacekeepers. Prosecutors have long alleged that Mr. Taylor was able to secure the release of the UN hostages because he had some special control over the RUF rebel commanders. Mr. Taylor has denied these suggestions, saying that his involvement in the release of the peacekeepers was done mainly because he was asked by the international community to intervene and get the rebels to release the hostages, which he did.
Ms. Hollis noted that at the time of the release of the UN hostages, the RUF rebels had occupied the town of Masiaka, a strategic position that was in proximity to both the country’s capital Freetown and the diamond mining areas.
“And also Mr. Taylor, had the RUF been left in place in Masiaka, that would have put them much closer to the capital of Freetown, wouldn’t it?” Ms. Hollis asked Mr. Taylor.
“I disagree with your proposition,” Mr. Taylor responded.
“And it would have given a larger buffer zone between the diamond areas and the government held-territories. Isn’t that correct, Mr. Taylor?” Ms. Hollis enquired further.
In his response, the former president said that “your proposition, maybe you could very well be correct, but I disagree that that was foremost on my mind. I was mostly concerned about the lives of the hostages.”
On Thursday, Ms. Hollis told Mr. Taylor that he executed Liberian politicians whom he perceived as threats to his political ambitions, killed rebels who failed to carry out his orders, and persecuted human rights activists who opposed his policies. Mr. Taylor denied these allegations.
Ms. Hollis questioned Mr. Taylor about the execution of several Liberian politicians including Jackson Doe, Gabriel Kpolleh, Moses Duopoe and Samuel Dokie. These men, Ms. Hollis alleged, were executed on the orders of Mr. Taylor. Mr. Taylor dismissed these allegations as stories made up by Tom Woweiyu, another rebel leader with broke ranks with the former Liberian president but later joined Mr. Taylor’s National Patriotic Party (NPP) Government.
“After we broke up, after Tom Woweiyu formed a rebel group and attacked the NPFL [National Patriotic Front of Liberia] and broke away in 1994, “ Mr. Taylor said. “Tom Woweiyu made a lot of wild allegations that later he apologized for, I forgave him, and brought him into my government.”
“I am aware of the nonsense he wrote. He later apologized and I brought him into my government . He became senator from the NPP,” Mr. Taylor added.
After denying allegations that he executed Gabriel Kpolleh, whom he allegedly saw as threat to his power, Mr. Taylor also referred to allegations that he killed Jackson Doe as another story by Mr. Woweiyu.
“Mr. Taylor, you were also responsible for the killing of Jackson F. Doe, weren’t you?” Ms. Hollis asked Mr. Taylor.
“That is not correct. That’s Tom Woweiyu again. That is not correct. Jackson Doe was a very well respected man,” Mr. Taylor responded.
Mr. Jackson Doe, a former Liberian politician is reported to have won democratic elections against then Liberian president, Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe. The elections, reports indicate, were rigged against Mr. Jackson Doe. Mr. Taylor’s NPFL has previously stated that one of the reasons for its fighting in Liberia was to reverse the election victory that was stolen by Sergeant Samuel K. Doe at Mr. Jackson Doe’s expense. According to other reports, Mr. Taylor later killed Mr. Jackson Doe in order to eliminate any threat to his power. Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations.
Mr. Taylor also denied allegations that he had ordered the execution of some of his rebel commanders, including Oliver Varnie and Sam Larto. These commanders, Ms. Hollis alleged, were executed because they had failed to carry out Mr. Taylor’s orders. Mr. Taylor denied the accusation, saying that they were executed because they had been involved in subversive operations.
Ms. Hollis also questioned Mr. Taylor about the alleged persecution of several human rights activists in Liberia, some of whom were said to have gone into hiding after Liberian police tried to apprehend them for criticizing Mr. Taylor’s policies. Among the human rights activists who were said to have gone into hiding were a Mr. Adebayo of the Liberian Watch for Human Rights, an organization which questioned the constitutionality of Mr. Taylor’s Anti Terrorists Unit (ATU), Mr. James Torh, whose organization The Focus was critical of Mr. Taylor’s government, and Mr. Aloysious Toe, a human rights activist who criticized the actions of Mr. Taylor’s son Chuckie Taylor. Mr. Taylor Jr., who was head of his father’s ATU, has been convicted and sentenced to imprisonment in a United States court for crimes of torture committed in Liberia. Mr. Taylor denied knowledge of all three incidents relating to the three human rights activists.
On Friday, as the cross-examination of Mr. Taylor was brought to a close, the former Liberian president repeated his claim that a conspiracy by western powers to oust him from Liberia is what landed him in the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
“Throughout your testimony to these judges, you have talked about a supposed conspiracy against you, and you have referred to this whole case as being about ‘let’s get Taylor’ and referred to is as a ‘construct’ — yes, Mr. Taylor?” asked lead prosecutor, Brenda Hollis.
“That is correct,” Mr. Taylor responded, arguing that the conspiracy was led by Britain and the United States.
Mr. Taylor also extended this supposed conspiracy against him to other institutions which included the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Union.
Ms. Hollis, in disagreeing with Mr. Taylor’s alleged ‘conspiracy’ theory told the former president that he was in court because he had brought untold suffering upon the people of Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor disagreed with Ms. Hollis’ allegation.
“And as the leader of the NPFL and president of Liberia, your actions brought immeasurable suffering to countless victims in Sierra Leone, to your African brothers and sisters, that’s the truth of it, isn’t it Mr. Taylor?” Ms. Hollis asked Mr. Taylor.
“That’s not the truth. I’ll care about them more than you,” Mr. Taylor responded.
As she concluded her cross-examination of Mr. Taylor on Friday, Ms Hollis had this to say to the former president;
“And Mr. Taylor, at the beginning of your testimony on 14 July 2009, your defense counsel asked you if you were guilty of the charges on the indictment, and you said you were not guilty of all these charges, not even a minute part of these charges. Mr. Taylor, the tragic truth is that through your choices and through your actions, Mr. Taylor, you indeed are guilty of all the charges in this indictment against you. That’s the truth of it, isn’t it, Mr. Taylor?”
“I disagree. That’s not the truth of it. And that’s what you have to prove beyond reasonable doubt before these professional judges. I disagree,” Mr. Taylor responded.
“Madam president, the prosecution has no further questions at this time for this accused, former president Charles Ghankay Taylor,” Ms. Hollis concluded.