Charles Taylor never ordered his rebel forces to commit crimes, and he was prevented from liberating the Liberian people by foreign countries who interfered in the country’s conflict, a defense witness told the Special Court for Sierra Leone this week.
DCT 125, a protected witness testifying with face and voice distortion on Tuesday told the judges that he never heard of the former Liberian president giving orders to his own rebel forces to kill, rape, loot or burn people’s houses, as alleged by prosecutors.
The witness said that if any crimes were committed under Mr. Taylor’s rule, they were isolated incidents which could have taken place without Mr. Taylor’s knowledge. The witness maintained this position in a direct question and answer session with Mr. Taylor’s defense counsel, Courtenay Griffiths, on Tuesday.
“Were you ever aware of Charles Taylor giving an order to kill?” Mr. Griffiths asked the witness.
“Never,” the witness responded.
“To burn people’s houses?” Mr. Griffiths went on.
“Never,” the witness responded again.
“To rape?” Mr. Griffiths went further.
“Never,” again, the witness responded.
“To loot?” Mr. Griffiths asked again.
“Never,” the witness said for the fourth time.
The witness added that “maybe if that had happened, it would be an isolated incident without Charles Taylor’s knowledge.”
The witness explained that he had been a pan-African revolutionary colleague of Mr. Taylor, adding that he personally did not have any specific interest in helping to start a conflict in Liberia. He said that he did not help Mr. Taylor in his invasion of Liberia in 1989, but that together with some other colleagues who were not named in court today, he moved to Liberia to help provide security for the former Liberian president whose NPFL rebel group was split into two when one of Mr. Taylor’s former rebel colleagues, Prince Johnson, led his break-away faction from the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) at the initial stages of the Liberian conflict.
On Wednesday, the witness told the court that foreign countries interfered in Mr. Taylor’s revolution in Liberia and prevented the former president from liberating his people.
“The Liberian revolution failed because foreign hands interfered in the Liberian revolution to disturb the revolution and prevent His Excellency President Taylor from liberating the country,” the witness said as he finished his direct-examination on Wednesday.
The witness also told the judges that Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) peacekeeping force was not neutral in the Liberian conflict. He said that the peacekeepers were more sympathetic towards the other Liberian warring factions at the expense of Mr. Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) rebel group.
During cross-examination by prosecutor Nicholas Koumjian, the witness told the court that the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), the Sierra Leonean rebel group which Mr. Taylor is accused of providing support for, is not a terrorist organization as alleged by prosecutors. Presiding Judge of the Trial Chamber, Justice Julia Sebutinde, asked the witness to give his definition of terrorist organization.
“It is an organization that is bent on the destruction of life and property without any meaning and purpose, to disturb the peace within the human being,” the witness said.
Before the end of Wednesday’s proceedings, Mr. Koumjian requested that the cross-examination of the witness be suspended and that prosecutors be given more time to prepare. Mr. Koumjian explained that defense lawyers for Mr. Taylor had failed to disclose the witness’s personal information to prosecutors within the 21 day period required. The prosecution request was granted and so the witness’s cross-examination was suspended.
On Thursday, a new witness told the judges that RUF leader Foday Sankoh waged a war on Sierra Leone in 1991 to free the people from the misery of the country’s politicians.
The witness, a Sierra Leonean and former member of the RUF, told the judges that Mr. Sankoh started agitating for multi-party democracy in Sierra Leone in the 1980s.
As he led the witness in direct-examination, defense counsel for Mr. Taylor, Terry Munyard sought to know what had motivated Mr. Sankoh to wage a rebel war on his own country.
“What did you understand his purpose in bringing war to Sierra Leone to be?” Mr. Munyard asked the witness.
“What I understood was that he had launched the war in Kailahun and the war was coming to free the Sierra Leoneans from the misery of these politicians,” the witness responded.
The witness explained that he, together with Mr. Sankoh, was a member of an underground group called “The Study Group,” which existed in Sierra Leone in the 1980s with an aim of advocating to change “the profoundly corrupt system which characterized governance in Sierra Leone.” After Mr. Sankoh started waging war on Sierra Leone in 1991, the witness joined the RUF the following year and said he eventually became the rebel group’s “Civilian Coordinator.”
Under cross-examination, the witness said that he had “no idea” about where the RUF was formed. Prosecution counsel Mr. Koumjian in an exchange with the witness suggested that the RUF was formed in Liberia. In the exchange below, the witness maintains that he had no idea about the birthplace of the RUF.
“Where was the RUF formed? You said it was formed when you heard Sankoh on the radio in January 1991,” Mr. Koumjian said.
“No idea,” the witness responded.
“Sir, you know it was in Liberia, don’t you?” Mr. Koumjian asked further.
Laughing, the witness insisted that “I said no idea. I’ve never been to Liberia. I only went to Liberia for the peace process, period.”
Mr. Koumjian asked the witness whether his response was because he was afraid of implicating Mr. Taylor “who created the RUF in Liberia.”
The witness insisted that he was not afraid of anything.
The witness also refuted prosecution evidence that diamonds mined by the RUF were taken to Liberia and handed over to Mr. Taylor. He made specific reference to a 21 carat diamond which prosecution evidence suggested was taken to Mr. Taylor in Liberia. According to the witness, he was present when the diamond was discovered by the RUF and when it was handed to Mr. Sankoh. Mr. Sankoh, the witness said, received the diamond one week before his Freetown residence was attacked on May 8, 2000. The witness said that he was part of the team that escaped with Mr. Sankoh that day, but they were unable to take the diamond with them as they had to flee without any belongings. The diamond, he said, stayed at Mr. Sankoh’s house in Freetown and was never taken out of Sierra Leone.
On Friday, Mr. Taylor’s fourth witness, a Liberian national, told the judges that he was part of the rebel force that trained under Mr. Sankoh at Camp Nama in Liberia in the early 1990s. The witness also recalled the names of other rebel commanders with whom he underwent training at the camp, some of whom have been prosecuted and convicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone for their role in the crimes committed during the Sierra Leonean conflict.
“I can remember Sam Bockarie who is Mosquito, I knew Sam Quelleh, I knew Issa Sesay, I knew Morris Kallon, I knew Augustine Gbao, I knew Jonathan Kposowa, they were many, I can’t recall all of their names now,” the witness said.
The witness explained that on March 20, 1991, RUF leader Mr. Sankoh took about 150 trainees from Camp Nama to the Liberian-Guinean border in Lofa County. He said that on the orders of Mr. Sankoh, 100 men attacked the town of Koindu in Sierra Leone’s Kailahun District. The 100 men who launched the first attack succeeded in capturing several boxes of ammunition and military radios from the police station in Koindu.
Prosecutors have alleged that with Mr. Taylor’s help, RUF rebels, among whom were Sierra Leoneans and Liberians, were trained at Camp Nama in Liberia before the 1991 attack on Sierra Leone. Prosecutors say that RUF commanders such as Sam Bockarie, Issa Sesay and Morris Kallon were all trained at Camp Nama. Mr. Taylor has denied the prosecution allegations, saying that he did not provide any support in training RUF rebels and that he had no knowledge of RUF rebels undergoing training at Camp Nama.
The witness’s testimony continues on Tuesday.