Today’s defense witness denied knowledge of Charles Taylor’s alleged involvement in sending Liberian traditional herbalists – or “juju” men –to Sierra Leone to perform ceremonies for rebel forces to protect them from enemy bullets. The former Liberian president is on trial at the Special Court for Sierra Leone for allegedly supporting rebel forces in neighboring Sierra Leone during its brutal 11-year conflict.
John Vincent — a former Training Commandant for Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels – was responding to claims by a prosecution witness about Mr. Taylor’s role in relation to the “juju” men. In 2008, former RUF radio operator Alice Pyne said she was present when the Liberian herbalists arrived in Sierra Leone and that she was part of the RUF rebels who participated in the ceremony. Ms. Pyne also said she had spoken with one of the herbalists who had told her they were sent by Mr. Taylor from Liberia.
Mr. Vincent said he had heard of the RUF using herbalists to protect their fighters from bullets, but did not know or hear about the group Ms. Pyne spoke of.
“More specifically Mr. Vincent, did you ever hear of Charles Taylor sending herbalists to the RUF to use to protect their fighters?” defense counsel Morris Anyah asked the witness.
“No,” the witness said, emphatically.
In cross-examination today, the witness recounted his days as a trainee for the RUF at Camp Nama in Liberia. He said RUF leader Foday Sankoh only told the RUF rebels his real name when they entered Sierra Leone in March 1991. At Camp Nama, he only knew the RUF leader as Pa Morlai or God Father.
“It would make sense, doesn’t it to you, that Foday Sankoh, being supported by Charles Taylor in NPFL territory, that Charles Taylor would want to hide his support for the Sierra Leone dissident from the government of Sierra Leone for as long as possible. That’s why Foday Sankoh didn’t use his name……isn’t that true?” Mr. Koumjian asked the witness.
“I did not have such an idea,” the witness responded.
Mr. Taylor also today gave permission for trials to proceed in his absence tomorrow as he will stay in his cell celebrating the Jewish Passover holiday. Mr. Taylor, who was a Baptist while in Liberia has converted to Judaism since his relocation to The Hague to face trial for his alleged role in supporting RUF rebels in Sierra Leone who committed serious international crimes. This week, Jews around the world will celebrate the Passover holiday, an event that commemorates the deliverance of the ancient Hebrews from slavery in Egypt.
Mr. Vincent’s cross-examination will continue tomorrow.