A defense witness for Charles Taylor today agreed with prosecutors that Sierra Leonean rebels used terror to keep themselves under control during Sierra Leone’s brutal 11-year conflict. He told Special Court for Sierra Leone judges that he was terrified when Sierra Leonean rebels killed their own colleagues, adding that it was out of such fear that he quit the rebel movement in Sierra Leone to join Mr. Taylor’s Liberian armed forces.
Under cross-examination, John Vincent, a former Training Commandant for Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels today told the court that members of the group sometimes killed their own colleagues under mysterious circumstances. Mr. Vincent further said that sometimes the RUF rebels killed their own colleagues while fighting with enemy forces. This, he said, caused some RUF rebels to live in constant fear. In response to questions from prosecution counsel Nicholas Koumjian about the use of terror by RUF rebels, the witness explained how he was also afraid for his life while serving in the RUF.
“Yes, I was afraid,” the witness said.
“So within the organization of the RUF, terror was used to keep control, isn’t that right?” prosecution lawyer, Nicholas Koumjian asked.
“Yes, as you rightly said, people felt they could do bad things, at least to keep them in their command position or make them powerful, I don’t know what their reasons were,” Mr. Vincent said.
Mr. Koumjian asked whether the witness was afraid “that the way that you would be killed is you’ll be going to the front line, someone will shoot you in the back and then they’ll say ‘oh John Vincent died in fighting with LURD’, correct?”
“Yes,” the witness said.
Mr. Taylor is charged with crimes including terrorizing the civilian population of Sierra Leone as part of his alleged responsibility for RUF rebels. In soliciting answers on how RUF rebels used terror even among themselves, prosecutors are trying to establish that crimes committed by the RUF were a common practice and a consistent pattern. Prosecutors argue that Mr. Taylor was in a position of command and effective control of the rebels, he knew the rebels were committing crimes, and he failed to prevent or punish those crimes. Mr. Taylor has denied the prosecution allegations, telling the court that he never supported the RUF.
In talking about the reign of terror in the RUF, Mr. Vincent told the court today that because of such fear, he left the RUF and returned to Liberia where he was recruited as Colonel into the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) under Mr. Taylor’s presidency.
Mr. Koumjian drew the court’s attention to Mr. Taylor’s letter which he wrote to the Sierra Leone government under President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah in 1999, promising to take action against Sierra Leonean dissidents escaping to Liberia in line with a non-aggression treaty that exists between Sierra Leone and Liberia. Mr. Koumjian tried to get answers from the witness whether he, as a dissident, was arrested when he returned to Liberia after fighting with the RUF in Sierra Leone.
“No, I was not arrested,” the witness said.
“Mr. Witness, in this letter to President Kabbah when Charles Taylor promised to act immediately to arrest and keep in custody these dissidents from Sierra Leone which was a member of that treaty, that was a promise he didn’t keep, correct?” Mr. Koumjian asked the witness.
“Yes, according to the document, the promise was not kept because I have seen the document here,” Mr. Vincent responded.
Prosecutors have argued that in addition to providing support for the RUF rebels in Sierra Leone, Mr. Taylor also provided safe haven for them when they relocated to Liberia. Mr. Taylor has denied providing any such safe haven for Sierra Leone rebels, telling the judges that his aim was to help Sierra Leone attain peace.
Mr. Taylor himself was absent in court today as he stayed in his jail cell observing the Jewish Passover holiday.
Mr. Vincent’s cross-examination continues tomorrow.