As defense witness payments are questioned, witnesses deny Charles Taylor supplied rebels with arms, also deny rebels recruited child soldiers or raped

This week, a witness for former Liberian president, Charles Taylor denied that Mr. Taylor supplied weapons to Sierra Leonean rebels, backing up information contained in a 1999 military report issued by the rebels. The same witness also rejected the idea that the rebels themselves raped, took “bush wives” or recruited child soldiers during the country’s brutal 11-year conflict (in contradiction to a Special Court for Sierra Leone judgment which found otherwise).  Meanwhile, prosecutors raised concerns about payments to a defense witness which they considered excessive.

A Liberian national and former Revolutionary United Front (RUF) member this week denied that Charles Taylor supplied weapons to Sierra Leonean rebels and instead claimed that attacks on enemy forces and purchase from Guinean soldiers were two main sources of obtaining arms and ammunition by the country’s rebel forces. This testimony corroborated information contained in a 1999 Salute Report prepared by RUF commander, Sam Bockarie, for his leader Foday Sankoh upon his release from jail. (In this report, Mr. Bockarie explained how the RUF was run as an organization during Mr. Sankoh’s incarceration. Mr. Bockarie reported that arms and ammunition were captured from enemy forces while some were also bought from Guinean Soldiers. The report did not state anything about the RUF receiving arms and ammunition from Mr. Taylor).  The witness’ direct testimony was largely heard in closed session on Wednesday, before prosecutors started his cross-examination in open session.

On Thursday, as prosecutors cross-examined the witness, he told the court that RUF rebel forces did not commit crimes of rape, nor did they recruit and use children for combat purposes as alleged by prosecutors.

The witness denied claims in Sierra Leone’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report that the RUF was the most notorious group among all warring factions in Sierra Leone’s conflict. According to the TRC report, portions of which were read in court on Thursday, in Kailahun District in eastern Sierra Leone alone, the RUF committed more than 1,000 violations of forced labor, rape, sexual slavery and destruction of civilian property among many others. Mr. Taylor’s defense witness on Thursday dismissed the claims as lies, telling the court that RUF leader, Mr. Sankoh, forewarned the RUF about the commission of the crimes mentioned in the TRC report.

Speaking specifically about allegations of rape by the RUF, the witness told the court that “I said, there was a law concerning raping, that any soldier who raped, the instruction from Foday Sankoh was that any soldier who raped should be executed but I did not see any soldier, nor did I get any report that a soldier raped and be disciplined in my presence. I did not see that,” the witness said.

Prosecution counsel Mohamed Bangura who conducted the witness’s cross-examination, asked the witness about his denial of the RUF taking women as “bush wives” in Sierra Leone

“You also denied that the RUF took women as bush wives, you denied that, didn’t you?” Mr. Bangura put to the witness.

In his response, the witness explained that “I said, most of the men who went to the base to be trained, they had their women but I did not see people forcing women to take them to be their women. I did not see that.”

Mr. Taylor is on trial for allegedly providing support to RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. RUF commanders have already been convicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone for crimes of rape, sexual slavery, recruitment of child soldiers and terrorizing the civilian population committed in Sierra Leone during the country’s civil conflict. Prosecutors claim that Mr. Taylor, while in Liberia, exercised control over the RUF rebels in Sierra Leone and that he knew or had reason to know that these crimes were committed but failed to prevent those crimes from being committed, nor punished those who committed the crimes. Prosecutors say that Mr. Taylor aided and abetted the RUF in the commission of these crimes. Prosecution witnesses, comprising RUF insiders and victims of the conflict in Sierra Leone, have testified to the commission of these crimes by the RUF.

Mr. Taylor has consistently denied the allegations, saying that he did not provide any support to the RUF and that he did not know that any such crimes were being committed in Sierra Leone. The former Liberian president’s witnesses testifying on his behalf have also dismissed prosecution allegations against him as lies. This witness, an RUF insider, also this week insisted that Mr. Taylor did not support the RUF and that prosecution allegations that the RUF committed crimes in Sierra Leone are false.

Also in his cross-examination on Thursday, the witness denied prosecution allegations that the RUF recruited and used children for combat purposes in Sierra Leone. According to the witness, no fighters in the RUF were below the age of 17 years.

“They told us that it’s from 17 upwards before you’ll be recruited on the base, so I believe that everybody who was on the base, their ages were above 17, from 17 upwards,” the witness said.

Asked by Mr. Bangura to say who told him “that the fighters should be 17 upwards,” the witness replied that “it was Foday Sankoh who gave the instruction.”

The witness would be surprised, he said, if somebody told the court that there were fighters in the RUF who were below the ages of 15 and 17.

“I did not see children, so it will surprise me because where I was, all the soldiers who carried arms, they were not children,” he said.

On Friday, a protected Gambian witness, whose evidence was suspended on March 10, 2010 to give prosecutors more time to prepare for his cross-examination, took the stand again.  Prosecution counsel, Nicholas Koumjian, alleged the witness had been paid excessive amounts as an incentive for him to testify for the former president. 

The witness, prosecutors said, has received 11,000 USD in total from the Daily Subsistence Allowance (DSA) provided to him by the court since he arrived in The Hague to testify for Mr. Taylor. Mr. Koumjian also pointed out that the witness was lodged at one of the best hotels in The Netherlands.

The witness denied the prosecution allegation, saying that his DSA and accommodation should not be looked at as a bribe to testify for Mr. Taylor.

“To my knowledge, all what I am receiving is for my subsistence while I am here in The Netherlands and it is not money that has been given to me as a bribe,” the witness said.

Mr. Koumjian also highlighted contradictions in the witness’ testimony with that of Mr. Taylor, specifically about the arrest of nationals of contributing countries to the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) peacekeeping forces in Liberia.  In July 2009, Mr. Taylor testified that Nigerian nationals were picked up by his PFL rebel group when ECOMOG forces started bombing NPFL territories in Liberia. The current witness has told the court that no West African nationals were arrested by the NPFL. Mr. Koumjian sought to know who was telling lies between Mr. Taylor and the witness.

“So Mr. Witness, who is the liar: Mr. Taylor when he says he did begin the process of picking up nationals of contributing countries and targeting Nigerians, or you?” Mr. Koumjian asked the witness.

In his response, the witness said that “now, if Taylor is lying, you can prove him to be lying but what I am telling you is the truth and I want you to understand that.”

Before court adjourned on Friday, the judges granted permission for the witness to visit Mr. Taylor at his detention facility after the conclusion of his testimony. While prosecutors did not object to the visit, they asked that a detention facility representative be present at the meeting between the two men.


    1. No MATCH…….Mr. Rapp couldn’t defend his position…..lost like a deer in a headlight. His response as to why Pres. Kabbah was not on the stand told the WHOLE game in this trial….get Mr. Taylor at all cost regardless.

    2. Andew Jlay,

      I think Mr. Griffiths was just OUTSTANDING. He touched on every aspect of the case with no reservations.He also came clean. He had a seizure of conscience for mankind and not for money. He exposed the remaking of the grotesque inherently flawed laws and scam of the court. However, History is going to remember him as one of the best international lawyers of contemporary international justice. Maybe, the other side needs to emulate his leadership by example quality.

  1. Alpha Sesay,

    That’s what I am talking about. Reporting the news and not making the news. Good job on this reporting Alpha. I think you did exceptionally well. Continue to report the news coming out of the courtroom and not interpreting, or making it for us.

  2. Mr. Griffiths was as usual brilliant and anawered the question put to him very satisfactorily. He did deal with a question that I an others had submitted concerning the prosecution’s divergence from the indictment for crimes committed in Sierra Leone to predominantly, happenings in Liberia instead.
    I wondered also why the denfense did not use the chapter in Hank Cohen’s book entitled A Bold Plan Hijacked, referring to the direct interference of the United States in preventing Mr. Taylor from entering Monrovia and removing Doe from power, thereby probably sparing Doe’s life, shortening the war and helping the peace process in the region. Instead the present US Secretary of Defense,( then National Security Advisor) Mr Gates, informed the US State department that Liberia was of no special priority to the United States and that support whould be curtailed.

  3. andrew jlay,
    Mr. Griffiths was on to of the moon as usual. He is by far better than Mr. Rapp who was confused and disrespectful in answering some of our questions. I was very impressed when he said Mr. Taylor was judged and found guilty by public options. I guess he was referring to some of the very people on this site.

    Harris K Johnson

  4. What is this lier talking about, NO CHILD SOLDIERS? is he serious, I’m not going to waste my time debating this issue, if anyone thinks there weren’t no child soldiers during the wars all I can say to him or her you’re entitle to your opinion, I know what I saw. Oh and there were no rapes? Please this is sad.

    1. john thompson,

      I do not recall anyone denying that during the liberian civil war, child soldier existed. What I recall is that the NPFL did not have an organized unit of child soldiers. If you did see one then it was not with the NPFL as a policy, but with other factions ULIMO etc. Whatever children that were part of small boys unit were orphans or orderlies to their elder folks. It was not the NPFL policy, that has been the position here. It is a trial and it is positions and policies that would be evaluated not what john thompson thinks or believes.

    2. John Thompson,

      Don’t you think, or wouldn’t you expect, the prosecution to bring at least one former child soldier who fought on behalf of President Taylor to testify as a child soldier who was recruited by the NPFL?

      John, if it was the defense team, they would have brought said person on the stand. This is to show you some of the big holes in the prosecution case. You will expect Ms. Hollis /Mr. Koumjian to bring the child soldier. Wouldn’t you? But I didn’t see it, if it ever happened. So John, all your crying and waning will not help your cause. However, we are in court here. This is no sidewalk talk forum. produce and provide all your evidence in court. As the result, the judges will look at it and determine the final verdict. But the prosecution failed to bring such vital evidence. Who do you blame John Thompson? Taylor again?

    3. john thompson
      I’m sorry to hear that you have given up on this debate of child soldiers and rapes during the RUF/AFRC war in Sierra Leone. But please let me remind you that all of us including Mr. Taylor and his defense witnesses are not saying that those thing did not happened, but they were not ordered by the man Taylor. Again as for this witness, he has not said that there were no child soldiers or rapes. What he has told this court is that he did not see such things. Me and you are no body to challenge is sense of seeing without a proof. Let’s keep the debate live and face the facts.


      Harris K Johnson

  5. Aki,
    Can it get sadder than the brutalities that Taylor and his cohorts rained on Liberia and the subregion from 1989-2003?

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