Charles Taylor did not provide support to Sierra Leonean rebel forces in their attack on the West African country’s capital Freetown in 1999, said the former president’s first defense witness who concluded his testimony this week. Prosecutors, on the other hand, accused the witness of giving testimony which was inconsistent with his own written statement and with Mr. Taylor’s evidence as well.
Mr. Yanks Smythe, a Gambian national who was a member of Mr. Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) rebel group and who, upon attaining Liberian citizenship was appointed by Mr. Taylor as Liberia’s top diplomat to Libya and Tunisia, told the court that neither Mr. Taylor nor his security forces supported or participated in the Sierra Leonean rebel attack on the country’s capital Freetown in 1999.
Mr. Yanks’ testimony – consistent on this point with Mr. Taylor’s own testimony — stands in contrast to that of several prosecution witnesses, who had testified that the former Liberian president provided the support needed for the rebels to attack Freetown. Prosecution witnesses had also testified that both Mr. Taylor and his Special Security Services (SSS) director, Benjamin Yeaten, were in radio contact with one of the top Sierra Leonean rebels, Sam Bockarie, during the attack. In his re-examination on Wednesday, Mr. Smythe dismissed the allegations as lies, adding that no member of Mr. Taylor’s security apparatus travelled to Sierra Leone for the operation.
“To your knowledge, were any employees or members of the SSS during that period of time engaged in any fighting in Sierra Leone?” Mr. Taylor’s defense counsel, Mr. Morris Anyah, asked the witness in re-examination, as he sought to clarify allegations that Mr. Taylor sent fighters to help the rebel forces in the 1999 invasion of Freetown.
“No, to my knowledge, none of the SSS were involved in any fighting in Sierra Leone,” the witness responded.
Seeking to clarify the issues further, Mr. Anyah asked the witness whether “to your knowledge, were any members of the SSS, in particular Benjamin Yeaten, engaged in any radio communications with persons in Sierra Leone during that period of time?”
Again, Mr. Smythe responded that “to my knowledge, no.”
Earlier on Monday, the witness dismissed prosecution assertions that his testimony is contradicting that of the former Liberian president, telling the court that neither he, nor Mr. Taylor, is lying to the judges.
During Monday’s cross-examination, prosecution counsel Nicholas Koumjian, questioned the witness about Mr. Taylor’s presence in the former NPFL headquarter town of Gbarnga. According to Mr. Koumjian, the witness seemed to be contradicting what the former president said in his own testimony. Mr. Koumjian suggested to the witness that in October 1996, Mr. Taylor moved to Gbarnga and instructed Revolutionary United Front (RUF) leader Foday Sankoh via a radio message to go and acquire arms for the RUF. After agreeing with Mr. Koumjian that Mr. Taylor did indeed go to Gbarnga in October 1996, the prosecutor read a portion of Mr. Taylor’s previous testimony in which the former president had denied ever going to Gbanga during that period. Upon hearing what Mr. Taylor said about the same incident in his testimony, Mr. Smythe sought to clarify his response, saying that he was in agreement with Mr. Taylor’s account.
“You just told us Charles Taylor moved to Gbarnga after the 31st of October 1996, was that correct?” Mr. Koumjian asked the witness.
The witness responded that “when there was an attack on his life, he left Monrovia during that period and he went to Gbarnga but he never stayed there, he came back to Monrovia, this is what I am saying.”
“Sir, who is lying when we talk about Charles Taylor being in Gbarnga in 1996, you or Charles Taylor,” Mr. Koumjian again asked the witness.
“Nobody is lying here,” the witness responded.
Also in his cross-examination on Monday, Mr. Koumjian attempted to point out that Mr. Smythe’s evidence about Mr. Taylor’s personal security personnel having heavy weapons also contradicted that of the former president’s. prosecutors reminded the court that on September 30, 2009, Mr. Taylor said that he did not even have arms and ammunition to give his personal security personnel and so could not have had same to supply RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor had testified that the United Nations took away all his arms and ammunition during the disarmament process in Liberia. Mr. Koumjian on Monday asked the witness to describe the kinds of weapons that Mr. Taylor’s personal security carried.
“That weapon is ah, I think its GMG,” the witness said, adding that GMG means “General Machine Gun.”
Asked whether it was an “anti-aircraft type of weapon,” the witness responded that “I don’t know what you are talking about, I know it’s GMG , General Machine Gun.”
“And it was actually somehow fixed to the back of like a Pick Up truck, correct?” Mr. Koumjian enquired further.
“It’s in a Pick Up truck,” the witness responded.
Mr. Taylor during his testimony told the court that he never had an anti-aircraft weapon during the entire period of the Liberian conflict.
On Tuesday, as prosecutors pointed out inconsistencies in his written statement to defense lawyers and his oral testimony in court, Mr. Smythe said that certain aspects of his written statement were misrepresented.
During Tuesday’s cross-examination, Mr. Koumjian tried to point to Mr. Smythe that certain things about which he has testified in court differ from what he had said to Mr. Taylor’s defense lawyers when they obtained a statement from him in June 2009. For example, Mr. Koumjian pointed out that the witness has testified in court that Mr. Taylor’s NPFL rebel group did not use child soldiers. However, his written statement made to defense lawyers in 2009 differed. In his response, Mr. Smythe said that such inconsistencies were as a result of misrepresentations made of what he had said in his written statement. The witness in his testimony had said that contrary to what prosecution witnesses said in court, there was no group for child soldiers called Small Boys Unit (SBU). He said that the term SBU was created by NPFL commanders who had rescued and were taking care of children abandoned in the frontlines. Mr. Koumjian pointed out that the witness’s written statement revealed a different story.
“Mr. Witness, you told the defense last year, didn’t you, that there was an SBU unit, that these were under-aged, and they were part of the NPFL,” Mr. Koumjian put to the witness.
“This is a complete misrepresentation of what I said, I never said that. This was not what I said,” the witness responded.
“The defense invented this, is that what you are saying?” Mr. Koumjian again put to the witness.
“I don’t know what you mean by they invented but this is not what I said. I said SBU as I stated in my testimony here, yes, this is what I know about SBU,” the witness again responded.
As Mr. Koumjian pressed further on what the words “SBUs were under-aged” meant in his written statement, the witness responded that “I’m saying this is a complete misrepresentation of what I said in my statement. This is not what I said.”
Mr. Koumjian also pointed out that while the witness’ courtroom testimony said that he never fought on the frontlines for the NPFL, his written statement revealed a different story. In the witness’s statement, he was quoted as having taken part in an attack during “Operation Octopus,” a 1992 attack on Monrovia by NPFL rebels. The witness insisted that he had again been misrepresented by those who obtained his statement.
The witness also in his testimony in court had said that the first time he met Mr. Taylor was in 1987 at the Mataba guesthouse in Libya where Mr. Taylor reportedly lived alongside dissident leaders from Gambia and Sierra Leone. Mr. Koumjian pointed out that the witness’s written statement revealed that he had met Mr. Taylor at the Libyan revolutionary training camp Tajura, not Mataba.
Reading from the witness’s written statement, Mr. Koumjian quoted that “the first time witness met CT [Charles Taylor] was in 1987 in Tajura, not at Mataba meetings.”
Mr. Smythe insisted that that was a complete misrepresentation of what he said. “I never saw Mr. Taylor in Tajura,” he said.
While Mr. Smythe in his testimony tried to rebut prosecution evidence against Mr. Taylor, prosecutors during cross-examination also tried to discredit the witness’s testimony. Like defense lawyers did with prosecution witnesses under cross-examination, prosecutors also tried to highlight inconsistencies in Mr. Smythe’s oral testimony in court and his written statement made to defense lawyers. It will be left with the judges to determine the credibility of the witness and whether his testimony can be relied upon.
As Mr. Smythe ended his testimony on Wednesday, Mr. Taylor’s next defense witness took the stand. The witness, DCT 125, is testifying as a protected witness because, like some prosecution witnesses, security reasons demand that his identity not be revealed to the public. Aspects of DCT 125’s testimony are heard in private/closed session to the exclusion of the general public. For those parts of his testimony which are heard in open session, the witness is testifying using voice and facial distortion, meaning that members of the public cannot identify his voice and face.
On Thursday, the witness told the court that Mr. Taylor only wanted power to empower the Liberian people to develop their country.
“Charles Taylor wanted power, control his people and to empower them with the authority to develop their country in Liberia,” the witness said today as he testified about the former president’s motivation to wage a rebel war in the West African country of Liberia.
The witness described himself as a founding member of the Mataba: that is, the “Libyan Bureau” which provided military and ideological training for revolutionaries from different parts of the world. Testifying about the character of Mr. Taylor, the witness described the former Liberian president as a very secretive person and an “intellectual bourgeois capitalist” — a description which drew a smile from the very attentive Mr. Taylor.
Reading from the Mataba manifesto, the witness told the court that the document called on all revolutionaries around the world to come together and fight against “state sponsored terrorism.”
Mr. Taylor is accused of providing support to the RUF, a Sierra Leonean rebel group which prosecutors say committed heinous crimes in Sierra Leone such as rape, murder and “terrorizing the civilian population.” Some prosecution witnesses also testified before Special Court for Sierra Leone judges that with Mr. Taylor’s involvement, terrorist operatives from the fundamentalist group Al Qaeda visited Liberia and RUF controlled territories in Sierra Leone. Defense counsel for Mr. Taylor, Courtenay Griffiths, today asked the witness the Mataba’s position on terrorism.
“The Mataba, according to our aim and objectives, is not a terrorist organization. The Mataba is a combination of all revolutionary forces to device strategies to face imperialism and its allies wherever they are,” the witness said.
DCT 125’s testimony continues on Tuesday.