Paramilitary units were established as part of the Liberian security apparatus without the knowledge of former Liberian president Charles Taylor, a defense witness for Mr. Taylor said today at his war crimes trial at the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague.
John Vincent, a Liberian national who served as training commandant for Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and later as Colonel in the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), today told prosecutors that units could be created in the Liberian military without Mr. Taylor’s knowledge — even though he was the president of the country at that time.
The issue emerged as Mr. Vincent appeared to contradict testimony of Mr. Taylor’s about the existence of a Special Operation Division (SOD) existed as a unit in the Liberia National Police. (In his 2009 testimony, Mr. Taylor told the court that no unit called the SOD existed in the Liberian police force. In today’s testimony, Mr. Vincent said that the SOD did exist as a unit in the police force). Mr. Vincent added, however, that the former president may not have known about the existence or establishment of the SOD. The witness also told the court that together with his colleagues in the Liberian army, they created the Jungle Fire Quick Reaction Force in the AFL without Mr. Taylor’s knowledge.
Mr. Taylor’s defense counsel, Morris Anyah, sought clarification about how these special units could be created without the knowledge of the president.
“Now, in relation to Jungle Fire Quick Reaction Force, in your opinion, when you and others gave yourselves that name, is that something that can be the concern of the president of Liberia?” Mr. Anyah asked the witness.
“No, it cannot be the concern, no,” the witness responded.
“And why do you say it cannot be the concern?” Mr. Anyah asked further.
“Well, it would only be the concern of the president if we were doing something contrary to his administration, but as long as it was in the interest of the government that we bring ourselves together to fight the common enemy, I did not see any problem with it,” Mr. Vincent said.
As Mr. Vincent concluded his testimony today, defense witness Charles Ngebeh — whose cross-examination was suspended on March 24, 2010, based on a request by prosecutors — took the witness stand again today.
Mr. Ngebeh, a Sierra Leonean national, told the court that before he joined the Sierra Leonean rebel force, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), the rebels forced him and other civilians to walk for one week to a town called Pedembu in the Kailahun District of Sierra Leone. He and the other civilians were then forced to carry looted goods on foot from Pedembu to a town called Foya, in Liberia, he said. In doing so, Mr. Ngebeh asserted that the rebels used forced labor in Sierra Leone. (Among other charges, Mr. Taylor is responding to allegations that he is responsible for the rebels’ use of forced labor in Sierra Leone. Prosecutors say that Mr. Taylor knew or had reason to know that the RUF used forced labor in Sierra Leone but continued to support them through the supply of arms and ammunition. Mr. Taylor has denied the allegations against him.)
Ms. Brenda Hollis, Chief Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, conducted the witness’s cross-examination and asked the witness about how the rebels forced them to walk from Pendembu to Foya in Liberia.
“They used me as manpower,” the witness said.
“And when you say you were used as manpower, what do you mean, how were you used?” Ms. Hollis asked the witness.
“They told us to assist them carry their things that they had gotten from Golahun, that’s what I mean by manpower,” the witness said.
Asked to explain “what kind of things” he carried for the rebels, the witness said that “they had looted food, rice — I carried rice.”
He added that the rice was taken by the rebels from the military and the civilians in Sierra Leone.
Mr. Taylor, who is on trial for allegedly supporting RUF rebels in Sierra Leone, has so far presented seven witnesses since his defense team rose on January 11, 2010.
Mr. Taylor’s trial will resume on April 12, 2010 as the court breaks for Easter recess tomorrow.