Claims that Liberian rebel forces displayed human skulls and intestines at checkpoints to terrorize or scare civilians are false, Charles Taylor’s defense witness told Special Court for Sierra Leone judges today in The Hague.
Karnah Edward Mineh, a rebel commander for the former Liberian president, today told the court that one of his former colleagues – Joseph “Zig Zag” Mahzah, also a Liberian rebel fighter – did not tell the truth when he described checkpoint gates decorated with human body parts during his 2008 testimony as a prosecution witness.
“The gate was placed there in order when enemies come or enemies come nearer to us so that we can be aware. It was not intended to kill humans and place the skull on a stick,” said Mr. Mineh, a former Brigade Commander of the First Battalion of Mr. Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) rebel group.
“We placed the gate, we did that so that we would know the enemy. Whenever we captured a town, we stayed there for a while, then we placed the gate just to know the coming of the enemy. This is what I know,” he added.
Mr. Mineh finished his testimony by insisting that Mr. Marzah had lied.
“What he (Marzah) explained to this court is not true,” Mr. Mineh said.
This disagreement relates to prosecution allegations that the Sierra Leonean rebel group – the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) – copied actions of Mr. Taylor’s Liberian rebels designed to terrorize civilians. Displaying human skulls and intestines at roadblocks is one of the tactics which prosecutors say that the RUF copied from the NPFL in order to inflict this terror. The use of terror, according to prosecutors, was important in order to subdue the Sierra Leonean population so the RUF could maintain control of the country’s diamond mines. These diamonds would then benefit both the RUF and Mr. Taylor, according to prosecutors, because the rebels would give Mr. Taylor diamonds in exchange for weapons which they would then use to commit crimes during the war. Mr. Taylor has denied all the allegations against him.
During cross-examination by prosecutor Mohamed Bangura, Mr. Mineh also disagreed with an account of Mr. Taylor’s first defense witness, Yanks Smythe. This witness — a Gambian NPFL member and later, a Liberian ambassador to Libya – had told the court that while the Liberian rebels underwent revolutionary training in Libya in the 1980s, Mr. Taylor never visited the camp, called Tajura. Today, Mr. Mineh, who also trained in Libya at the same time, disagreed with Mr. Smythe. According to Mr. Mineh, Mr. Taylor visited the rebels regularly at Tajura to see how the training was being conducted. Mr. Bangura sought to highlight the disagreement between the two witnesses.
“So if somebody came to this court and told this court that Mr. Taylor was never seen at Tajura, that person would not be telling the court the truth, would they?” Mr. Bangura asked the witness.
“Yes, the person must be lying because Taylor came and we saw him. I saw him,” Mr. Mineh responded.
“And indeed over the period that you were there at Tajura, he must have come several times, not so?” Mr. Bangura enquired further.
“He came many times, I think three or four times,” Mr. Mineh said.
While this disagreement highlights different accounts by two different defense witnesses on the same issue, it will be left to the judges to determine the significance of this disagreement and which witness is more credible in their account.
Mr. Taylor is on trial because of his alleged role in the commission of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international humanitarian law by Sierra Leone’s rebels during the country’s brutal 11-year war. Prosecutors say Mr. Taylor controlled the rebels’ actions during the war, and also jointly developed and supported a criminal plan to terrorize the Sierra Leonean population and benefit from the country’s diamond wealth.
Mr. Mineh’s cross-examination continues tomorrow.