Charles Taylor’s defense lawyers presented two witnesses before Special Court for Sierra Leone judges today. One, a former fighter in Liberia and Sierra Leone, told the court that Sierra Leonean and Guinean authorities helped in establishing a rebel group to overthrow Mr. Taylor’s government in Liberia. The next witness, a Liberian business woman, identified a mobile phone number, which according to a 2008 testimony by a prosecution witness belonged to Mr. Taylor. According to the witness, the mobile phone number belongs to her, not Mr. Taylor.
Mr. Taylor’s 15th witness, identified by Pseudonym Number DCT-190, today focused his evidence mainly on the establishment of the rebel group Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), a rebel group that attacked Liberia with the aim of overthrowing the government of Mr. Taylor around 1999-2000. According to the witness, Sierra Leonean and Guinean authorities provided assistance through supply of manpower and military equipment for the establishment of LURD. The witness said that Liberians opposed to Mr. Taylor, such as LURD leader Sheku Konneh and his wife Isha , received enormous assistance from former Sierra Leonean Vice President Albert Joe Demby and one time Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) commander and later Chief of Defense Staff of the Sierra Leonean Army, the late Nigerian General Maxwell Kobe.
The witness said that recruited fighters for LURD comprised of disarmed fighters of Sierra Leonean factions the Civil Defense Force (CDF), Revolutionary United Front (RUF), and the West Side Boys.
Recruitment was done mainly among “former CDF combatants, former RUF, and some West Side Boys who were interested in the mission,” the witness said.
When asked by the Presiding Judge of the Trial Chamber Justice Julia Sebutinde whether Sierra Leone president Ahmed Tejan Kabbah was involved or had knowledge of this exercise, the witness said that “well, I’ll say this clearly, because in the first place, because of international law, no government will come and declare that this is what was happening but they were in the known. The Vice President, Albert Joe Demby, knew very well, General Kobe knew very well.”
“To my knowledge, the presidency was far above me but the Vice President was well in the known, he was involved in all that happened,” the witness added.
The witness explained that the fighters were transported to neighbouring Guinea where the government of the country provided assistance to them through training and provision of arms and ammunition.
Asked by Mr. Taylor’s defense counsel Courtenay Griffiths to tell the court who provided all these assistance to LURD, the witness responded that it was “the Guinean government.”
He added that the LURD fighters “were trained by the Gendarmarie.” This was a unit of the Guinean security apparatus.
Seeking to tie LURD closer to the Guinean authorities, Mr. Griffiths asked the witness, “Could the operation have been launched without the knowledge of the Guinean government?”
“Impossible,” the witness responded.
The witness said when they attacked Liberia proper, “the Guinean Contingent that was based in Bo [Southern Sierra Leone] would transport arms and ammunition to the border and we’ll attack Liberia.” Guinean forces were based in Sierra Leone as part of the West African peacekeeping presence in the country.
Mr. Taylor has long maintained that LURD rebels had external support and their attack on his government was part of an action by foreign powers to bring his government down.
Today, the witness testifying on Mr. Taylor’s behalf told the court that former Special Court for Sierra Leone Chief Prosecutor David Crane, who announced an indictment against Mr. Taylor in 2003, had contacts with LURD rebels even before Liberia was attacked. The witness said he was part of a meeting in Bo, Southern Sierra Leone where they were informed that they should arrest Mr. Taylor and hand him over for trial.
“Mr. Taylor should be arrested, we shouldn’t kill him because they want to try him,” the witness said.
As the witness concluded his direct-examination, prosecutors asked that the cross-examination of the witness be put on hold because the summary of the witness’s testimony that was disclosed by the defense was inadequate and that the witness’s evidence was at variance with the summary disclosed. After a brief recess, the judges ruled that “the summary is not only inadequate, it is grossly inadequate.”
The judges also stated that the witness’s “evidence was at variance with his summary.”
“The net results of these findings raises more questions than answers,” Justice Subutinde said as she read the ruling.
The judges therefore ordered the immediate disclosure of the witness’s statements and that the cross-examination of the witness be put on hold.
Defense lawyers immediately called their 16th witness, Liberian business woman Aleatha Korto Hoff. The witness’s testimony focused on a mobile telephone number, which a protected prosecution witness in 2008 testified, was Mr. Taylor’s mobile number when he was president of Liberia. According to Mrs. Hoff, she has had this number since August 2001, having been given to her by her brother. The witness said that on a date that she could not remember, she received a call from one John Gray, who told her that her number had been called at Mr. Taylor’s trial as the former president’s number. Mr. Gray subsequently arranged for the witness to meet with Mr. Taylor’s defense lawyers.
On cross-examination, prosecution counsel Nicholas Koumjian questioned the witness about her brother Jenkins Dunbar who served as Minister in Mr. Taylor’s government, her niece Bell Dunbar who was Director of the Liberian Petroleum Refinery Cooperation, and her sister Fanny Dunbar who was Mr. Taylor’s dietician. As prosecutors attempted to present to the witness a list of persons who were alleged close associates to Mr. Taylor that contained the name of the witness’s brother(s), defense lawyers objected on the ground that the list was new evidence and its prejudicial effect outweighed its probative value. The judges reserved their judgement for tomorrow, after which prosecutors will continue the cross-examination of the witness.