Defense lawyers today concluded the direct examination of the convicted former interim leader of the Sierra Leonean rebel group, which Charles Taylor is accused of providing support for. As he made his last statement in direct examination today, the witness told the court that he has nothing to gain in testifying for Mr. Taylor.
Issa Hassan Sesay is the former interim leader of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel group, the group responsible for the commission of heinous crimes against the civilian population of Sierra Leone during the country’s 11 year conflict. Prosecutors say that Mr. Taylor is responsible for the crimes committed by the RUF in Sierra Leone, an allegation that Mr. Taylor has denied. Mr. Sesay has already been convicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone after a trial in Freetown and is currently serving a 52 year jail sentence in Rwanda. Mr. Sesay has taken time off his jail sentence in Rwanda to testify for Mr. Taylor in The Hague. His direct examination, which has lasted for about three weeks, concluded today.
As he concluded the direct examination of Mr. Sesay, lead defense lawyer for Mr. Taylor, Courtenay Griffiths, asked the witness whether he has anything to gain by coming to The Hague to testify for Mr. Taylor.
“I don’t have anything to gain,” Mr. Sesay told the court.
“My decision to come here is because I was sitting in my detention and listening to the radio and hearing people say lies about me just because I disarmed the RUF, so I decided to come here and testify. I have nothing to gain,” he added.
Before the conclusion of his direct examination, Mr. Sesay refuted allegations that when rebel forces entered Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown in January 1999, RUF commander Sam Bockarie was taking instructions from Mr. Taylor’s Director of Special Security Services, Benjamin Yeaten, and was sending those instructions to the rebel forces in Freetown.
When asked whether Mr. Yeaten had given any orders to Mr. Bockarie during this period, Mr. Sesay said, “I have never heard about that, about Benjamin Yeaten’s involvement in the January invasion of 99. It is only in this court that I have heard this. Even in my trial, I did not hear this,” Mr. Sesay told the court.
Immediately after the conclusion of his direct examination, prosecutors commenced the cross-examination of Mr. Sesay. Prosecution counsel conducting Mr. Sesay’s cross-examination, Nicholas Koumjian, immediately went to the testimony that Mr. Sesay gave as a witness in his own defense during his trial before the Special Court for Sierra Leone in Freetown. Mr. Koumjian focused on the arms and ammunition that were bought and used by the RUF to attack the diamond rich town of Kono in December 1998.
The issue of who provided arms for the December 1998 attack on Kono has been widely discussed in this trial. According to prosecution witnesses, with Mr. Taylor’s assistance, RUF rebels travelled to Burkina Faso, where they obtained the arms and ammunition needed for the attack. The aircraft that transported the arms and ammunition for the mission landed at Roberts International Airport (RIA) in Liberia before they were transported to Sierra Leone. A particular RUF member, who claimed to have been involved in transporting these materials from Burkina Faso, testified for the prosecution in 2008 and told the court that they met with Mr. Taylor at his Executive Mansion in Liberia. During this meeting, they discussed the operation to obtain the arms in Burkian Faso.
Mr. Sesay in his testimony this month has told the court that these pieces of evidence are false. According to Mr. Sesay, the arms and ammunition used for the attack on Kono were purchased from United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO) rebels in Lofa County, Liberia.
However, under cross-examination today, Mr. Koumjian pointed out that Mr. Sesay’s account in his testimony for Mr. Taylor differs from what he said when he testified on behalf of himself before the Special Court for Sierra Leone in Freetown in 2007. During his 2007 trial, Mr. Sesay gave testimony that supported the evidence of prosecution witnesses. In 2007, he testified that the ammunition used for the attack on Kono was obtained from Burkina Faso by Mr. Bockarie. When confronted with the contradiction, Mr. Sesay said that at the time he testified on behalf himself in 2007, he could not recall all these issues. He has only now been able to recall what happened, he said. Mr. Koumjian put to him that he was lying because he wanted to protect Mr. Taylor.
“Because you yourself testified in 2007…that the ammunition came from Burkina Faso and you are lying to this Trial Chamber about it, trying to protect Charles Taylor for his responsibility for the terrible things that happened in 1998 and 1999 in Sierra Leone, isn’t that true…you testified under oath in 2007 the ammunition came from Burkina Faso. That was the truth. Were you telling the truth in 2007 or were you lying?” Mr. Koumjian asked Mr. Sesay.
“I said when after I had testified, when I was reading the transcript, I realized that the account I had given was not the right account,” Mr. Sesay responded.
Earlier this morning, there was an event in court that threatened the progress of the trial. In an unusual outburst, Mr. Griffiths hit his table several times, shouted at Mr. Koumjian to take his seat, and referred to him (Koumjian) as a boy. When the judges asked Mr. Griffiths to apologize for his actions, he apologized to the bench but said he was not going to apologize to Mr. Koumjian. After conferring with each other, the judges ordered that Mr. Griffiths would not be given anymore audience in the court if he did not apologize for his actions. Mr. Griffiths accepted the sanction of the judges and left the courtroom. When court resumed after a short break, Mr. Griffiths apologized to Mr. Koumjian, thus giving way for a continuation of the proceedings.
Mr. Sesay’s cross-examination continues on Friday.