Convicted former interim leader of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel group, Issa Hassan Sesay this week concluded his testimony as Charles Taylor 19th defense witness, during which he not only apologised to the people of Sierra Leone for his role in the Sierra Leonean conflict, but also told Special Court for Sierra Leone judges in The Hague that he did not use the RUF to fight Mr. Taylor’s enemies in Liberia and Guinea and that his motivation to testify for Mr. Taylor is not because he expects that the former Liberian president if acquitted will use political influence to free him from his 52 year jail sentence. A former Liberian radio operator also commenced his testimony this week as Mr. Taylor’s 20 defense witness.
Mr. Sesay took time off his 52 years jail sentence from a Rwandan jail– having being convicted by Special Court for Sierra Leone judges in Freetown for his role in the Sierra Leonean conflict–to testify for Mr. Taylor in The Hague. Having spent several weeks testifying about the RUF’s activities during the conflict in Sierra Leone and refutting prosecution allegations that Mr. Taylor provided support to the RUF, Mr. Sesay on Friday used his closing comments to apologise to the people of Sierra Leone.
“I say sorry to the people of Sierra Leone and I’m appealing to the people of Sierra Leone, especially the victims, who lost their loved ones, those whose arms were amputated, those whose properties were destroyed, I’m appealing to them that what happened during the war was not good for Sierra Leone, but it has happened. I’m just appealing to them,” Mr. Sesay said on Friday.
He added that “I say sorry to the people of Sierra Leone and I’m appealing to the people of Sierra Leone, especially the victims, who lost their loved ones, those whose arms were amputated, those whose properties were destroyed, I’m appealing to them that what happened during the war was not good for Sierra Leone, but it has happened. I’m just appealing to them.”
Mr. Sesay concluded his statement that “I’m just pleading with them in the name of God for them to forgive me and forget. We are all Sierra Leoneans.”
Mr. Sesay also gave his reason for testifying in The Hague when asked whether he was “here to set the records straight for Charles Taylor.”
“Well, i am here to give my own true side of the story of what i know. That’s why i am here,” he said.
When asked to tell the judges what his motivation for testifying for Mr. Taylor was, Mr. Sesay said that “it was because I used to hear on radio [UN Radio] when my colleague RUF were coming here to say things against me… And they were saying that the way Issa left [RUF leader] Mr Sankoh in jail and disarmed the RUF, we too would prosecute him until he dies in jail. I heard my colleagues saying a lot about Issa, things that Issa didn’t do.”
“So when Mr Taylor’s lawyers told my lawyers that they would need me as a witness, I said: Well, the lies in this case are too much. Let me too go there and give my own account. My colleague RUFs want to destroy me because they are saying that the person who had their future, that is Mr Sankoh, I had betrayed Mr Sankoh, so they were going to make sure that Issa dies in prison. So that was why I came here,” Mr. Sesay added.
This statment from Mr. Sesay prompted a response from the Presiding Judge of the Trial Chamber Justice Julia Sebutinde that ”But, Mr Sesay, this is not your trial. So whatever you say here has no bearing on the sentence that you are serving. I don’t understand that kind of reasoning. How does this clear your name? This is Mr Taylor’s trial, not yours.”
“Yes, my Lord. I know that it is not my trial, but it is for people, those who are following up on the Court, for them to know my own part of the story, because a lot of things that they said against me here are not true,” Mr. Sesay replied to the presiding judge’s comment.
Earlier on Monday, prosecutors showed Mr. Sesay a letter that Mr. Taylor presented to the court as part of the documents obtained from his presidential archives while he was president of Liberia. The letter, which was signed in the name of “Essa Seasay” was tendered in evidence by Mr. Taylor on August 18, 2009 during his testimony as a witness in his own defense. Mr. Taylor told the court that he had received the said letter from “Issa Sesay”, who by then was the most senior commander in the RUF after the group’s main leader, Foday Sankoh, had been arrested following the abduction of UN peacekeepers by the RUF in May 2000.
In the letter, the RUF complained about attacks from the UN, the arrest of their leader Mr. Sankoh, and the violations of the Lome Peace Accord by the government of Sierra Leone. The letter called for Mr. Taylor’s involvement in leading the peace process in Sierra Leone under the banner of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
When he testified in August 2009, Mr. Taylor told the court that “this is the letter from General Issa Sesay.”
On Monday, prosecution counsel Nicholas Koumjian showed Mr. Sesay the same letter, which was purportedly written by him and addressed to Mr. Taylor. Mr. Sesay told the court that he did not write such a letter to Mr. Taylor. Upon his denial, Mr. Koumjian suggested that the letter could have been written in Mr. Sesay’s name by Mr. Taylor’s men.
“It is obvious that if this was in the archive of Charles Taylor, then it is written by Charles Taylor’s men as the demands of the RUF…This is a letter that was written on your behalf by Charles Taylor’s people. He was using you as a puppet, correct?” Mr. Koumjian put to Mr. Sesay.
“Nobody was using me. ECOWAS only used me to disarm the RUF, but the Liberian government did not use me,” Mr. Sesay responded.
The letter, according to Mr. Taylor, was sent to him by Mr. Sesay after the RUF had abducted UN Peacekeepers and for which he (Taylor) had received a mandate from ECOWAS leaders to get the peacekeepers released. Mr. Sesay said that when he negotiated the release of the peacekeepers with Mr. Taylor, he did not put forward any preconditions.
When asked whether Mr. Taylor had told him that his colleagues (West African leaders) had promised to make him Chairman of ECOWAS if he facilitated the release of the peacekeepers, Mr. Sesay said Mr. Taylor never told him that.
“He [Taylor] said to you that he can become ECOWAS Chairman and he’ll help you,” Mr. Koumjian put to Mr. Sesay.
“No. He did not tell me that,” Mr. Sesay responded.
When asked why he had taken the peacekeepers to Liberia before releasing them, when in fact, the UN peacekeeping mission was based in Sierra Leone, Mr. Sesay said, “I got the contact from Monrovia. If I had got the contact in Sierra Leone, I would have released them in Sierra Leone.”
“He [Taylor] told me to take them to Liberia, that’s why I took them to Foya and the helicopter took them to Monrovia,” he added.
Mr. Koumjian also accused Mr. Sesay of contradicting himself by testifying that he had gone to Monrovia only once in May 2000 during the negotiations for the release of the peacekeepers. According to prosecution witnesses, Mr. Sesay visited Mr. Taylor twice in May 2000 – the first visit to negotiate the release of the peacekeepers and the second visit to take the peacekeepers to Liberia for their release. On the second trip, Mr. Sesay allegedly returned to Sierra Leone with a consignment of arms and ammunition, which according to prosecution witnesses were given to him by Mr. Taylor.
When Mr. Taylor testified in his own defense, he told the court that Mr. Sesay had only visited him once in May 2000 and that was when he negotiated the release of the peacekeepers. When the peacekeepers were finally released, Mr. Sesay did not return to Monrovia, Mr. Taylor said. Mr. Sesay in his present testimony corroborated Mr. Taylor’s account that he only visited Monrovia once in May. Mr. Sesay told the court in The Hague that when he took the peacekeepers to Liberia, he only stopped at Foya while a helicopter took the peacekeepers to Monrovia.
However, in his testimony in his own trial before the Special Court for Sierra Leone in Freetown, Mr. Sesay told the court that he had gone to Monrovia two times in May 2000, the first time to negotiate the release of the peacekeepers and the second time to meet with Mr. Taylor after the peacekeepers had been released.
When this contradiction was put to him today, Mr. Sesay said, “Well, I recall that when I went with the UN, I stopped in Foya.”
“If I did say that I went to Monrovia, now I recall that I stopped at Foya,” he added.
On Tuesday, as Mr. Sesay was not available in court to continue his testimony due to a dental appointment that he had to honour with a dentist in The Hague, defense lawyers brought in his place Mr. Taylor’s 20th witness, a Liberian national who also sought to distance Mr. Taylor from the activities of the RUF in Sierra Leone.
The witness, who worked as a radio operator in the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) rebel group and later in Mr. Taylor’s Executive Mansion under the Special Security Services (SSS) division, is testifying with partial protective measures and is only identified by the pseudonym DCT-008. On Tuesday, he told the court about the communications that took place between the radio station installed at the residence of Benjamin Yeaten, who was Director of the SSS, and RUF commander Sam Bockarie’s radio station installed at the RUF headquarters in Buedu, eastern Sierra Leone. The witness told the court that Mr. Taylor did not know about the contact and friendship that existed between Mr. Yeaten and Mr. Bockarie.
Several prosecution witnesses, including former RUF radio operators, have testified about radio communications between Mr. Bockarie and Mr. Yeaten. These communications were facilitated through Mr. Bockarie’s radio operator called Sellay and a radio operator named Sunlight, who operated a radio at Mr. Yeaten’s residence in Liberia, prosecution witnesses have said. They further told the court that Mr. Taylor had knowledge of these contacts, and it was through Mr. Yeaten that Mr. Taylor facilitated most of his communications and assistance to RUF commanders. On Tuesday, the witness, a former radio operator in Liberia, said this was not the case.
Explaining the nature of the radio contact that took place between Mr. Yeaten and the RUF, the witness told the court that “while Sunlight was operating the radio at the SSS Director’s residence…one day, Samson came along with…Daniel Tamba, also called Jungle.”
“Samson introduced Daniel Tamba to Sunlight saying the Chief [Yeaten] said I should bring this fellow to you so he can call Sierra Leone. He is a member of the RUF and he is one of [RUF leader Foday] Sankoh’s boys…Jungle gave a piece of paper to Sunlight with a call sign for the RUF operator Sellay.”
Samson, the witness said, was a former NPFL fighter, who was also one of the officers working under Mr. Yeaten in the SSS.
According to DCT-008, “[Samson] also said he had taken Jungle to the Executive Mansion for Jungle to communicate with the RUF in Sierra Leone.”
He said that Samson had been working with another radio operator at the Executive Mansion called William Jimmy, who helped them communicate secretly with the RUF in Sierra Leone.
“Samson said they were hiding it and the [Liberian] government did not know about it, not even the president,” the witness said.
When Sunlight discussed this with Mr. Yeaten, the SSS Director gave his consent to the contact with the RUF, telling Sunlight that nobody knew of such relationship that he had with the RUF.
“After the communication, when Benjamin Yeaten came home that evening, Sunlight told Benjamin Yeaten that Samson brought Jungle here so that Sunlight will connect him to Sierra Leone, and then Benjamin Yeaten told Sunlight that I have a friend in Sierra Leone and you should allow him to communicate with Sierra Leone anytime they come here,” the witness explained.
“Later, I got to know that [the friend] was Sam Bockarie,” he added.
When asked whether “Charles Taylor [was] aware of this,” the witness said, “No.”
“Charles Taylor did not know because Benjamin Yeaten told Sunlight that what I have told you should be kept to yourself and you must not share it with any other government radio operator…because this relationship between Sam Bockarie and myself, the president does not know about it and you should keep it to yourself,” the witness explained.
The witness said Mr. Yeaten added in his discussion with Sunlight that “if this information gets to anyone and the president knows about it, he will deal with me and I’ll be finished.”
“That’s how I came to know that the president did not know about it,” he said.
When asked about the nature of the friendship that existed between Mr. Yeaten and Mr. Bockarie, the witness said, “The friendship was so cordial, they were very close.
In response to allegations that RUF commanders, including Mr. Bockarie, made regular trips to Liberia and returned with arms and ammunition to Sierra Leone and that members of Mr. Taylor’s security apparatus had close links with RUF commanders, Mr. Taylor has told the court that as president of Liberia, he could not have known all the things that members of his security forces or his government did. These men could have had independent relationships or arms trade with the RUF without his knowledge, Mr. Taylor has stated.
When he resumed his testimony on Wednesday after being absent in court on Tuesday, Mr. Sesay told the court that the RUF did not fight battles for Mr. Taylor in neighboring Guinea and Liberia.
Prosecutors have alleged that Mr. Taylor had control over RUF) rebels and from this position of authority, prosecutors say, Mr. Taylor sent RUF rebels to attack a rebel force in his own country – the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) – which was threatening to unseat his government and helping to dislodge the government of former president, Lansana Conte, in neighboring Guinea. Despite an ongoing disarmament process in Sierra Leone at the time, arms and ammunition for these operations were allegedly given to the RUF by Mr. Yeaten, Mr. Taylor’s SSS Director, who was commanding troops against LURD rebels in Lofa County, Liberia. Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations.
“Benjamin Yeaten provided the RUF with ammunition to launch these attacks in Guinea and Lofa in Liberia,” prosecution counsel Mr. Koumjian asserted on Wednesday.
“No, Benjamin Yeaten did not give me ammunition and I did nor send the RUF to fight in Guinea and Liberia,” Mr. Sesay responded.
In 2008, prosecution witnesses told Special Court for Sierra Leone judges in The Hague that they were part of the RUF fighting force sent to fight in Guinea and Liberia. Mr. Taylor gave orders to Mr. Sesay for the RUF to attack these countries and Mr. Sesay in turn mobilized RUF fighters to cross the Sierra Leonean border into the two countries, the witnesses told the court in 2008.
“Issa Sesay said Charles Taylor informed him that we should give him ground in Guinea so at the time of the disarmament in Sierra Leone, we’ll shift some of the ammunition to Guinea for safe keeping…from there, Issa arranged transportation to Liberia, we met Benjamin Yeaten and he said guys we should get ready for the operation,” one of the prosecution witnesses was quoted as having said in 2008.
“You as interim leader of the RUF were battling the enemies of Charles Taylor in both Liberia and Guinea,” Mr. Koumjian confronted Mr. Sesay.
“I did not fight the enemies of Charles Taylor,” Mr. Sesay said
Mr. Sesay explained that RUF fighters who fought in Liberia could have done so on their own accord, not on any instructions from the RUF leadership.
“The RUF [fighters] who went there did so on their own accord,” Mr. Sesay said, prompting a question from Mr. Koumjian as to whether Mr. Sesay was confirming that RUF fighters did indeed cross into neighboring Liberia.
“What I mean, when I asked them [RUF] to disarm, the Vanguards [original RUF fighters trained in Liberia] who refused, crossed over to Liberia. Even Superman [a Liberian RUF commander] went over to Liberia, but to say that I organized men to go over to Liberia, no,” Mr. Sesay said.
On the RUF cross-border attacks in Guinea, Mr. Sesay also insisted that “Mr. Taylor did not give me any operation to attack Guinea.”
“There were cross-border attacks which the Guineans launched and the RUF was repelling them…The Guineans were launching long range missiles which were landing in RUF controlled territories,” he added.
Mr. Sesay also refuted claims that former rebel fighter, Daniel Tamba (otherwise known as “Jungle”), was a member of Mr. Taylor’s SSS assigned to the RUF as Mr. Taylor’s official representative. Several prosecution witnesses have testified that Jungle was Mr. Taylor’s representative to the RUF who moved between Sierra Leone and Liberia with diamonds from RUF rebels to Mr. Taylor, and arms and ammunition from Mr. Taylor to the RUF. Mr. Sesay has dismissed these claims as lies, saying that when Jungle crossed from NPFL territory into Sierra Leone in the early 1990s, he joined the RUF and remained with the Sierra Leonean rebel group until the time of the disarmament in the country.
“As far as I know, Jungle was not an SSS, he was a member of the RUF,” Mr. Sesay told the court.
Mr. Koumjian displayed a list containing the names of SSS members who were assigned to the Executive Mansion as part of Mr. Taylor’s “Presidential Advance Team” and the 9th name on the said list was that of “Daniel Tamba” (Jungle). Mr. Koumjian also displayed a photograph of persons in military fatigue and Mr. Sesay identified the two visible persons in the photograph as SSS Director Mr. Yeaten and Jungle.
When put to him that ”[Jungle] was the liaison between Charles Taylor and the RUF,” Mr. Sesay said: “No, Jungle was with the RUF for a long time, he was not a middleman.”
On Thursday, Mr. Sesay told the court that he did not know and does not believe that Mr. Taylor sent men to kill him while he was trying to disarm rebel forces in Sierra Leone. Mr. Sesay also dismissed suggestions that he is testifying for Mr. Taylor because he hopes that the former Liberian president, if acquitted, will help free him from his 52 years jail sentence in Rwanda.
Mr. Koumjian in concluding Mr. Sesay’s cross-examination on Thursday put to the witness that it was Mr. Taylor’s practice to execute people with whom he had disagreements and so when Mr. Sesay decided to disarm the RUF in Sierra Leone much to Mr. Taylor’s disagreement, the former Liberian president sent men to kill him inside Sierra Leone. Mr. Sesay dismissed this suggestion as false.
“Charles Taylor was unhappy with your decision to cooperate with the United Nations and at some point he sent men to kill you, did you know that?” Mr. Koumjian asked Mr. Sesay.
“No,” Mr. Sesay said. “I did not know that, i did not hear that and i don’t believe that Charles Taylor wanted to hill me because Charles Taylor was one of those encouraging me to disarm.”
Mr. Koumjian read from a March 12 2008 evidence of former NPFL fighter Joseph Zig Zag Marzah who told the court that Mr. Taylor had ordered him to executed Mr. Sesay.
“…I crossed over to Pendembu in the Kailahun District to wait for Issa [Sesay] to execute him under the directive of my leader Charles Taylor. Later he [Taylor] called me and said he had already sent for Issa to go and receive ammos in Buedu and for him to come and pass through me to Buedu and then I will follow him to get him, but Issa never returned. I spent almost two weeks in Kailahun and later he told me that, “The man has gone. He will no longer receive supplies from me.”” Mr. Marzah told the court in March 2008.
“This man is telling lies,” Mr. Sesay responded when confronted with Mr. Marzah’s statement.
Mr. Koumjian put to Mr. Sesay that since Mr. Taylor did not want the RUF to disarm, that was why he suggested that Mr. Bockarie, the former RUF commander who had left Sierra Leone for Liberia be made to rejoin the RUF. When Mr. Sesay realised Mr. Taylor’s plot, he never returned to see the former Liberian president again, Mr. Koumjian said.
“If he [Bockarie] would have returned, you would have been killed…you told Charles Taylor you wanted to go and consult your colleagues and never returned to see Charles Taylor again,” Mr. Koumjian put to Mr. Sesay.
In response, Mr. Sesay said that “I told him that the problem was between Sam Bockarie and Mr. Sankoh, that i’ll have to go and consult my colleagues. Since then, he did not call me again and i did not return to see him.”
Mr. Koumjian also pointed to Mr. Sesay that the reason for his testimony on Mr. Taylor’s behalf is because he hopes that an acquitted Mr. Taylor will use political power to get him out of jail, having already started a 52 year jail term after being convicted for his role in the Sierra Leonean conflict. Mr. Sesay denied this suggestion, telling the court that his only hope for getting out of jail rests on God and the people of Sierra Leone.
“You have the hope that if Charles Taylor is released, he’ll help you get political release from prison. If Charles Taylor is released, he’ll help you get out of jail, correct?” Mr. Koumjian asked Mr. Sesay.
“No my Lord. Mr. Taylor is not a Sierra Leonean and so he has no influence in Sierra Leone. It is the people of Sierra Leone who will appeal to the Government of Sierra Leone for my release or the international community who know what i did for peace in Sierra Leone,” Mr. Sesay responded.
As Mr. Sesay was headed back to his Rwandan jail having officially finished his evidence on Friday, defense lawyers recalled Mr. Taylor’s 20th defense witness, DCT-008 who told the court on Tuesday that members of Mr. Taylor’s security aparatus, including SSS Director Mr. Yeaten had dealings with RUF commanders without Mr. Taylor’s knowledge.