A letter that was tendered in evidence by Charles Taylor as being one written by the former interim leader of the Sierra Leonean rebel group that Mr. Taylor is accused of providing support for could have been forged by another person. The witness today told the Special Court for Sierra Leone judges in The Hague that he did not write the letter addressed to Mr. Taylor.
As his cross-examination continued into another week, prosecutors showed Issa Hassan 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 Revolutionary United Front (RUF) after the group’s main leader, Foday Sankoh, had been arrested following the abduction of UN peacekeepers by the RUF.
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.”
Today, 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 today 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 has in his present testimony corroborated Mr. Taylor’s account that he only visited Monrovia once in May. He has 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.
“I was in the last helicopter that left for Monrovia… the following morning, [Joe] Tua came and took me to Charles Taylor…Charles Taylor said, ‘You have done well by releasing these people because Foday Sankoh was not listening’,” Mr. Sesay was quoted as having said in his trial in 2007.
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.
Mr. Sesay also told the court that when he became interim leader of the RUF, Mr. Taylor suggested to him that former RUF commander Sam Bockarie be made to return to the rebel group in Sierra Leone so that they would all work together. This account is in contradiction with what Mr. Taylor told the court during his testimony as a witness in his own defense. Mr. Taylor told the court that he never suggested that Mr. Bockarie be made to go back to the RUF. Mr. Bockarie left the RUF in late December 1999, after a fallout with RUF leader Mr. Sankoh. He was made to stay in Liberia and several of his supporters with whom he left the RUF were made to join Mr. Taylor’s security forces in Liberia. Mr. Taylor has said that he was acting in concert with ECOWAS leaders, who had all agreed that Mr. Bockarie was a hindrance to the peace process in Sierra Leone and there was a need to keep him out of the country.
Due to a scheduled dentist appointment, Mr. Sesay will be absent from court on Tuesday. A new defense witness is set to be called in Mr. Sesay’s absence tomorrow. Mr. Sesay’s testimony continues on Wednesday.