A former radio operator in the Special Security Services (SSS) unit in Liberia, who has refuted the evidence of prosecution witnesses and Revolutionary United Front (RUF) radio operators, could be the final witness to testify as a defense witness for Charles Taylor, defense lawyers for the former Liberian president have informed the Special Court for Sierra Leone judges in The Hague.
When court resumed on Friday morning for the commencement of the cross-examination of Mr. Taylor’s 20th witness, DCT-008, the presiding judge of the Trial Chamber Justice Julia Sebutinde informed the court of an email that the judges had received from lead counsel for Mr. Taylor, Courtenay Griffiths. The email stated that the present witness, DCT-008, could be the final witness that would testify for the defense. Justice Sebutinde further asked the defense to indicate whether this email also meant that the defense was disposing of a pending motion that is before the judges relating to allegations of payments made by prosecutors in an amount of over 30,000 USD to a potential defense witness, DCT-097. In the motion, defense lawyers allege, with documentary evidence, that prosecutors had paid huge sums of money to DCT-097, a former member of the RUF, who according to many witnesses was the main person who transported blood diamonds from Sierra Leone to Mr. Taylor in Liberia. Prosecutors had contacted the former RUF fighter to testify against Mr. Taylor and, in the process, had allegedly sent him huge sums of money for his cooperation, defense lawyers say. The motion alleges prosecutors only stopped the payments to the RUF fighter when he could not tell them what they wanted to hear.
Now a potential defense witness who was scheduled to testify for Mr. Taylor, the RUF fighter identified by Pseudonym DCT-097, has given defense lawyers moneygram receipts of payments he received from prosecutors. Defense lawyers have, through the motion, asked the judges to order prosecutors to make a full disclosure of all payments to the witness, as well as disclosure of all exculpatory evidence that would point at Mr. Taylor’s innocence based on statements that were made by the witness.
After conferring with other members of the defense team, defense counsel Morris Anyah told the judges that the defense still want a decision on the motion because defense lawyers intend to establish that prosecutors have been paying witnesses to testify against Mr. Taylor.
Mr. Anyah informed the court that at the end of DCT-008’s evidence, Mr. Griffiths would address the court on the next steps of the defense case, adding, “Except as otherwise instructed, this will be the last live witness for the defense.”
Defense lawyers did not say why they have decided against having DCT-097 to testify as a defense witness.
As the cross-examination of DCT-008 commenced on Friday morning, Chief Prosecutor Brenda Hollis raised several questions relating to the role of the SSS in Liberia, the various places where communication radio sets were installed in the country, and communications that took place between the witness and RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. Ms. Hollis also questioned the witness about the personal relationship he had with Mr. Taylor.
The Chief Prosecutor noted that he had a close relationship with Mr. Taylor and that, on occasions, they both discussed security issues. The witness said that was never the case.
“I was never close to Charles Taylor…I never sat with Mr. Taylor for any discussions on security matters…I told you…that the only time I spoke with him was in 2003 when some of our men went missing in the Lofa forest,” the witness said.
An area of disagreement during the cross-examination on Friday was the location of radio communication sets inside the Executive Mansion of Liberia when Mr. Taylor was the president of the country. In the witness’s testimony, he has stated that the SSS radio communications department was based on the 4th floor of the Executive Mansion from where SSS radio operator Sun Light worked. This account, prosecutors say, goes contrary to what Mr. Taylor and Yanks Smythe, another defense witness who also worked as radio operator, told the court in their testimonies. These two men stated that the radio communication sets were installed on the 5th floor of the Executive Mansion. As Ms. Hollis suggested that Sun Light used communication equipment on the 5th floor of the Executive Mansion to communicate with the RUF in Sierra Leone, DCT-008 insisted that Sun Light did not work on the 5th floor but on the 4th floor of the Executive Mansion.
“It is also correct that in 1997, Sun Light worked on the 5th floor and communicated with the RUF component of the junta in Sierra Leone, is that not correct?” Ms. Hollis asked the witness. “It is not true that Sun Light worked on the 5th floor of the Executive Mansion,” the witness responded.
On Monday, the witness testified in direct-examination that Mr. Taylor’s former Vice President Moses Blah ordered the execution of a Sierra Leonean rebel commander in Liberia who was already a subject of an indictment issued by the Special Court for Sierra Leone in 2003.
When notorious RUF commander Sam Bockarie was executed while entering Liberia from Ivory Coast in 2003, allegations were made that his execution had been ordered by Mr. Taylor.
Giving his account of the circumstances surrounding Mr. Bockarie’s death, defense witness DCT-008 told the court that in 2003, a radio operator using “the call sign Lima Tango told me that Sam Bockarie had been killed as he was trying to enter Liberia with armed men.”
Prosecution witnesses have testified earlier that the order to execute Mr. Bockarie was handed down from Mr. Taylor to his SSS Director Benjamin Yeaten, who took men to the Liberia-Ivory Coast border and executed Mr. Bockarie along with his bodyguards and family members. When Mr. Blah testified in 2008, he told the court that he was in Nimba County when Mr. Boackerie was executed, and Mr. Yeaten had met him there and told him of an operation that they had just executed. When Mr. Yeaten took him to his vehicle, Mr. Blah said he saw the corpse of Mr. Bockarie at the back of the truck. He explained that when he took Mr. Bockarie’s remains to Monrovia and informed Mr. Taylor about it, the former Liberian president told him that it was a military operation and there was no need for Mr. Blah to get involved.
Mr. Taylor, during his testimony, denied these claims and told the court that he had only sent Mr. Blah to stop Mr. Bockarie from entering into Liberia witharmed men and to have him arrested. It was Mr. Blah’s handling of the situation that had led to the death of the RUF commander. DCT-008 corroborated Mr. Taylor’s account in his testimony on Monday.
“What Lima Tango told me was that Sam Bockarie had a group of armed men, uncountable number of armed men, and he was trying to return to Liberia but at this time, the Liberia security tried to stop him and at this time, the group [Liberian security] was led by Moses Blah,” DCT-008 told the court.
“He Moses Blah was ordered to arrest Sam Bockarie but when they got there, Sam Bockarie resisted arrest, and he [Blah] said, ‘Do not waste time with that man, if he resists arrest, just kill him and bring his body to me’ and so they killed him and took the body to him [Blah].”
“He [Blah] brought the body to Monrovia and took it to the Striker Funeral Home,” he added.
Prosecutors allege that Mr. Bockarie was killed on his return from Ivory Coast after being sent to fight in that country by Mr. Taylor. When Mr. Bockarie was returning to Liberia with men whom he had commanded in Ivory Coast and with a Special Court for Sierra Leone indictment already issued, Mr. Taylor ordered his execution to cover any tracks of his close relationship with the former Sierra Leonean rebel commander, prosecutors allege. Mr. Taylor has dismissed these allegations as lies.
DCT-008 also spoke about the circumstances surrounding the death of Daniel Tamba, aka Jungle, who according to prosecutors was Mr. Taylor’s liaison with the RUF in Sierra Leone. Prosecutors say that when Jungle later returned to Liberia, Mr. Taylor ordered his execution, and he was shot in the back by his own comrades who were acting on orders handed down by Mr. Taylor to SSS Director Mr. Yeaten. Defense witnesses have said that Jungle was a member of the RUF who had a close relationship with Mr. Yeaten without Mr. Taylor’s knowledge. DCT-008 on Monday testified that after the disarmament in Liberia, Jungle was one of the Liberian members of the RUF who refused to be disarmed in Sierra Leone and instead returned to Liberia, where they became part of Mr. Taylor’s security forces.
Explaining his account of how Jungle died in Liberia, DCT-008 said, “What I heard about his death was that he died by a friendly fire, from a friendly gun.”
“He was engaging the enemy forces, he was hit by a BZT at the back. While the BZT was giving them cover, the BZT mistakenly hit him in the back,” he said.
When asked about Mr. Yeaten’s reaction to Jungle’s death, the witness said, “What I observed was that after this had happened…Ben [Yeaten] came to Monrovia constantly crying that he had lost Jungle. He was very sad.”
On Tuesday, DCT-008 told the court that prosecution witness and former member of Mr. Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) rebel group, Joseph Zig Zag Marzah, did not have physical proximity to the former Liberian president.
In 2008, Mr. Marzah testified as a prosecution witness in The Hague, and he told the judges that Mr. Taylor personally gave him orders to carry out executions of individuals in Liberia and that as members of the same secret society, himself and Mr. Taylor feasted on human beings, who had been executed on Mr. Taylor’s orders. Mr. Marzah also told the court that on Mr. Taylor’s instructions, he transported arms and ammunition to RUF rebels in Sierra Leone in exchange for Sierra Leone’s blood diamonds.
During Mr. Taylor’s almost seven months of testimony in his own defense, he dismissed Mr. Marzah’s evidence as lies, telling the judges that illiteracy could be responsible for Mr. Marzah concocting such stories against him.
Defense counsel, Mr. Anyah, asked DCT-008 whether it was possible for Mr. Marzah and Mr. Taylor to share a meal together.
“Did the president of Liberia have one on one interaction, such as meals, with someone like Zig Zag Marzah?” Mr. Anyah asked the witness.
“No,” the witness responded.
“Were you there?” Justice Sebutinde asked the witness.
In response, the witness explained, “Your honor, I said no because looking at the personnel in this situation, because even the special assistant to Benjamin Yeaten, Samson Wai, did not have physical proximity to the president.”
“Marzah was just like a servant to Benjamin Yeaten,” the witness added.
DCT-008 also spent a considerable amount of time on Tuesday discussing the radio communications that took place between the radio communication set that was installed at Mr. Yeaten’s residence in Liberia called Base One and the radio set that was used by RUF commander Mr. Bockarie, located at the RUF headquarters in the Sierra Leonean town of Buedu.
In 2008, a prosecution witness testified that when Mr. Yeaten and Mr. Bockarie wanted to talk with each other, one radio operator from either Sierra Leone or Liberia would call the radio set on the other side and say, “The principal on this side wants to talk to the principal on that side.”
DCT-008 dismissed this testimony as a lie, telling the court that while radio communications took place between the two stations, no titles were used during the communication.
“No one was referred to as principal during the communication between Buedu and Base One,” he said.
The witness also added that contrary to prosecution evidence, the communications that took place between Liberia and Sierra Leone only started in the late 1990s, and evidence that such contact existed in the mid 1990s is false.
When DCT-008 explained, “To my knowledge, in  94, 95 up to 97, there was no communication between the Government of Liberia or the NPFL at the time and the RUF,” a judge of the Trial Chamber, Justice Richard Lussick, asked the witness, “How do you know?”
In response, the witness said, “I was told by previous operators that in 1991-92, there was communication between the NPFL and the RUF, but after that, there was no link between the NPFL and the RUF.”
When the Judge asked him to tell the court the names of the said previous operators who had told him so, the witness said, “Sorry I can’t remember their names…but I can remember this information.”
The witness also refuted evidence that when the RUF undertook operations in Sierra Leone, RUF commander Mr. Bockarie had radio contacts with SSS Director Mr. Yeaten. A prosecution witness told the court in 2008 that during conversations with Mr. Yeaten, he heard Mr. Bockarie respond with words like “yes sir,” inferring that Mr. Bockarie was taking orders for military operations from Mr. Yeaten.
In response to a question of whether Mr. Yeaten was “directing RUF ground operations by giving Sam Bockarie orders on the front line,” DCT-008 said, “It is not to my knowledge that he [Yeaten] instructed Sam Bockarie on military operations.”
The witness was also confronted with prosecution evidence that when rebel forces invaded Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown in January 1999, Mr. Yeaten personally spoke with Mr. Bockarie on the radio during which conversation the SSS Director congratulated the RUF commander for his rebel group’s achievement. The witness dismissed this a as lie, saying that he never saw Mr. Yeaten personally speak on the radio.
“First of all, please be informed that there was no occasion that Benjamin Yeaten spoke on the radio with anybody. Sam Bockarie and Benjamin Yeaten never spoke to each other on the radio as far as I’m concerned,” the witness said.
While admitting that Mr. Yeaten had a strong relationship with the RUF, the witness insisted that the Liberian government had no knowledge of such a relationship.
On Wednesday, DCT-008 told the court that RUF radio operators lied when they alleged in their testimonies that RUF commanders sent regular radio messages to Mr. Taylor about the RUF’s activities in Sierra Leone and that Mr. Taylor and his SSS Director Mr. Yeaten sent regular instructions to the RUF through the radio operator called Sun Light, who operated the radio communication set that was installed at Mr. Yeaten’s residence called Base One.
In July 2008, a former RUF radio operator, TFI-567, told the court that in December 1998, when RUF rebels dislodged Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) peacekeepers and captured the diamond rich town of Kono, radio communications took place between the RUF radio operators based at RUF headquarters in the Sierra Leonean town of Buedu and Liberian authorities through the radio operator Sun Light, who was in charge of the Base One radio set in Liberia.
When DCT-008 was asked about this on Wednesday, he told the court, “It didn’t happen so. I have my doubts because Sun Light never visited Sierra Leone to know what was happening there. Sun Light did not give any report on RUF operations…Sun Light did not have any contacts with the RUF organization. He was only communicating with Sam Bockarie [RUF commander] on behalf of Benjamin Yeaten.”
The witness also refuted the evidence of another RUF radio operator, TFI-585, who testified in 2008 that when rebel forces invaded Sierra Leone’s capital of Freetown in 1999, Mr. Yeaten spoke to RUF commander Mr. Bockarie. During this conversation, the SSS Director expressed gratification at news of the invasion of Freetown, telling Mr. Bockarie that he’ll visit RUF headquarters in Buedu in two days. Mr. Yeaten also told Mr. Bockarie to turn on his satellite phone as Mr. Taylor wanted to speak with him, the witness told the court in 2008.
Disputing this claim, DCT-008 on Wednesday told the court, “I am not aware of that. For the time that I was at 50′s [Yeaten] house, 50 never spoke to Sam Bockarie on the radio, infact, 50 never spoke to anybody on the radio, whether for family or government issues.”
DCT-008 also responded to the testimony given by the overall RUF signal commander, Mohamed Beretay Kabbah, who in 2008 testified that whenever an ECOMOG fighter jet left from the Roberts International Airport (RIA) in Monrovia with a target to bomb RUF positions in Sierra Leone, Sun Light would inform RUF radio operators in Buedu that the “Iron Bird” was on the way, thus helping RUF rebels to plan their escape. Sun Light also used the code “448″ when informing RUF radio operators about the ECOMOG fighter jet, Mr. Kabbah said in 2008. DCT-008 described this account as false.
“First of all, I do not know the code 448 to be reference to an ECOMOG jet. And when Base One was communicating with Buedu, there was no communication regarding ECOMOG jet,” the witness told the court.
“We had our own code that referenced an enemy plane and it was 15-2. During the NPFL days, when ECOMOG was carrying out air raids against the NPFL, the NPFL radio communication used “Iron Bird” but this was not expedient as it could reveal what we were talking about…and when we went into government, Iron Bird was cancelled and we used the code 15-2.”
The witness added, “Base One was situated in Kongor town in Monrovia. The RIA where ECOMOG was is far away from Base One…Base One had no knowledge of ECOMOG jets. Yes, we could hear a plane when moving but we had no knowledge of where it was going, so the issue of communication regarding the movement of ECOMOG jets never occurred.
When asked by Judge Lussick whether it was “possible for somebody at RIA to get in touch with Base One either by radio or telephone,” the witness said, “Yes.”
“We had a radio at RIA. It was possible,” he said.
The witness, however, said that there was no time that the radio operator at RIA informed Base One that an ECOMOG jet had take off for Sierra Leone.
The witness disputed claims that the RUF used to communicate with Mr. Taylor through Sun Light. He said that Sun Light never had access to the president of Liberia, so there is no way such communications could have taken place through Sun Light.
On Thursday, defense lawyers concluded the direct examination of DCT-008. The witness’s direct examination was concluded mostly in private session as defense lawyers focused on discussing certain issues and submission of exhibits that, if discussed in public, would disclose the identity of the witness and the identities of other protected prosecution witnesses.
The witness, whose cross-examination began on Friday, will continue his testimony on Monday. It is anticipated that the cross-examination of the witness will be concluded next week.