Today, DCT-008, the 20th defense witness who could possibly be the final witness to give oral evidence in the Charles Taylor trial, concluded his evidence. The witness was re-examined by defense lawyers for the former Liberian president, who is on trial for allegedly supporting Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels during the 11 year civil conflict in Sierra Leone, which saw the commission of heinous crimes, including rape, murder, and amputations against the civilian population of the country.
Prosecutors allege that Mr. Taylor provided arms and ammunition to RUF rebels in Sierra Leone in exchange for Sierra Leone’s blood diamonds, a relationship that prosecutors say formed the basis of a campaign of terror against the civilian population of Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations, telling the court that members of his security apparatus in Liberia could have had dealings with the Sierra Leonean rebels without his knowledge.
In his testimony for Mr. Taylor, DCT-008 has supported Mr. Taylor’s assertions, particularly through testifying that Special Security Services (SSS) Director Benjamin Yeaten had a special friendship with RUF commander Sam Bockarie, and this friendship formed the basis of the support that the RUF received from Liberia. Mr. Taylor, the witness has maintained, did not have knowledge of such a relationship.
As defense lawyers re-examined him today, DCT-008 tried to clarify some issues that had come up during his cross-examination by prosecutors.
The witness clarified issues relating to the use of various floors of the Executive Mansion in Liberia while Mr. Taylor was president. During his cross-examination, prosecutors suggested to him that Mr. Taylor used the the 8th floor of the Executive Mansion to coordinate operations with RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. The witness denied this, saying that Mr. Taylor never lived on the 8th floor.
Explaining what he knew about the 8th floor, DCT-008 said, “On the 8th floor, that was where the presidents, starting from [William] Tolbert to [Samuel] Doe, they had their residence there but during the war, we were told that the place was ransacked and all the things that were there were looted by ECOMOG [Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group].”
“According to the story that I heard for the Mansion, it happened that when they [ECOMOG] were in control of Monrovia, they were in control of the Mansion, and so they used that opportunity to loot the place so nobody could see them,” the witness added.
He said that while he knew that Mr. Taylor moved into his White Flower residence in early 1999, he did not know where the former president lived between 1997 to late 1998.
He “however never heard that the president Taylor resided on the 8th floor.”
The witness explained that the 7th floor housed radio communications equipment and the 6th floor was the presidential kitchen. He said he never heard that the SSS used the 5th floor of the Mansion for radio communications.
The witness also tried to clarify issues relating to the use of the word “principal” in radio communications. According to a previous prosecution witness, the language used by radio operators whenever RUF commanders wanted to talk to Liberian officials was “my principal wants to talk to your principal.” DCT-008 has said in his testimony that radio operators used the word “master” rather than “principal” as the latter could have made it easy for people monitoring the communications to know what was going on.
When asked to tell the court why they used “master” rather than “principal,” the witness explained, “The reason was that the term principal, even within the Government of Liberia radio communications system, we referred to the commander of certain radio stations as principal and the term principal in Liberia means head of an institution.”
“So if the term principal is used, anybody who had been listening on the Government of Liberia side will know that there is an operator on the Liberian side and the Sierra Leone side.”
When he was responding to questions from the judges, the witness discussed the arms purchase that SSS Director Mr. Yeaten undertook for the RUF.
Justice Richard Lussick asked the witness that when “Benjamin Yeaten sent people to buy arms and ammunition from the LPC [Liberian Peace Council] and ULIMO [United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia], where did he get the money from?”
In response, the witness said, “I did not say he sent men to buy arms from the LPC or ULIMO. I said those areas were controlled by LPC and ULIMO. To answer your question, I don’t know where he got the money.”
The witness has said that Mr. Yeaten’s radio operators communicated regularly with RUF radio operators and such contacts were not known by other radio operators working for the Liberian government.
Justice Lussick therefore asked the witness whether he used to monitor other calls made by other radio operators.
“As a radio operator, provided I stand on the frequency, I could monitor any calls…any operator could do that, even during the war, LURD [Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy] used to monitor our communications and we used to do the same,” he said.
He agreed with Justice Lussick that he would not know if somebody else was monitoring his communications.
As SSS Director Mr. Yeaten has taken center stage in this trial as the main person who was in contact with RUF rebels and having worked as a radio operator for Mr. Yeaten, Justice Teresa Doherty asked the witness whether Mr. Yeaten is still alive.
“I don’t know, since he left Liberia in 2003, I have not got any information about him…I do not know whether he is alive and even if he is alive, I do not know where he is now.”
Earlier in the week, defense lawyers indicated that DCT-008 might be the final witness to give oral testimony as a defense witness for Mr. Taylor. As the witness concluded his testimony today, the judges asked defense lawyers whether they had anything to say about the conclusion of their case. Defense counsel for Mr. Taylor, Terry Munyard, addressed the court on this and told the judges that the defense wants the court to have a status conference on Monday next week. Before the status conference, the team will meet with Mr. Taylor and get instructions from him on the way forward, he said.
He concluded, “At the moment, we are not anticipating calling any further live evidence, should that change, we will let the parties know.”
The court resumes for a status conference on Monday.