The defense witness who concluded his testimony this week could be the final witness to give oral evidence in the Charles Taylor trial, defense lawyers for the former Liberian president indicated on Wednesday as the witness concluded his evidence.
DCT-008, a Liberian national who served as a radio operator in the Special Security Services (SSS) unit of Mr. Taylor’s government in Liberia, is the 114th witness who has testified in Mr. Taylor’s trial in The Hague. Of those witnesses, 94 testified for the prosecution while the remaining 20 testified for Mr. Taylor.
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 on Wednesday, 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 and told the judges that the defense wants the court to have a status conference on Monday, September 13. 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.”
DCT-008’s testimony focused mainly on radio communications that took place between Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in Sierra Leone and members of Mr. Taylor’s security apparatus in Liberia. Prosecutors have alleged that these radio communications took place with Mr. Taylor’s involvement and approval, and through these radio communications, RUF rebels updated Mr. Taylor on their activities and the former Liberian president gave the Sierra Leonean rebels instructions and facilitated arms transfers for use in Sierra Leone’s bloody conflict. Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations, telling the Special Court for Sierra Leone judges in The Hague that members of his security forces could have had close relationships with Sierra Leonean rebels and that through such relationships, arms and ammunition could have been traded between Liberia and Sierra Leone without his knowledge.
In DCT-008’s testimony, he has said the radio communications and the diamond and arms trade that took place between Liberia and Sierra Leone were based solely on the friendship that existed between RUF commander Sam Bockarie and SSS Director Benjamin Yeaten. The witness also denied certain allegations that have been made by prosecutors, including that the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) used children for combat purposes during the Liberian conflict under a unit called the Small Boys Unit (SBU).
Prosecutors allege that the SBU comprised of children, who were forcefully conscripted and used for combat purposes by Mr. Taylor’s rebel forces in Liberia. These children did not only fight in frontlines, but were also used to man NPFL checkpoints and served as bodyguards to NPFL rebel commanders, prosecutors say. It is also alleged that this practice was replicated by RUF rebels in Sierra Leone, who Mr. Taylor is alleged to have controlled and supported.
In his testimony as a defense witness for Mr. Taylor, DCT-008 told the court that the NPFL did not use children in combat or to man checkpoints. According to the witness, commanders only lived with their younger brothers, who helped them perform domestic chores, and these were the ones called SBUs. They neither took part in combat, nor were they made to man checkpoints or to serve as bodyguards to rebel commanders, the witness said.
On Monday, during the cross-examination of the witness, Chief Prosecutor Brenda Hollis challenged the witness on the NPFL’s use of SBUs.
When asked whether “it is true that the NPFL did indeed have a unit called SBU,” DCT-008 said, “No.”
When the prosecutor stated that “these SBUs were used at checkpoints,” the witness said, “No.”
“My testimony is that the NPFL did not have any unit called the SBU. The SBU was the name given to those young boys who were with their big brothers and sisters, but they were not part of the NPFL,” DCT-008 said.
“They were not soldiers, they were not gun carriers,” he added.
Ms. Hollis read a portion of the statement made to defense lawyers by Mr. Taylor’s first witness, Yanks Smythe, a Gambian member of the NPFL who later attained Liberian citizenship and was appointed Liberian ambassador to Libya and Tunisia. In the statement, Mr. Smythe was quoted as saying to defense lawyers that the “SBUs were underaged but part of the NPFL rank.”
When this was presented to the witness with a suggestion that he also knew of the SBUs being part of the NPFL, DCT-008 said, “I don’t know that, I don’t know of a unit called SBU and there was no unit in the NPFL called SBU.”
Put to him again that Mr. Smythe said in his statement that “SBUs will bear arms to protect gates or checkpoints but not to go to the frontlines,” the witness said, “I don’t know that.”
The witness also refuted allegations that Mr. Taylor personally had SBU’s assigned to him, telling the court, “Mr. Taylor to my knowledge never had SBU’s around him.”
Ms. Hollis also quoted John T. Richardson, a former member of the NPFL and National Security Adviser to Mr. Taylor who in a 1994 news interview said, “The NPFL used children to fight for their own protection.”
The witness still insisted, “I am not aware of that.”
On Tuesday, as prosecutors concluded his cross-examination, the witness disagreed with prosecutors on several issues, including the manner in which the disarmament of fighting forces was conducted in Liberia, allegations of Mr. Taylor’s reliance on militias rather than the Liberian army, and the relationship that existed between RUF commander Mr. Bockarie and SSS Director Mr. Yeaten.
Prosecutors allege that when the disarmament process started in Liberia in the mid 1990s, Mr. Taylor’s NPFL rebel group did not turn in all their weapons, and the weapons they kept were part of those given to RUF rebels who used them to commit atrocities in Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations.
In his testimony on Tuesday, DCT-008 insisted that the NPFL turned in all their weapons to Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) peacekeepers, who were coordinating the disarmament program in Liberia.
“I know that the NPFL disarmed. Even myself, I disarmed to ECOMOG,” the witness told the court.
When noted by the Ms. Hollis that the NPFL turned in only fractions of their weapons, the witness responded, “To my knowledge, the NPFL turned over every weapon…it was not a joke, it was real.”
Ms. Hollis referenced a news article that quoted Mr. Taylor’s former Defense Minister Daniel Chea that the disarmament process in Liberia was a fiasco.
When this was put to the witness, he responded thus: “I believe that the NPFL fully disarmed to the peacekeepers…so if he [Chea] went on to say it was a fiasco, that was his opinion.”
“But what I know is that the disarmament went on very well, that is why we had elections.”
Ms. Hollis also asserted that because Mr. Taylor did not trust the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), he relied on private militias, which were controlled from the Executive Mansion. These militias, Ms. Hollis said, were notorious for committing crimes against civilians. The witness denied these suggestions.
“He relied on the national security of the Republic of Liberia,” the witness said, and ”Charles Taylor to my knowledge never controlled any militia from the Executive Mansion,” he added.
When noted that Mr. Taylor controlled his militia groups just like the SSS, the witness said, “He never ran the SSS. The SSS were security assigned to the Executive Mansion and the first family.”
Ms. Hollis quoted Mr. Chea again, who in the same interview where he spoke about the disarmament process said, “Mr. Taylor had his own suspicions of the army, he transferred most of the duties of the army to his own militias. I thought that was a mistake.”
“President Taylor had his own disjointed militia that he ran from the Executive Mansion. Who will be in a better position to know about Charles Taylor’s militia, you or Mr. Chea,” Ms. Hollis asked the witness.
In response, he said, “To my knowledge, the president did not control militia group or militia from the Executive Mansion.”
The witness also insisted, like he has done throughout his testimony, that Mr. Taylor and his government did not have any relationship with the RUF, but rather, it was SSS Director Mr. Yeaten who used his friendship with RUF commander Mr. Bockarie to trade arms and ammunition with Sierra Leonean rebels.
According to the witness, Samson Wai, a bodyguard to Mr. Yeaten was the person who coordinated efforts with Daniel Tamba (Jungle) on Mr. Yeaten’s instructions to transport arms and ammunition to the RUF. The witness has stated that Jungle was a member of the RUF, a claim which goes contrary to prosecution claims that Jungle was a member of the SSS.
In response to a suggestion from Ms. Hollis that Jungle, Samson, Mr. Yeaten, and others “were members of the SSS carrying out security duties in relation to the rebels in Sierra Leone…at the instance of Charles Taylor,” the witness said, “Jungle was not a member of the SSS. Samson was a member of the SSS and a bodyguard to Benjamin Yeaten…They did this at the instance of Benjamin Yeaten, and Mr. Taylor did not know about this.”
The witness spoke extensively about radio communications that took place between Mr. Yeaten’s radio communications set in Liberia and those of RUF radio stations in Sierra Leone. When Ms. Hollis asked him whether there were no loyal radio operators who could have monitored these communications and made them known to Mr. Taylor, the witness said that such a thing never happened.
“And your story is that Benjamin Yeaten was able to do this without Mr. Taylor or anybody loyal to him knowing about it?” Ms. Hollis questioned the witness.
“I said this happened without Mr. Taylor’s knowledge,” the witness responded.
In concluding his cross-examination, the witness denied suggestions that he has come to the court with an intention to lie and protect Mr. Taylor.
“This is not what I intended to do. This is the truth that I have come to explain to this court. It is not my version, it is reality,” he said.
Earlier in the on Tuesday, the judges issued their oral decision on the defense motion that prosecutors be ordered to disclose statements made to Global Witness by defense witness DCT-097, which defense lawyers say contain exculpatory evidence pointing to Mr. Taylor’s innocence, and that prosecutors also be made to disclose details of payments made to the witness when he was a potential prosecution witness, payments that defense lawyers say amounted to about 30,000 USD.
Delivering the judgment of the Trial Chamber, Presiding Judge, Justice Julia Sebutinde, ordered that the Chamber dismisses Part A of the defense application relating to the statement made by DCT-097 to Global Witness, and grants Part B of the motion regarding the payments that were made to the witness by prosecutors.
The prosecution was ordered to disclose to the defense:
a. All payments/benefits to DCT-097.
b. All documents relating to the payments.
c. Provide explanation for such payments.
On Wednesday, the witness concluded his testimony after being re-examined by defense lawyers for Mr. Taylor during which the he tried to clarify certain issues that had come up during his cross-examination.
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.”
“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.
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. Yeatenhas 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.”
The trial of Mr. Taylor will resume on Monday with a status conference to determine when and how defense lawyers will close Mr. Taylor’s defense.