As his cross-examination moved into a second week, Charles Taylor’s 20th defense witness today disagreed with prosecutors that Mr. Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) rebel group had a Small Boys Unit (SBU) during Liberia’s civil conflict.
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 Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in Sierra Leone, who Mr. Taylor is alleged to have controlled and supported during the 11 year conflict in Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations.
In his testimony as a defense witness for Mr. Taylor, DCT-008 has 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.
Today, 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.”
Earlier in the morning, the witness attempted to make corrections to certain aspects of his testimony given to the court last week about being present when RUF commander Sam Bockarie said that Vamunya Sherif, a previous prosecution witness and a member of Mr. Taylor’s security apparatus, had sold arms and ammunition to the RUF. The witness also told the court last week that the Special Security Services (SSS) communications office was located on the 4th floor of the Executive Mansion, an account that is contrary to that given by Mr. Taylor himself that the communications office was located on the 5th floor of the mansion.
Today, as his cross-examination was about to recommence, the witness told the court, “I want to make a correction on my testimony regarding Vamunya Sherif and also some clarification concerning the 5th floor.”
Both Ms. Hollis and the presiding judge of the Trial Chamber, Justice Julia Sebutinde, told the witness that any clarifications to his earlier testimony will be made during re-examination by defense lawyers.
Ms. Hollis took further steps to suggest that the witness had notes in his room which he uses to cross-check his daily testimony, a suggestion which the witness denied and to which defense lawyers objected.
“Do you have notes in your room? Because this is the second time you have said you want to clarify something…because when you go back and study your notes, you realize you have deviated from your notes and you come back and try to rescript your evidence,” Ms. Hollis questioned the witness.
“I do not have any notes in my room,” the witness responded.
When defense lawyers objected to this line of questioning, the presiding judge upheld the defense objection and cautioned Ms. Hollis not to put such questions to the witness when there was no evidence to support suggestions that the witness did indeed have notes in his room.
DCT-008’s cross-examination continues on Tuesday.