Dear Readers – Ms. Judith Armatta is a lawyer, journalist, and human rights advocate who has previously monitored the trial of Slobodan Milosevic on behalf of the Coalition for International Justice. She will be reporting on the trial of Charles Taylor this week in place of our regular monitor, Mr. Alpha Sesay. We hope you find her reports helpful.
Today at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, the prosecution continued cross-examination of Sam Flomo Kolleh, a Liberian member of Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF), attacking the witness’s credibility while Mr. Kolleh denied there was a connection between himself and the RUF with Charles Taylor and Liberia. Mr. Kolleh is the last witness for the accused.
Attempting to expose Mr. Kolleh’s motives and loyalties, the prosecution pressed him on his reasons for associating with the RUF initially and remaining with it for 10 years. The witness asserted both that he had no options for leaving the RUF and would have suffered serious sanctions if he had tried, but that he was not forced into joining or remaining.
Yesterday, Mr. Kolleh described his “capture” by Arthur, an officer in the NPFL (National Patriotic Front of Liberia), and his acceptance of RUF training to serve Arthur’s needs for protection. That he never returned to Arthur he explained by the fact that Arthur’s NPFL unit was deployed to a new location. He remained with the RUF for 10 years, holding positions that included MP, security chief for the entire RUF, weapons advisor, and senior officer of the RUF’s advance team while obtaining the rank of lieutenant colonel. Earlier in cross-examination, the witness testified that the RUF did not assign ranks because it was a guerilla army. Later, he acknowledged his climb through the ranks.
The prosecution seeks to prove that Charles Taylor directed, encouraged, or assisted the RUF and other military formations in a criminal plan to seize control of the government of Sierra Leone – and its resources, reportedly including the highest quality natural diamonds in the world – by terrorizing the civilian population through beatings, property destruction, looting, rape, sexual slavery, forced labor, and killings. As president of Liberia, Taylor de jure (by law) controlled the NPFL, but not the Sierra Leonean RUF. The prosecution maintains that Taylor de facto controlled the RUF as well. Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations.
Pursuing this theory, the prosecutor suggested to Mr. Kolleh that the majority of RUF trainees he trained with were Liberians. The witness responded he could not tell the difference. Confronted by testimony of John Vincent, a member of Charles Taylor’s Special Security Service, that 252 of 328 RUF trainees were Liberians, Mr. Kolleh responded that he did not check, so he could not verify Mr. Vincent’s testimony. Issa Sesay, a former Liberian radio operator, who appeared earlier this year on behalf of Mr. Taylor, also testified that the majority were Liberian.
Despite Mr. Kolleh’s high position and acknowledged closeness to Sierra Leonean rebel leaders such as Sam “Mosquito” Bockarie, his knowledge of RUF affairs and notorious incidents was often nonexistent under the prosecution’s cross-examination. In one instance, he told the court he could not remember whether or not he had killed anyone or been involved in killing.
He responded to the prosecutor’s questions about massacres that occurred in areas where he held responsible positions by claiming he was ill, injured, or somewhere else. The prosecutor read the testimony of a protected witness in the trial of Issa Sesay, stating that Sam Kolleh was brigade commander in the Kailahun District when the Kailahun massacre happened. Mr. Kolleh said he was neither the brigade commander nor was he present at the time of the massacre. Another protected witness testified that Mr. Kolleh killed 10 people as ordered by Sam Bockerie (a.k.a. Mosquito), then passed on the order to execute another 55. Mr. Kolleh asserted he knew nothing about the massacre and was not involved.
In 2003, Mr. Kolleh told both the prosecutor’s investigators and the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission that his name was Sam Mustapha Karoma, a name recognized as Sierra Leonean. Twice the prosecutor suggested to the witness that he had falsified his identity, seeking to keep his Liberian nationality secret, because he was an agent of Charles Taylor, who was then president of Liberia. Mr. Kolleh vehemently denied this assertion. The witness continued to state that he changed his name because he feared being arrested by the Special Court. He also alleged that the prosecution’s investigator told him he could change whatever he wanted as long as he said what they wanted him to say (i.e. that Mr. Taylor provided the RUF with arms in exchange for diamonds).
The prosecution proposed that Mr. Kolleh’s visit to John Vincent in Monrovia, Liberia after the prosecution investigators first interviewed him in 2003 was evidence Mr. Kolleh was an agent for Charles Taylor. The witness denied it and backtracked on his agreement that he had made the visit at all.
Toward the end of the day, the prosecutor turned to the subject of RUF disarmament at the end of the war. Mr. Kolleh was in charge of disarmament in Kailahun. Prosecutors asked what happened to the heavy weapons the RUF had taken from UNOMIL. The witness said he did not know. He insisted they could not have been taken to Liberia, as the prosecutor suggested, because they were too heavy to transport across a river where the ferry was not working.
The cross-examination of Sam Kolleh will continue tomorrow, followed by redirect examination, if any.