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, Sam Flomo Kolleh, a.k.a. Sam Mustapha Karome, a Liberian member of Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and the last witness for the accused Charles Taylor, completed his direct testimony and the prosecution began cross-examination.
The direct examination appeared designed to address potential credibility problems of the witness, who admits falsifying his identity and other matters in three interviews with prosecution investigators and before Sierra Leone’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In those venues, he claimed his name was Sam Mustapha Karome, as well as lying about his date and place of birth. When questioned about it, Mr. Kolleh said he did it because he feared being arrested by the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
On cross-examination, however, the prosecutor pointed out that, at the time he lied to investigators, the Special Court had arrested only four men. Mr. Kolleh insisted he was neither afraid of nor trying to protect the accused, Mr. Charles Taylor. He was trying to protect himself, though he denies any wrongdoing. The prosecutor read from a press release by Global Witness about a Briefing Document, identified as “Liberia’s Logs of War,” which provides another reason for a name change: “Sam Kolleh, Liberian, close associate of Charles Taylor, now in Sierra Leone and has changed his name to Sam Karome to appear Sierra Leonean.” Mr. Kolleh responded that he had no idea about this document, and his testimony before the TRC was not public.
Additionally, Mr. Kolleh lied to the TRC and prosecution investigators when he said he was captured in Sierra Leone and Sierra Leone’s RUF trained him to fight, not Mr. Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) in Liberia, where he was in fact captured, trained, and became a member of the RUF. The witness has said that the commander called Arthur led him to the RUF for training. Moreover, Arthur, who initially captured Mr. Kolleh, was an officer in the NPFL, not the RUF, as he formerly claimed. This supports the close connection between the NPFL and the RUF, which the prosecution claims operated together under the control or influence of Mr. Taylor.
Mr. Kolleh also made accusations against the prosecution, claiming they attempted to bribe him if he would implicate Mr. Taylor in the exchange of Liberian arms for Sierra Leonean diamonds and, thereby, supporting the war and its atrocities in Sierra Leone. Answering defense counsel, he asserted that Special Court investigator Chris Bomford sought him out privately with an offer to place 90,000 USD in an account in his name if he would tie Mr. Taylor to the arms for diamonds scheme.
That was the carrot, but the witness claimed the stick was wielded by former Special Court Chief Prosecutor David Crane, who allegedly threatened him with prison if he refused to cooperate. Mr. Kolleh testified that Mr. Crane began an interview by stating, “I want the truth: diamonds to Taylor; arms to the RUF. Are you ready to cooperate?” Mr. Crane allegedly followed this up by handing the witness a card showing a tall policeman holding open a cell door with a message for kids on the reverse side, “If you choose not to listen to your parents, you will have no choice but to listen to me.” Mr. Kolleh took that to mean that if he failed to cooperate he would join his former comrades in jail.
To buttress his claim, Mr. Kolleh said the prosecution investigators questioned him about diamonds a number of times during his first interview. On cross-examination, however, the prosecutor presented the 173 page transcript of the interview. An electronic search revealed that the witness raised the issue of diamonds himself near the end of the interview when the investigators asked if there was anything he would like to add. Also, Mr. Kolleh’s earlier assertion that the interview focused on diamonds and Charles Taylor was contradicted by a search of the transcript which failed to turn up any reference to Mr. Taylor.
Mr. Kolleh also told the court that a former radio operator for the RUF, who testified for the prosecution, stated on the radio that he had no choice but to testify against Charles Taylor. He was in jail, and he had to be free.
On direct examination, the witness testified that heavy weapons and equipment could not have been transported from Sierra Leone to Liberia because the ferry necessary to transport them over a river was not working. And, rather than being supplied by the NPFL, weapons came from the ULIMO, a group opposed to Taylor’s NPFL, and by seizing arms from the enemy.
Mr. Kolleh seemed confused about his importance in the events at issue. While claiming to be a senior officer in the RUF with responsibility for transporting diamonds and overseeing part of the extraction operation, he said the diamond trade was top secret and only top commanders knew about it of which he was not one. Still, he shared their knowledge and was trusted to transport diamonds.
When questioned about the RUF’s recruitment, training, and use of child soldiers, Mr. Kolleh admitted that they had a Small Boys Unit (SBU), but said he could not discern their ages from appearances and had never asked.
Tomorrow, the prosecution will continue and likely conclude its cross-examination of Mr. Kolleh, to be followed by defense counsel’s redirect, if any.