On April 19, 2018, notorious Liberian war criminal Mohammed Jabbateh was sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment by a federal court in Philadelphia after being convicted of immigration-related crimes in the U.S. The final judgment in this case comes two years after Jabbateh was first indicted on charges of committing fraud in his U.S. immigration documents and perjuring himself during his immigration interviews with U.S. officials by falsely denying his criminal activities as a high-ranking rebel commander during the first Liberian Civil War in the early 1990s.
Although the federal court convicted Jabbateh of immigration crimes and not war crimes, per se, a conviction nevertheless required prosecutors to establish that Jabbateh had committed unimaginable war crimes and atrocities in Liberia in order to prove that his denials of those acts were false.
Over ten days in October 2017, the government called 23 witnesses to testify about Jabbateh’s actions. Many of those witnesses were the victims themselves, who had traveled to Philadelphia from Liberia specifically to recount the horrors that Jabbateh had committed against them personally, as well as brutalities they witnessed him commit against their families, friends, and neighbors. The testimony was significant because this was the first time anyone has been held accountable for crimes committed during Liberia’s First Civil War and the first time victims had been given an opportunity to tell their stories in a courtroom.
Throughout the trial, the jury heard testimony that Jabbateh, known by his nom de guerre “Jungle Jabbah,” had served as a high-ranking commander of a ULIMO (United Liberation Movement of Democracy for Liberia) rebel group fighting for control in Liberia in the early 1990s. In that role, Jungle Jabbah committed numerous crimes and brutalities against non-combatant civilians as well as those he believed to be opposition forces. Many of these acts he carried out personally, while others he ordered soldiers under his command to execute at his direction. These crimes include rape, murder, torture, maiming, forced labor, and ritualistic cannibalism, among other atrocities. Jabbateh later provided false information on his applications for asylum and a U.S. Green Card to U.S. immigration authorities by failing to disclose his role as a ULIMO commander and falsely denying that he had ever committed a crime or persecuted anyone.
Faced with such an onslaught of testimony, the defense used its opportunity for cross-examination to attempt to discredit the witnesses by suggesting that their memories were not credible, they were influenced by outside sources to testify, or they were motivated by tribal alliances to attack Jabbateh because he is a member of a rival ethnic group. The trial rested primarily on witness testimony because the case lacked substantial physical evidence, so witness credibility was key.
Following several hours of deliberation spread over two days in October, the jury found Jabbateh guilty on all counts.
After considering legal briefing and arguments from both sides, the court ultimately sentenced Jabbateh to 30 years’ imprisonment—the maximum possible sentence allowed by law. In doing so, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Diamond reasoned that Jabbateh’s crimes fell far outside the heartland of typical perjury and fraud cases and thus warranted a more severe sentence than typical immigration violations often receive. The court also ordered three years of supervised release following Jabbateh’s prison term and ordered him to pay a $400 Special Assessment. This sentence amounts to one of the longest ever given by a U.S. court to a war criminal convicted under immigration laws and is a landmark ruling among U.S. human rights cases.
Civitas Maxima and the Global Justice and Research Project will be leading outreach campaigns and monitoring the upcoming trials of alleged Liberian war criminals expected to happen in 2018 and 2019. They have launched a crowdfunding campaign for the continued support of Liberian victims in their fight for justice.