Hassan Bility ~ (March 27th 2006)
"....From all indications, it appears the cult of one man is still looming large over Liberia. If Liberians are wondering how this can be possible, they may want to look at the new legislature, the House Representatives. The election of a FRAUD as speaker of the House was purely Taylor’s handiworks. In the months leading to the election of a speaker, Taylor made frantic efforts to see one of his stooges elected to the position. He channeled money to Edwin Snowe, personally placed calls some candidates who were in the contest asking them drop out of the race for the post of speaker and contacted some other members for their support with promises of money.....”
With international pressure mounting on Nigeria to hand Taylor over to the Freetown Court, the stage now appears set for a Taylor trial that is dubbed by legal minds as one of Africa’s most anticipated trials. And former president Taylor has already begun preparing his defense, according to a Taylor friend, Chuck Bradley who also said Taylor is getting what he sowed. He said Taylor and his supporters were bent on one thing: That “Taylor will not go down easily,” whatever that may mean. He is determined, Bradley said, to do everything to undermine his soon-to-be trial by questioning the legitimacy of the Court, making bizarre accusations to embarrass both the Court and those advocating for his trial and, at the same time, using proxy groups and some Liberian legislators to simultaneously call for a reversal of his handover decision and cause sustained unrest and chaos in Monrovia. This comes on the heels of recent news reports that President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has officially requested that Taylor be handed over to the UN-backed Court in Freetown, Sierra Leone. The trial itself, according to legal observers, is expected to be characterized by unprecedented media grandstanding, outrageous claims, long and irritating political speeches, bold denials and toxic statements.
According to diplomatic sources in Washington and West Africa, as well as friends and aides, Taylor has already contacted some of his friends and lawyers in the United States, Europe and Africa. On his defense team, Taylor wants former United States attorney general Ramsey Clarke, a one time Taylor attorney in the early 1980’s when the Liberian Government, under Samuel Doe, sought his extradition from the US on a charge that he embezzled almost one million US Dollars when he served as director general of Liberia’s General Services Agency. Also expected on the team are a French lawyer, a Nigerian lawyer, a South African lawyer named Paul N’Gozie, and an unnamed Liberia lawyer. It is not known, however, how Ramsey Clarke, who defended Taylor before, will manage to form part of the team since he has taken on a new assignment as an advisor to Saddam Hussein’s defense team in Iraq. But with the state of the art technology of today, such thing is a possibility.
Commenting on a possible Clarke’s role on Taylor’s defense team, an aide to congressman Ed Royce said “we don’t really care about who will defend him; the United States is a free country and citizens are free to do what they like as long as their actions remain within the confines of the law. At the end of the day someone has to defend him.”
Another source closed to the former US attorney general Clarke, Randall Burke, also said if the services of Ramsey Clarke were requested, “chances are that Clarke might give it a thought”.
One Taylor friend and advocate, television evangelist Pat Robertson, who enjoyed gold mining rights in Liberia, when Liberians did not have food to eat, is expected to call for “a fairer trial”, citing Taylor’s concerns that a United States funded and UN backed war crimes Court in Freetown may be prejudiced against him. Robertson is digging in his heels and probably remaining convinced that Taylor may not get a fair trial. Robertson, noted for making bizarre comments, recently said it would be better if the United States Central Intelligence Agency assassinated Venezuela’s Marxist president, Hugo Chavez. His comments were later disowned by the US State Department.
A TRICKY DEFENSE
Defending Taylor, a man who created and presided over one of Africa’s most notorious criminal enterprises is a tricky one, as he might be wanted for other alleged crimes in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, USA. A mad man consumed by a murderous demon, Taylor lived in Boston for many years during the peak days of the “Boston Mafia”, then led by William Whitey Bulger, one of the FBI’s most wanted men. Taylor’s wrap sheet appears to be longer than what people see. There are now talks in Boston of a “Taylor-Bulger contacts” during those years, which, if proven to be true, could open a new dimension to the case, aside from the fact that Taylor remains a wanted man by the Boston Police for his alleged prison break and escape. It is not yet clear whether authorities in Boston will request an extradition for a Taylor trial on those charges, once he is in custody. The Boston Police would not comment on this specific aspect. But back in September, 1997, a Boston Sheriff Deputy spokesperson told the BBC Taylor remained a wanted man since he violated federal law, irrespective of his position then, as president. “We don’t care if he’s a president, American laws were violated, and that’s the most important thing here,” the spokesperson had told BBC’s Robin White.
On September 15, 1985, after spending about year in prison, Taylor, along with several fellow prisoners, cut through his cell bars with a hacksaw blade, and, with a rope of knotted bed sheets, climbed down a three storey building to freedom. But Taylor would later say at a press conference in Monrovia that one day he was in jail and he saw the prison door and gates open wide and with nobody around, he added, “I just walked out with ease. Nobody asked me anything.” A man who killed children and raped women would also tell the Liberian people at the same press conference, “It was God who opened the prison doors for me.”
Mike Seeley, spokesman for the Plymouth County Sheriff’s Department, in Massachusetts says this particular escape is noteworthy. “ The other inmates were quickly recaptured in the following days.” He explained that Taylor was not recaptured and “he remains the only person who has ever escaped from the Plymouth County jail without being recaptured.”
GENERAL DEFENSE STRATEGY
Taylor has planned two approaches to his defense, according to sources closed to him.
One approach is the legal aspect, once he his in custody and the other is a planned chaotic approach inside, Monrovia, Liberia. The legal approach has a gradation of strategies. Legal analysts say this approach, if argued effectively in court with convincing pieces of evidence, could dig potholes in the road to his conviction. That is, if the prosecution cannot produce a smoking gun. Sensing all of these, Taylor executed Sam Bockarie in his effort to destroy evidence, especially, the kind of smoking gun prosecutors would have loved to have.
As part of his defense, the Taylor team is expected to employ a familiar strategy: He will categorically deny any involvement in the Sierra Leonean civil war. He will deny influencing leaders of the Revolutionary United Front in any form or shape. He is expected to argue that there were Sierra Leonean refugees, not the rebel Revolutionary United Front, RUF, in Liberia. Taylor will explain that Liberia was under “treaty obligation” not to reject Sierra Leonean refugees who had sought refuge in Liberia because their country was at war. Additionally, he will say as West Africans, the “free movement” clause in the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, Charter obliged him to open the doors of Liberia to these refugees. He will contend that those who came to Liberia were peaceful people and that his government lacked the capacity, due to the lack of international support for it, including a United Nations imposed sanction on his country, to monitor the activity of every Sierra Leone in Liberia. He will also claim there was no way he could tell an RUF fighter from an ordinary Sierra Leonean refugee because no RUF fighter carried arms in Liberia.
On the question of RUF commanders, such as Sam Buckarie(alias Mosquito) and Issa Sesay, making official statements inside Liberia on international news wires like the BBC and VOA and the Government of Liberia making statements in behalf of the RUF, as being proofs of RUF presence in Liberia and Taylor’s support for and influence on them, his defense is expected to argue that Taylor only got involved with the RUF when ECOWAS set up the “Committee of Five”, of which Liberia was a part, to help find a lasting solution to the conflict in Sierra Leone, in 1997. He will say what he did was in line with ECOWAS request at the time.
But back in 1997 when the Committee of Five was scheduled to meet in Abuja, Nigeria, Taylor neither sent a representative nor asked the Liberian Embassy to attend, in protest over what the Liberian Government termed as “ …being too tough on the RUF.” The move was viewed and interpreted in West Africa at the time as “undermining the peaceful resolution of the conflict,” according to the mediation committee itself.
Gun for Diamond Defense
On the question of “trading guns for diamonds” being a motivation for his support to the RUF, Taylor defense will argue that Liberia has large deposits of diamonds and as such, Taylor didn’t need Sierra Leonean diamonds since Liberian diamond mines still existed and had not been exhausted or depleted. He will name Lofa Bridge, Weasua, Balla and Bassa Camps and many other mining towns in Liberia as been rich in diamonds. The defense will argue that therefore it did not make sense for Taylor to have left those mines and eyed diamonds across the border in conflict zones, a claim Taylor repeatedly made when he was still president.
However, what he may not be able to effectively explain is where he got his new arms from since there was a UN imposed arms embargo on Liberia. His own statements could also come back to hunt him. He had always argued that since the UN had imposed arms embargo on Liberia, he would “seek to get arms from anywhere I can”.
But claims that some RUF members Eddie Kanneh, Kennedy, a Lebanese diamond dealer named Mohammed and others taking diamond to Taylor in Monrovia may be harder to refute by Taylor’s defense team. Kanneh, Mohammed and Kennedy were seen by many people on many occasions in Monrovia. Their regular presence in Monrovia’s bars and wide-mouthed comments, after taking one or two glasses of beer may be an embarrassment for Taylor. At one point, the three men lived on VP Road, just behind Pastor Isaac Winker’s house, on the Old Road. In this case, people who lived in such area might have seen and known them and could be possible “smoking guns.” The house, a two storey four apartment building, was a major base for transferring smuggled arms into Sierra Leone.
Soldiers of Fortune Defense
On the question of Taylor sending former NPFL combatants to fight in Sierra Leone, Taylor will argue that those who went to Sierra Leone were “soldiers of fortune.” He will say he did not send any body to Sierra Leone to fight. His defense will attempt to boost this argument by adding that those who fought in Sierra Leone did not only consist of former NPFL soldiers. They also included former ULIMO and LPC fighters. To suggest that Taylor sent the NPFL components of those armed outlaws to fight, the defense team will argue, will logically mean those from ULIMO and LPC were also sent there by their former bosses. He will blame the United Nations for reneging on its promise to help reintegrate former combatants in civil society and retrain them once they were disarmed. This refusal by the UN to honor its commitments, he will say, turned these fighters into soldiers of fortune.
But he may entrap himself if he decides to go down this road. How does he explain that there were NPFL fighters in Sierra Leone as far back as 1992, when Taylor was still a guerilla leader headquartered in Gbarnga, central Liberia.
The Taylor team will also be making some bizarre accusations at the trial .The team is expected to declare that as part of the grand plan of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia during its formative stage, the organizers realized there was a large pool of dissenters from Sierra Leone in exile and had wanted to tap into this pool. To do this, Taylor will allege, the organizers agreed to entice these Sierra Leonean dissidents to join the NPFL’s ranks and file by promising them a reciprocal help to oust the government of the late President Joseph Seydou Momo of Sierra Leone. He will then name high profile Liberians, who were in exile when the when NPFL invaded Liberia as on December 24th 1989, in the hope of ousting the Doe Regime. According his aides, Taylor will name President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Dr. Amos Sawyer among others. His defense will then proceed to claim that Taylor rejected the idea of invading Sierra Leone later, thus setting the basis for a bitter disagreement between him and the “organizers and financiers,” who had allegedly wanted to honor their promise to Sierra Leoneans who joined them in their times of need.
A wide-mouthed man who spoke loudly on the BBC, he will then have to explain his earlier threats of invasion of Sierra Leone for “harboring ECOMOG,” the West African Peacekeeping Force set up to stop the fighting and restore sanity to Liberia.
But these accusations are not strange to Taylor’s lip. Over the years, Taylor, in his effort make his future trial difficult, has always said “every Liberian is guilty of war crimes.” Oh, well, the difference this time is that he is not charged for any crimes he might have committed in Liberia. Instead, he is charged with alleged war crimes in Sierra Leone and the charges only take into account Taylor’s alleged involvement with the RUF after he became president, not earlier.
Security in Prison
Faced with the inevitability of his trial, Taylor has begun to shape how his security in prison should look like as well as the frequency of visitation rights for his family. He is contemplating politicizing his security by asking the court to include among his prison guards, two Burkinabe soldiers, one Nigerian soldier and two of his former body guards, one of whom has been identified as Momo Jibba, his former aide camp. All are expected to be armed during the trial. But calls to the Freetown war Crimes Court about whether the Court would allow him to determine who would be on his prison security team were not returned, even though the person answering the calls said the “proper authorities will get back to you. This is a serious matter.”
THE “GAMBLE” STRATEGY
The second approach to his defense is more of Gamble reflecting a true NPFL style-cocktail, in this case, violence. This strategy will be far from the scene of the trial. It will be in Monrovia. And those execute it will range from lawmakers to proxy organizations and outlaws, mostly former combatants. This is probably the dangerous phase.
Recently, Taylor began making contacts with some former combatants and associates. Daniel Chea, Edwin Snowe, Emmanuel Shaw, Roland Duo and a high-profile person from the Congress for Democratic Change- Liberian a political- have been contacted. It is not known if these people have agreed to participate in the plan. The CDC as a political entity is not aware of this and has got nothing to do with it.
According one of Taylor’s aides who is closed to the plan, his name withheld for his personal security reason because he continues to release more information, the proxy groups will mobilize support amongst former fighters to join a series of protests and demonstrations in Monrovia to call for a complete reversal of the “handover” decision. At some point, these protests are expected to turn violent as occasional irritants for the security forces. They will attempt to draw the security forces into attacking demonstrators and create a sense of instability and confusion in Monrovia.
In the ensuing chaos, they hope to achieve two objectives: One is to draw criticisms from international pro-democracy and human rights organizations and western governments by portraying the new government as intolerant and disrespectful of the basic human rights of its citizens, freedom of speech, movement and opinion.
The second objective is to cause a tensed situation, create a state of lawlessness, make Monrovia ungovernable and turn the population against the Government’s decision to hand over Taylor to the War Crimes Court in Freetown. Aware of the fact that Liberians do not want to entertain any form of chaos, Taylor and his associate plotters hope there will be, at some point, a massive show of disagreement and protest by the people of Liberia and as such, the people will call for a reversal of the decision.
From all indications, it appears the cult of one man is still looming large over Liberia. If Liberians are wondering how this can be possible, they may want to look at the new legislature, the House Representatives. The election of a FRAUD as speaker of the House was purely Taylor’s handiworks. In the months leading to the election of a speaker, Taylor made frantic efforts to see one of his stooges elected to the position. He channeled money to Edwin Snowe, personally placed calls some candidates who were in the contest asking them drop out of the race for the post of speaker and contacted some other members for their support with promises of money. Such calls and contacts were a clear violation of the back room deal he cut with Obassanjo to provide him sanctuary in Nigeria.
Taylor had wanted to get control of the highest position in the House of Representatives and the third position in line to the presidency. And now he has got that. A troubling scenario is, in the event the president and vice president are both incapacitated and unable to run the affairs of the state, the speaker of the House of Representatives, in this case Edwin Snowe, will become the President of Liberia. And by the way, what is the difference between a President Edwin Snowe and a President Charles Taylor?
While this may be a dangerous venture for Taylor himself, the real catastrophe will come if Liberians call for a reversal of the decision to hand Taylor over to the Court. With such calls, Liberia’s opportunity to shed its brutal past will be lost. And all that is needed for evil to happen is that good men do nothing.
Post Trial Period
When future Liberian and African historians look back at the rise and fall of Charles McArthur Gankay Taylor, they may see some similarities between him and Maximilien Robespierre, a French revolutionary leader in the 1700’s, who got rid of those who disagreed with him by beheading them at the GUILLOTINE- a machine employing a heavy blade that falls freely between upright guides to behead a condemned prisoner. The rise of both men to the helm of power was made possible when they seized advantage of the decaying political and social systems of their respective times and played on and exploited the fears of, their people. They both ruthlessly killed their opponents in rather crude ways- Robespierre by use of the guillotine and Taylor by execution style using the AK-47. And by the time they fell from grace to grass, they had killed so many people, spilled so much blood that the people had no more tears to shed.
About the author:
Hassan Bility is the Director of Communications and Public Affairs at the International Institute for Justice and Development in Boston, Massachusetts.
He is the former editor-in-chief of The Analyst Newspaper in Monrovia, Liberia and former press officer of European Union Mission in Monrovia, Liberia. He is also the former editor of Media Line, the official newsletter of Press Union of Liberia.
As a journalist, he was arrested several times by the Liberian Government for his writings and views. In June 2002, he was arrested and accused of plotting to assassinate Taylor with the alleged help of the American Government. He was held incommunicado detention for six months without trial. He served prison terms in many places including Foya, in upper Lofa County and in an underground cell in Klay, Bomi County. Among other things, Taylor had wanted him to confess the names of Bishop Michael Francis, Sheikh Kafumba konneh, Abraham Mitchell and President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, then an opposition leader, in a non-existent coup plot. In December 2003, the Liberian Government succumbed to international and local pressure from human rights and pro-democracy groups as well as the United States and the European Union. As a result, he was released to the custody of American Ambassador, John Blaney, on condition that he is immediately flown out of the country and officially exiled. He was driven in a convoy of fifteen cars, including that of Defense Minister Chea and US Ambassador Blaney and Tom White, directly to the Robert International Airport, put on a plane and flown out of Liberia. The Americans facilitated his travel and took him to Boston, the United States.
He is the recipient of several local and international awards, including the Amnesty International Human Rights Journalism under Threat Award, 2003, London. Currently, he is an advocate for the Global Wellness Fund Treaty, New York, and he sits on the Advisory Council of the International Rescue Committee, IRC, in Boston, Massachusetts.
He is also a regular campaigner on human rights and democracy issues. As a public speaker, he has served as guest speaker at more than 40 American colleges and universities, including Harvard, Boston College, Boston University, Brown University in Providence, George town Law School, university of Indianapolis, Seaton Hall and the University of Cincinnati in Ohio, among others. He has also served as guest speaker at many amnesty international organized events and conferences. He has done promotional videos and speeches for the International Rescue Committee, IRC in Boston.
He can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com