The Black Berets And The Irony Of Liberian Politics


By Abdoulaye W. Dukulé


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
February 2, 2006


The 2005 elections created some surprising and at times unpredictable associations that will have longtime effect on the political landscape of the nation for a longtime. There were new friendships that could have been unconceivable just a year ago. Such was the case of General Prince Y. Johnson, the man who captured and tortured Samuel K. Doe, breaking bread with family members of the late president in trying to get George Opong Weah elected. George Opong Weah standing between Prince Y. Johnson and George Dweh could be a great poster for national reconciliation. It was not less surprising to see Mrs. Jewel Howard Taylor dancing with Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. It was all beautiful, if not somehow ironic but in a reconciliatory way. The mothers of all ironies, however, was reading in media reports that Fomba Sirleaf, President Sirleaf’s nominee to head NSA, appeared before Prince Y. Johnson, now a senior senator from his native Nimba, who is chairing a senate committee on security, along with another no less famous general of Taylor’s defunct army Adolphus Dolo, otherwise known as General Peanut Butter for confirmation hearing. The committee is said to have grilled the nominee of the Sirleaf government for the post of Director of the National Security Agency. The sticky point in the “interrogation” was supposedly the role played by the West Point graduate in the formation of the Black Berets, an elite security force formed by the Interim Government in 1991-1992 to combat crime in Monrovia.

The people of Monrovia in those days were facing a barrage of insidious grenades attacks and rising arms robberies in the only peaceful enclave in the nation. Rebels living on the Caldwell base of Prince Y. Johnson as well as infiltrators from the NPFL who camped just around Mount Barclay used to commit all sorts of banditry and most often walked away free. The West African peacekeeping force ECOMOG constantly reminded the Sawyer government that it was not a police force and its Commander, General Ishaya Bakut was on a roll in what he termed as “confidence building” with the warring factions. The remnants of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) were all but dormant and their only relations to the government was receiving money and rice.

In this climate, ULIMO was advancing both on Monrovia and the NPFL territories. The NPFL was making preparations to attack the capital to dislodge both the Sawyer government and ULIMO. It was in this context that the Black Berets came into existence. In every dispatch published today, the press terms it as “a personal army” raised to protect Dr. Sawyer. That was far from the truth.

The facts are that without the Black Beret, arms robberies and murders in Monrovia would have continued unabated; grenade attacks on innocent civilians would have never stopped and finally. Were it not for the Black Berets, Monrovia and its hundreds of thousands of people would have fallen to the NPFL in 1992. And supreme fact, without the Black Berets who, with ULIMO and ECOMOG counterattacked the NPFL assault on his Caldwell base and provided him with a safe passage that took him into exile in Nigeria, the Honorable Senator Prince Y. Johnson would have been captured and turned over to Charles Taylor. Prince Johnson had allowed NPFL fighters to infiltrate Monrovia through his base, with the hope of capturing Taylor just as he lured Samuel Doe into a trap. But Taylor had the same design on him.

Now, just 14 years later, memories of who were the real criminals in 1992 seem to have faded or vanished and the tables are turned upside down. People who gave their lives to defend Monrovia against the invasion of NPFL child soldiers are now asked to explain their actions rather than be congratulated by their surviving compatriots.

Dr. Sawyer did not need a private army for his protection; people clearly remember the two ECOMOG military tanks that formed part of his convoy. An entire battalion guarded the Ducor where he resided. There was no fear that any rebel could have ever reached him. Had NPFL even succeeded in running over Monrovia, they would have not captured Dr. Sawyer because ECOMOG had a helicopter and a ship ready to evacuate him to safety at anytime, just as they did later, in 1997, when ULIMO and the NPFL tried to take control of Monrovia.

The Black Berets were crucial in maintaining peace in Monrovia. It is rather, very ironic that just 12 years later, those who were commanding the rebel forces of the NPFL and INPFL would be the ones questioning the legitimacy of an army put by a legal government to protect its citizens.

Those who participated in the training and deployment of the Black Berets, those who were members of that elite group should be proud for what they did in stopping the hordes of drunken and drugged child soldiers that Charles Taylor and Prince Y. Johnson unleashed on the innocent civilians of Monrovia. The Black Berets should be decorated as national heroes. The Interim Government was the only recognized government by ECOWAS, the UN and the international community and had the right to raise an army to defend its citizens against the threats posed by rebels.

In recent years, some came to blame the Black Berets for the Carter Camp massacre. The flimsy report of the Waco commission even pointed fingers at the AFL. But the fact is that the Black Berets were already being disbanded as was requested by ULIMO and the NPFL as a precondition to peace talks that ultimately led to the Cotonou Accords of August 1993. The AFL denied carrying out the massacre because it said, most of the displaced people in the camp had run away from NPFL occupied area and lived with AFL people. Other massacres committed by the warring factions throughout the history of the war need to also be investigated and may be then, the truth about the Carter Camp massacre would come out. The late Samuel Dokie and Tom Woweiyu both spoke of how massacres of entire villages were organized in cold blood and spoke openly about their plans of massacre, had they captured Monrovia. Dokie died, but Mr. Woweiyu is still alive.

Of course, the Black Berets having stopped the NPFL advance are now seen as the culprits, as a result of massive discrediting propaganda of the warlords who came to dominate Liberian politics in the mid 1990s and have attempted since to discredit IGNU in order to cover their lies, stealing and other criminal acts. The rebels of yesterday are now wearing the clothes of honorability. That does not mean that the rest of us must go along with their unsavory attempts to blind us to the realities of recent past.

Have Liberians forgotten so quickly the checkpoints, the summary executions, the lootings and the rapes that took place “behind the lines” or at the Caldwell base for years, without anyone raising a finger? Have they forgotten the millions stolen in broad daylight by the so-called “liberators” who are now pretending to be honorable gentlemen? What an irony that those who killed, raped and looted with total impunity just a few years ago are now chairing committees and asking other citizens to explain their actions?

One can just imagine the results of any attempt by the Sirleaf government to establish a War Crimes Tribunal or even to get a Truth and Reconciliation Commission wholly functional. Those who are supposed to face those instances are now the judges, hiding behind the sanctity of the Honorable House.