Tolbert And Doe, Different Assassins, But Same Architect?


By J. Ynaqui Zaza




The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
March 16, 2006


It is not certain whether the bitterness/anger among Liberians would ease if the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), were to seek the truth and identify the root causes of the civil war as well as the architects who designed the plots to assassinate president William R. Tolbert and, or president Samuel Doe. Primarily, the inequities inflicted upon the nation by a tiny minority of the population since 1847 had made violence and anarchy to be inevitable in Liberia. Now with the incidents of April 12, 1980 coup and the subsequent fourteen-year bloodbath, the Liberian society has become even more polarized. It is because of the deep division within the Liberian society, couple with the fragility of the peace process that some Liberians have argued against the idea of reopening old wounds. Nonetheless, president Ellen Johnson is right when she said, “Our nation cannot afford to evade justice and the protection of human rights throughout our land…The myths, mysteries, and the individualized arrogation of the truth will serve no useful purpose; rather, it will reinforce divisions, suspicions, and smoldering anger.”

If the truth is to redeem Liberia from the “cowardice claws of violence,” as president Sirleaf had said, then the investigation should not only focus on the obvious culprits such as those who executed the missions. In addition, it would be rewarding for the nation if the TRC investigated other claims such as Mrs. Victoria Tolbert’s allegation that accuses non-Liberians for killing the late William Richard Tolbert, former president of the Republic of Liberia. Would the TRC determine whether there was a second organized group of military personnel stationed at Tolbert’s home in Bentol during the night of April 12, 1980 to assassinate president Tolbert? Or would the TRC determine whether the 70s advocates (perceived as socialists) had the resources to have selected, managed, and directed twelve infantrymen who invaded the network of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency?

Would the TRC also invite the former warlord Prince Johnson of the INPFL, now our current Senator representing Nimba County, to share his knowledge, if any, on who lured President Doe from the Executive Mansion to his death? Further, would the TRC also investigate the allegations published on Liberian web Sites by Emmanuel Bowier, former minister of Information that Winston Tubman, former presidential candidate and former Minister of Justice, and others failed to deliver U.S. officials' message to president Doe?

Assuming that Mrs. Tolbert is correct that non-Liberians sponsored the 4/12/80 incident, did president Tolbert undermine the interest of the U.S.? Was severing ties with the State of Israel, joining the Non-Alignment, or questioning the "24-hour-Right" for the U.S. military to use Liberia's airspace, etc an issue? Or did president Tolbert sign his death warrant by insisting to host national general elections that would have transferred power from the oligarchs to the perceived socialists, who were popular in Liberia? An American renowned journalist, Ted Koppel, the former ABC television anchorman for the Nightline Program said the United States leaves no stone unturned in protecting its interest. He said, for example, the idea to replace Mohammed Mossadegh, an Iranian nationalist with the Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, an ally of the U.S., establish military bases in Saudi Arabia, invade Iraq, and now relocate those military bases to Iraq is part of a fifty-three year old strategy to keep control over the flow of the oil in the Middle East (NY Times 2/24/06).

Predictably, had we investigated the past, maybe the organizers of the controversial memorial service held to remember those Liberians executed during the 1980 coup would not have been insensitive to ask for an apology since they themselves have been victimized since 1847, and have continued to suffer. Also it appears that our experiences gained from the chaos have not change our chronic attitude of favoritism and prejudice. During the 2005 elections and with the current confirmation process, we continue to judge and treat individuals from different ethnic groups differently although the same individuals committed similar crimes or performed similar acts. Most importantly, if we don’t minimize the role of those who benefited from the ruinous divisions between a privileged tiny minority and the impoverished, unemployed, illiterate and starving majority languishing in refugee camps, Bussy Quarters, WestPoint or in the remote countryside, then we might institute bogus peace and forge a temporary reconciliation. However, part of the process of minimizing their role would for Liberians to know the truth such as who had the motives, resources, including organization, logistics, personnel, etc in carrying out each mission.

Mrs. Tolbert implied in her book "LIFT UP: The Victoria David-Tolbert Story,” that those who killed her husband were part of an organized institution. She wondered in her book that during the heydays of the coup, government officials gave privileged treatments to siblings of the late William V.S. Tubman, her husband’s predecessor who ruled the country for 27 years. They, for example, did not arrest Shad Tubman, the son of husband’s predecessor. Additionally, they also appointed him as one of the advisors who accompanied the PRC to its first bilateral meeting held in the Republic of Guinea. Another relative, Gabriel Tucker, son-in-law of William V. S. Tubman was free from arrest and he also served as minister of Public Works. Beyond the allegation of favoritism, she stated that some officials serving in the Tolbert government were holding secrets meetings prior to the coup.

Presumably, members of the TRC have read materials on different assassinations of leaders such as Thomas Sankara of Ouagadougou (formerly called Upper Volta), Patrice Lumumba of Congo (changed to Zaire and back to Congo), Mohammed Mossadegh of Iran, Salvador Allende of Chile, etc. They might also have read the book called “Confession of an Economic Hit Man” written by John Perkins. John Perkins said, he and his colleagues, employed as disguised businessmen, used money, sex, confessions, vehicles accidents and fiery planes crashes in eliminating, recruiting, and retaining leaders who became part of a vast network that promoted U.S. interests in countless countries. Another writer, James Petras from the Counter Punch magazine, supports Perkins’ theory. He said the two faces of imperial power; “Soft Sell” as described by John Perkins and assassination or military intervention in countries complements each other. He added that in Haiti, for example, the two military interventions that drove president Bertrand Aristide from power in 1991 and 2004 respectively came after the “Soft Sell” failed.
Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, the agent that implemented the “Soft Sell,” demanded Bertrand Aristide to withdraw from the1990 presidential race in favor of a U.S.-backed former World Bank functionary Marc Bazin. Aristide, who was leading in the polls with over 70% against Bazin with 15%, won but was driven from power. Reports indicate that President Aristide had proposed seeking reparations from France and the U. S. and he had also refused to comply with threats from the US to privatize public utilities and break relations with Cuba (which was providing hundreds of doctors and nurses for public hospitals).

Did the policies of president Tolbert threaten the interest of profiteers and their external partners? Or did the 70s advocates coordinated their provocation to the extent that less informed, unprepared, non-ideological, foot soldiers became aggravated and invaded the fortress of the security forces and butchered president Tolbert on the fourth floor of the Executive Mansion? The TRC might help us with that puzzle. However, if even the results do not ease the tension, the efforts would be welcome. More so, besides the prospect of achieving genuine reconciliation, efforts of the TRC would also assist the general public to appreciate the limitations and constraints of leaders in third world countries. As John Perkins stated, third world leaders do not only serve their constituents, but they are also under the threat to serve influential parties.