From Taylor to Annan with Fabrications
By Tom Kamara
Jan 30, 2001
Liberia's nightmarish struggle against sanctions is digging deeper into the psyche of its President, a man who, for over a decade, has thrown West Africa into a cycle of horrors with amputated limbs, streaming refugees constituting trademarks for his self-proclaimed change and democracy. In his letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, President Charles Taylor, the single most important character in the diamond for arms trade that has wiped out towns, villages, schools, hospitals and farms, social structures, explains why he has opted to maintain Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front (RUF) as a proxy army despite its endless tales of horrors.
Moreover, Taylor's letter to Annan typifies his now callous lack of remorse in his bloody trail for personal wealth and power now leading to the likelihood of devastating sanctions he is fighting to avoid. While his private army of teenagers and society's hoodlums stormed across a poor and helpless country butchering, maiming the innocent, the Liberian dictator had always believed his was a holy mission of redemption even if his footprints of death and destruction remain indelible. Hear him telling Annan:
"The discipline and commitment with which we led the national revolt ultimately ensured our success at the national plebiscite in July 1997. Although Liberia's civil strife obtained over a period of seven years and assumed broader dimensions than we imagined, our leadership of the Movement was firmly opposed to any act of mayhem, maiming, rape and the amputation of individuals. Along similar lines, the government of Liberia is, therefore, opposed to and condemns all acts of mayhem perpetrated by the RUF or any other belligerent group in the Sierra Leonean Conflict. It is the view of the Government of Liberia that those individuals engaged in such inhumane acts be brought to justice", Taylor, until recently the most ardent opponent of war crime for RUF, describing any trial of RUF leaders as "crazy", now claims.
Sad and regrettable! The difficulty comes in understanding this level of denial. Perhaps to pretend to be sane, denial of one's crimes is necessary, for to face the ugliness and discomfort of truth tied to one's monstrous actions, unbelievable crimes against one's own people, could lead to greater insanity. The Bible may proclaim that the truth makes one free, but it could also turn one innately insane, as Liberia has shown. So to believe that Evil is good can be a mental therapy, even a disastrous one. Thus the level of Taylor's "discipline" can be appreciated in the level of destruction and the number of casualties----250,000 killed out of a population of less than 3m (approximately the same number of American soldiers killed in World War Two), ganged rape of thousands of women. Any remorse for such level of madness? No, not really. It is safer to be wrapped up in the pathetic delusion that his actions were designed to oust a monster even if he emerged a larger and more dangerous monster in the process. Writes Jon Lee Anderson in The New Yorker:
"I asked Taylor whether he felt any moral responsibility for the atrocities committed by his troops during the war. 'I have already apologized to the Liberian people, I have asked their forgiveness, and I have also forgiven them,' he replied. "When I pushed for a fuller accounting, he said, 'Wars are terrible wherever they are, and things happen you cannot account for. Sometimes things may happen in one place when you are in another place. What is important is that once it happens you make sure that justice is done.' "
So here we are with a mind convinced that its perpetrated evils were righteous no matter the volume of evidence. And since Taylor believes in the righteousness of his crimes, can any one expect him to stop? This would be like trying to stop a serial killer who takes pleasure in supervising death. But one is a president and makes the law, hope of stopping him remains a hopeless hope.
One of the tragedies of the Liberian horrors is the unfortunate lack of systematic collection of personal testimonies of victims and other forms of evidence in one of West Africa's worst terror tales. This is so because the men and women who orchestrated and implemented such monstrosities today sit as "President, legislators, judges, policemen and women", continuing their acts now exported beyond Liberia's borders. But stories of calculated horrors abound. Contrary to Taylor's claim of heading a "discipline" army, throughout the war, there are no accounts of any NPFL rebel being punished for committed atrocities. Instead, the logic circulated at the time was that "Charlie likes them bad", meaning that the more brutish you were, the more you were honoured as a hero within the rebel movement. And suspects were everywhere in a war in which there were no prisoners, only the dead. Visitors and guests at Taylor's Gbarnga "mansion" recall that if one wanted redress from the warlord for crimes committed by his troops, it was a dead end and dangerous plea. He reacted with anger. "This is war", was the standard response. But if one wanted handouts from his looted millions, there were no problems. "Never tell him your wife, brother, son was killed by his rebels. He would flare in anger. 'This is war', was his answer, recalls a well-known member of the NPFL Gbarnga entourage in July 1990.
And so neighbours turned on neighbours, as friends pointed out friends for execution in order to save their own necks or out of envy. The NPFL, in the fulfilment of its objective of crowning its leader President at all cost by all means, relied on the most degenerate, ruthless, wretched, criminal elements in society as its foot soldiers. Thinking men and women were soon eliminated for asking questions and re-examining their conscience and morals. What mattered was that the monstrosities in the name of "democracy" Taylor carved would convince opponents to see the uselessness of resistance and accept him as their president.
"They ordered us to line-up because they said we were supporters of Samuel Doe", narrated an oldman in 1997 whose sons became loyal members of the NPFL campaign team during the Abacha elections. "They (the NPFL rebels) said they didn't want to waste their bullets. They brought a big log. They had sharp cutlasses and axes. They started chopping off heads one by one as we watched in fear and extreme horror. I will never forget that day. Every night I sleep and see the scene. I can't help it. When they reached to me, I took off my shirt, knelt down, and placed my neck on the big log to be chopped off. There was nothing I could do. Than I cried loudly in Kissi (a tribal language), 'Eh Meleka!' (Meaning eh God!). One of the rebels cutting off heads was a Lorma (another Liberian tribe) and he understood my cry and language. He knew I was Kissi and that curse (dictated by tradition) would follow him, his family throughout life if he killed me or watched me be killed. So he dropped his cutlass and fled the scene. 'That is my uncle' he said. "That is how I was saved."
It was within the same execution vicinity, the Free Way and Barnersville suburbs in Monrovia, that 5 American nuns were raped and butchered by NPFL fighters during Taylor's Operation Octopus, which he planned to install him President. And yet, Taylor claims this private army of terror was "disciplined" and far from committing such monstrous crimes as rape, particularly the rape of nuns serving the poor.
At the Voice of America communication station on the outskirts of Monrovia where herds of fleeing people, escaping from the "liberators", converged in 1990, the NPFL rebels demonstrated their "discipline" in terror for material gains, which was routine. The withdrawal of the Americans, who manned the station, provided the impetus for the Taylor's men to commence their "discipline". They opened fire at random, looting the meagre belongings of the frightened mass. But more than that, they wanted the houses and goods left by the Americans. In the scramble to flee from these "disciplined" troops, the old, the crippled, the young, the pregnant, rushed out under the pouring rains not knowing in which direction to turn or whether a flying bullet would be the end. One young employee at the station, believing in loyalty, remained to "protect" the property left by his American bosses. He was Gio, as many of the NPFL rebels. The rebels knew he had the keys to the houses and where the goodies were because they had interacted and established links with him, their "country man". But the links were a trap. As the bullets flared in all directions, they grabbed the man and tied him up ("tabby" was the word they used in this method of torture) one night until his blood stopped flowing from his veins. Eyewitnesses say the rebels then began cracking palm kernels on the man's forehead with rocks until he lost consciousness and slowly died in great pains as his skull broke. These are Taylor's "disciplined" troops "committed" to democracy and therefore winning "the 1997 plebiscite" organized and ordained by late Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha.
Crimes based on ethnicity, religion, one's looks or status, etc, became routine, particularly at checkpoints decorated with human skulls and manned by wig-wearing drugged teenagers or misfits now in charge, determining who lived or died. One victim (one of the hundreds) was stopped at a checkpoint on the outskirt of Monrovia. The NPFL rebels searched him and found a piece of paper with Islamic scripts. "He is Mandingo", they yelled in disbelief since Mandingoes dared to live in their presence. They shot him at point blank in the head. The man's wife would later explain in infinite agony that her husband, a Kpelle, had just received the scripts from an Imam as cure for terrible asthma.
In the German mining town of Bong Mines in 1990, a young Krahn lady, a University of Liberia student, ran out of luck when her neighbours revealed her hiding place. Taylor's "disciplined" troops, according to eyewitnesses, marched on the lady. She offered no resistance. She wore her white gown and obediently followed them to the execution spot. Taylor's "disciplined" soldiers hurriedly and proudly pulled their triggers on the lady whose only crime was that she was Krahn. But when the same "disciplined" troops arrested Ernest Eastmen and scheduled him for death in Bong Mines, Taylor dispatched his elite troops to save him as he would with most Americo-Liberians.
In Lofa County as in other counties, hundreds of happy residents greeted these "disciplined" rebels believing the time of redemption had come. In one particular town around the provincial headquarters Voinjama, the traditional Town Crier used language to warn residents against mingling with Taylor's "disciplined" rebels, for interaction with the "liberators" meant instance death through severe torture. "The people who came to save us are good, but if you have food or anything for them, just put it outside and go in indoors" the traditional crier would say in Lorma. Many residents read between the lines and were saved. Those who couldn't and tried to mingle with the rebels were shot.
In another Lofa town, Taylor's "disciplined" rebels saw a car and wanted its keys. The NPFL rebels devised an "easy" way to get the keys. Each man was brought forward and shot in a bid to get a confession on the keys. Perhaps the owner of the car was not even around. But the "disciplined" rebels decided the best decision was to execute the men in procession until the keys were produced. Bodies littered the area without discovering who kept the keys. The car was finally taken away without the keys but dozens of men had been shot for a single used car. Such monstrosities were "normal" in Taylor's army. They had been told that as compensation for their service, any car, house "captured" was theirs. In 1990, most houses in Monrovia were marked with warnings such as "Commando Killer Bush House, keep out!" In most cases, the owners were either dead or had fled.
As the rebels stormed Gbarnga after thoroughly looting the mining town of Bong Mines, according to eyewitnesses, Taylor's then First Lady, Agnes Reeves now living in London as an employee of Liberia's Maritime agency, decided the only home she wanted was the plush compound of the Anglican bishop in the town. And she wanted it furnished within 24 hours. Abandoned Lebanese furniture stores in NPFL occupied sections of Monrovia provided abundant furniture. The house was readily furnished as the "First Lady's" new home.
Around Gbarnga, an old man was tied, tortured and shot for suggesting to the "disciplined" rebels forcibly harvesting his cassava farm how best to proceed without damaging the cassava. Life meant nothing to these marauding and drugged men made to believe that by killing others, they would achieve their life aspiration of wealth and status. Their leaders believed it and they believed.
There were other forms of exemplary "discipline" within this "liberating" force. Splitting the bellies of pregnant women to determine the gender a child became a common practice amongst the NPFL rebels. At checkpoints, women were compelled to take off all clothes as NPFL rebel dogged into their private parts in search of what only they knew.
Sierra Leone's junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma, who fled to Liberia after he was ousted from power, asked why RUF rebels were so mindless in committing such mindless atrocities as amputations, gang-raped, summary executions, said they learned the act in Liberia. And they definitely did.
In 1991 when the first batch of NPFL rebels escorted RUF recruits to ignite the Sierra Leone horrors, the sprawling commercial and border town of Koindu experienced the first "taste of war" as Taylor had promised. Wealthy Fulas, Mandingoes, anyone who looked prosperous was rounded up and shot. Fleets of commercial trucks were driven to Gbarnga, then Taylor's base, as war booty. Bodies littered the town. This was Taylor's discipline."
Stories of gruesome death and torture of many of those over 250,000 killed may one day be compiled as a monument to their memory when justice triumphs and laughs the last laugh. However, what we see in Taylor's claim to "discipline" is the mind of a man numbed against evil or crime after over two decades (dating from 1980 when he helped consolidate the coup and served as one of the most corrupt men afterwards in the military junta) in the business, a man who staunchly believes in the righteousness of his crimes. With such a mind, convincing him that his policies and activities have led to social collapse and economic decay is impossible. Thus he sees that his "revolution", which has thrown Liberia back to pre-colonial times, must be extended to neighbouring countries with like-minded protégés in power. In 1999 following the failure of the RUF/AFRC (Armed Forces Revolutionary Council) to capture power, Taylor told visiting Sierra Leone religious leaders pleading with him to end his backing of the rebels that the RUF, like him, picked up arms to gain political power. To address their concerns, he urged, power sharing with his rebels was the best option. In early 2000, following visits by US Assistant Secretary of Thomas Pickering, Taylor again warned that the rebels could not just put down their arms only for them be backstabbed. Consistent allegations of his role in the horrors continue to reveal the rational behind his violent intervention in Sierra Leone as he tells Annan:
"This Government has never denied our knowledge of the RUF. However, we have always rejected and continue to reject, any claims that this contact is commercial or economic in nature. Quite to the contrary, our relationship with the RUF and our corresponding security concerns have been both publicly and privately expressed to the British and the United States Governments, the United Nations and ECOWAS. Our contact with the RUF is an expected response to successive Sierra Leonean Government's active support and arming of Liberian dissident groups resident in Sierra Leone. Indeed, at the time of this writing, armed Liberian dissidents are members of the official Sierra Leone Army and constitute almost 50% of the Kamajors - a pro-Sierra Leone Government militia headed by Mr. Hinga Norman, Sierra Leone's Deputy Minister of Defense. These dissidents have stated and demonstrated that their objective is to overthrow the Liberian Government by force of arms".
The facts however speak differently. When NPFL invaded Sierra Leone in 1991, there were no armed Liberian rebels other than those in Taylor's private army. But the systematic manhunt for Krahns and Mandingoes forced many to opt for death in dignity, and this meant allying with their hosts to fight the NPFL/RUF invasion. They had to because if Sierra Leone fell to the RUF/NPFL, mass executions of suspected Krahns and Mandingoes, "the Final Solution" to address Taylor's fears and "legitimate concerns" as OAU Secretary-General Salim A. Salim recently claimed, was an agenda to be fulfilled.
The prime objective for Taylor's brutal intervention in Sierra Leone is of course its diamonds. The collapse of the Liberian economy under the weight of theft and looting means Taylor, accustomed to unimagined flamboyance, must turn elsewhere. In doing so, as the UN Panel clearly illustrates, he has hired the services of foreigners from all over the world, experts in destabilization for wealth. Although there is hardly any attraction in a city without lights, water nor hospitals, Monrovia has become the home of many shady characters. This presence of so many mercenaries led political parties and religious groups to ask Taylor for their expulsion, a request he has turned down. But denials have taken new twists of promising to resign if his bank accounts are discovered bearing his name. Listen to him:
"The Report alleges that I and my Government are engaged in and profiting from the sale of illicit diamonds from the Republic of Sierra Leone in exchange for the supply of arms and related war material to the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). According to the report, amounts received from these sales have been in excess of US$200 million annually for the last few years.
"These allegations are grave especially as they are directed against both the President and the Republic of Liberia, a respected member of the international community. Liberia is a founding member of both the League of Nations and the United Nations, the successor body to the League of Nations. My Country is also a founding member of continental regional organizations including the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the Economic Community of West African States (WCOWAS), the Mano River Union, and the Non-Aligned Movement".
"Mr. Secretary-General, the well-known historical fact is that Liberia has always been a commercial point for Guinea, Sierra Leonean and Liberian diamonds, attracted by the fact that the US Dollar is legal tender in Liberia. This trade has never been Government-controlled, sponsored or organized; it is carried out by the Lebanese, Indians, tourists, Mandingoes, Julas and Fulas-ethnic groups with family links in Guinea, Mali, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Gambia and the Ivory Coast, who interact without regard to colonially established national boundaries. Liberia is, indeed, also a victim of this illicit trade and derives absolutely no benefit from same
"As earlier stated, the Report claims the value of the
trade by Liberia of illicit Sierra Leone diamonds to be in excess
of US$200 million annually for the past few years. Clearly, the
movement of such large amounts of money over a period of time
would necessarily leave a trail because; the transactions would
involve either, checks or bank
transfers. Each of these would have to be documented, in the tradition of the venerated and reputable European banking system. It is reasonable to assume that if indeed I was or am involved in the sale of any diamonds for that matter, the money trail would inevitably lead to me".
What is evident here is that the Liberian ruler is missing the rationale behind international outcry against him. There is less concern about the volume of his savings than the manner in which he has acquired the millions. If he had only sold his country and fled with the money, few would care, for he is a president elected with a campaign song, "You killed my ma, you killed my pa (but) I will vote you." And of course for a man who waged a 7-year war that destroyed any form of a legitimate economy just to become President to offer to resign if his accounts are unearthed indicates his confidence in concealment, for few who know Taylor would believe his proclaimed lack of interest in huge money, only his "revolution which is my life."
This laughable self-declared respected member of the international community is the same "respected member" who promised "jungle justice" even before he became "President." Nevertheless, the total lack of regret, buried in grand delusions, is made abundantly clear when he says:
"But most significantly, Liberia, the oldest independent African Republic has remained in the vanguard of the liberation and independence of the African continent and has maintained an active posture of resistance to acts of injustice, oppression and tyranny, not only in Africa but the rest of the world. This historical struggle impelled Liberia to institute legal proceedings against the apartheid regime of South Africa, at the International Court of Justice, in The Hague. This is a proud legacy that I, the twenty-first President of the Republic, will never besmear".
Going by his logic, because Liberia is a founding member of the UN and participated in a case for South African freedom, it should now be rewarded with the right to maim and butcher others for diamonds. It should establish training camps for destabilization of other countries. It should determine the political leadership of other states. And above, all the global community should accept its criminal tentacles. The delusions go on:
"In December of 1989, cognizant of this legacy, I, along with other compatriots, launched a civil insurrection to overthrow a military regime, which had earlier dethroned the constituted government and orchestrated the retardation of our nation. This action was one designed and executed when it was obvious that the junta was determined to maintain their hold on power against the wishes of the majority of the populationThis movement, which commenced with less than one hundred civilians, galvanized momentum and eventually engulfed the entire country and gained the support of the people".
Concerned about facts vs. his fiction. Not at all. Says Anderson:
"Charles Taylor's fighters perpetrated some of the worst atrocities of the war, and it is a commonplace that Taylor was elected President last year not because he was popular but because people thought that if he didn't win he would continue the violence.
"Despite the fact that during the civil war Charles Taylor commanded one of the most vicious armies of modern times, and is widely believed to have abused his power for personal enrichment on a grand scale, he has an impressive roster of liberal American friends and acquaintances that includes the Reverend Jesse Jackson and former United States Attorney General Ramsey Clark".
And yet, the man believes he is actually more redeeming than the Samuel Doe junta he helped form and served so well. His comical references such as Doe caused the "retardation of the nation," only summarize the level of incurable delusions. Any reminder that he is supervising the most degrading socio-economic setup ever in contemporary Liberian history---over 85% unemployment, less than 24 doctors for the entire health service, severe shortages of school teachers, no benches for students in schools or at the University of Liberia, break down of law and order, no water, electricity, and worst of all, the first prize as Africa's leading pariah, "the Milosevic of Africa" etc., is simply useless.
As we see now, even where evidence is undeniable, excuses abound, justifications limitless. Writes Anderson:
"There had been "excesses" committed by his
troops, Taylor conceded, but whenever a serious crime like rape
or murder had come to his attention he had executed those responsible.
At any rate, he insisted, the estimates of Liberia's war dead
were "far too high - I don't think we lost even twenty thousand
people in the war."
I picked up my camera to take Taylor's picture, but as I did an adviser tapped me on the back and said, in a low voice, "Please don't. If you take a photograph of him like this, you'll make him look like a typical African dictator."
The phobia of losing the RUF as an extended army, along with Taylor's reliance on the rebels as his diamond diggers, prevail. Thus even as he announced the departure of one of the rebels most ruthless kingpins, Sam Bockarie, indicates he has no plans of leaving Liberia. The Washington Post:
''Speaking there while his bodyguards washed his government-issued SUV and lounged against a wall, [Sam] Bockarie said he is operating a diamond mine near Monrovia, has been given a lumber concession and has no plans to leave [Liberia]. He said Taylor was like his father and would never force him to go,''
Despite such inconsistencies, defences, excuses, and "reasons for sticking with the rebels flourish:
"Consequently, I request that the United Nations Security Council establish a Blue Ribbon Panel to investigate and determine my ownership, if any, of any large personal funds, as a result of diamond trade, in banks of any member state, up to the time of publication of the Report by the Panel of Experts and, by this declaration, waive all rights of non-disclosure to all banking institutions. In the event it is determined that I own large personal funds in any foreign accounts, the information should be made public, the funds confiscated and transferred to the Liberian people. I have informed the Liberian National Legislature and the People of Liberia that, in the event this is found to be true, I shall resign my position as President of the Republic of Liberia. However and correspondingly, I would expect and assume that having provided the United Nations Security Council this unique and unprecedented authorization, the Council will utilize this opportunity and expeditiously confirm the allegations of the Panel of Experts or publicly exonerate me and the Government of Liberia.
I request that you circulate this letter to members of the
Council as a document of Council.
Dahkpannah Dr. Charles G. Taylor"
For a decade, Taylor rose from a penniless wanderer to a man for whom award-winning musician can now sing. He has outsmarted some of the most honourable minds through lies and deception. He has sent fellow warlords fleeing through manipulations. He killed a number of Nigerian journalists, hundreds of soldiers and became Lagos' best Liberian friend. So he believes in the justness of his games because they produce results. There is no reason why he doesn't believe he can handle Kofi Annan. But as the saying goes, genius is knowing when to stop.