"Freedom's" Coalition - Liberia Just Doesn't Fit In

By: James W. Harris

The Perspective

October 5, 2001

Since the devastating terrorists attack on the World Trade Center (WTC) and the Pentagon, the United States has been working very hard and steadily to assemble a solid coalition to help it fight its "new war" against world-wide terrorism.

Listening to President George W. Bush and other senior members of his administration, I'm left with the impression that the world, more than ever before, is now divided basically into two camps, namely: Those who "value" freedom and democracy, on one hand, and those who don't, on the other.

Based on this new reality, many people believe that nations that make up the US's coalition practically "share" the same kinds of values and "democratic" principles, among them, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, observers of "basic" human rights, etc.

Since the terrible incidents occurred in New York and Washington, DC, respectively, President Bush has gone out of his way to make it quite clear that his nation's "new war" is not against Moslems or the religion of Islam as bin Laden and his evil collaborators would want the world to believe.

He (Bush) continues to emphasize, instead, that America's "new war" is strategically directed against world-wide terrorists who "hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other."

Against this backdrop, the US President said in an unusually strong tone in his recent address to the nation and a joint session of Congress: "Every nation in every region now has a decision to make: Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists." Very strong language indeed, eh!

But let no one make a mistake. When President Bush says "us", he's definitely referring to the nations throughout the world that stand for 'freedom'. "On September the 11th, enemies of freedom committed an act of war against our country. This is not, however, just America's fight. And what is at stake [here] is not just America's freedom. This is the world's fight. This is civilization's fight. This is the fight of all who believe in progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom", he said.

By "clearly" defining the antagonists in this "new war", the US President seems to be drawing a fine line between those nations (freedom loving) that are on his side, and those that are on the other side with the repressive Talibans. Unfortunately, there is no room this time around for countries that simply want to stay in the middle or just sit on the sidelines.

As the Bush Administration proceeds slowly but surely to build its worldwide coalition against the menacing evil of terrorism, the "love of freedom" will ultimately cement the close bond of friendship and cooperation that already exists amongst nations on the US's side (free world). For their part, the "strange" group of extremists calling themselves the Talibans will never succeed in their desperate attempt to make this conflict seem like it is between Christianity and Islam. Far from it! It is clear as daylight that this fight is between "freedom" and "terrorism" (repression); "good" versus "evil".

It is in this context that the Bush Administration has urged "every nation in every region" of the world to choose their sides. But through their action, it has been well known for quite some time now which side Liberia had already chosen to be on - the side of repression.

Apparently trying to appease the Americans, whom he and his senior cabinet officials have been "very" critical of since they came to power about four years ago, Liberia's iron-fisted leader, Charles Taylor, have made sure that his country was one of the first to sympathize and extend hands to the US. And there's nothing wrong with that! As the matter of fact, who wouldn't sympathize readily with the American government and people in their time of grief, except for those that have no conscience and "love of freedom"?

Since the "ugly" terrorists strike on the US, the Taylor-led National Patriotic Party (NPP) government has been doing their best to give the Bush Administration the impression that they "share" the same values and principles. But President Taylor's personal record and that of his government have constantly come under fire from democracy activists inside and outside the country.

While the Liberian government extends one hand to the "freedom loving" peoples of the US, it smartly uses the other to brutally crush any semblance of dissent within the country itself. The government's record is well documented by Amnesty International (AI) and other well known organizations.

That's why it is really difficult to see how Liberia can become a part of the US-led world-wide coalition against terrorism, especially at this point in time, when the incumbent Taylor government continues to defiantly abuse "democratic" values and principles that nations on the American side have vowed to defend.

In Liberia today, there's no room for the expression of "free" and "sound" opinions without getting into trouble with the NPP government, no matter how "honest" they are. A prominent Liberian lawyer and current President of the Liberian National Bar Association, J. Emmanuel Wureh found this out the "hard way" lately.

According to the Monrovia-based newspaper, the NEWS, Counselor Wureh has been charged [abruptly] of Legislative contempt arising out of a question that he had asked allegedly: "Are these the type of people we have representing us in this House?" At the time, Counselor Wureh was serving as the legal counsel for disgraced House Speaker Nyundueh Morkonmana, who had been suspended by Representatives of the Lower House for alleged corruption and lying.

The nations in the US terrorism coalition would have handled this matter in a very different way, I'm sure. You see, the problem here is not the fact that Mr. Wureh was arrested and jailed, but the manner in which it was done - very "undemocratically"!

Certainly, the Legislative action against Counselor Wureh, particularly his "forced" imprisonment for the next three months, doesn't sit well with the Liberian Legal Bar and others who see this as an abuse of the country's Constitution. It (Bar) has since reacted swiftly by immediately boycotting the courts and issuing an ultimatum to the National Legislature concerning their President's (Wureh's) detention without giving him the opportunity to "freely" defend his "alleged" statements.

Commenting on the growing rift between the Liberian government and the country's legal practitioners, Mr. Marcus Jones, Vice President of the Bar Association said in a recent interview with the BBC: "If I misbehave, for example, before a committee, be it the judiciary or be it a special committee to investigate, that special committee will investigate my behavior and recommend to the national body that I be held or punished or [be] given the opportunity to express and/or retract that alleged statement that I may have made on the floor or a contemptuous statement, but that was not the case with Counselor Wureh. So the Bar had to come up and inform that body that in the future, [it should] kindly stick to the Constitution, your standing rules and regulations, that was it."

And as expected, the dictatorial Taylor government reacted angrily by putting out a press release which basically said that: "The Government of Liberia has expressed surprise and disappointment over the stance taken by the National Bar Association in issuing an ultimatum to the National Legislature over the detention of Counselor Wureh."

Attempting to give credit to President Taylor (for Mr. Wureh's timely and possible release) as it always does, the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism, also said in its 27 September press statement that: "The Liberian Government wishes that some common ground would be found for the retraction of the ultimatum by the National Bar Association in order that the National Legislature may revert to its earlier position of giving consideration to the release of Counselor Wureh based on the intervention of the Liberian leader and other prominent citizens."

Please note that the "key" phrase here is "Based on the intervention of the Liberian leader and other prominent citizens." The simple truth is that the "Liberian leader" and/or "other prominent citizens" don't have to be involved in this matter at all, if they had any intention of following the country's Constitution. This is what most nations in the US coalition would have done.

Now, let's think about this intelligently. If the President of the "legal" National Bar Association can be incarcerated for merely asking a question or even expressing his "free" opinion on an issue, then what's about the ordinary Liberian citizens? You can bet that they absolutely have no chance of enjoying those "freedoms" as guaranteed "sacredly" by the Constitution.

Mirroring the Executive Branch, which is well known internationally for locking up its citizens before "reasoning" with them, the NPP dominated Liberian Legislature has since summoned not only Mr. Jones, but also Counselor Ishmael Campbell, President of the Bar's Montserrado County chapter, to give reasons why they both should not be held in contempt for calling for the "unconditional" release of their President (Wureh). The drama continues in Monrovia, while Liberians wonder how they can ever get JUSTICE at home without LAWYERS being in the courtrooms to represent them.

Sadly, up to now, the fate of the Liberian lawyers remains in limbo, as the Legislature has not figured out what to do with them. But the government is sure picking a fight that it cannot win.

In times like these when it should be doing everything that's humanly possible to improve its "rotten" international image, the rogue Taylor regime seems to be more determined to blatantly ignore the Liberian Constitution. That's why Counselors Wureh, Jones, Campbell and others "must" be given our unflinching support. Us "freedom loving" people should also hold the Taylor government "fully responsible" for their safety and personal well-beings. After all, Liberia is neither President Charles Taylor's nor his NPP's "exclusive" domain.

Lest we forget, there are several other "burning" issues that needs to be speedily resolved in Liberia before it can even think about joining the US-led coalition against terrorism: (1) The case of the human rights activist, Thompson Ade-Bayor; (2) The case of the Catholic-owned radio station, Radio Veritas and (3) The dispute between the country's Legal profession and the government as a whole. Without the resolution of these, I surely can't see how the country could move forward.

Because of all of the above, it is obvious that Liberia just doesn't fit into the US's coalition against terrorism, much less, share their values and principles. Words alone wouldn't work as much is expected of nations on the side of the US in terms of protecting "freedom" worldwide. And whether or not Mr. Taylor has actually decided to "divorce" Libya's al-Qadhafi after years of courtship, we'll see in the next few weeks or so.

The coalition could be better off, though, without Taylor and should know by now that the ordinary Liberians support them wholeheartedly in combating the scourge of terrorism once and for all from the face of this "beautiful" earth!

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