As I See It: The Historical Minutes of the Last Ten Years (Part I)
- Special to The Perspective Magazine -

By Tarty Teh

True to the core definition of opinion, mine had been mostly unasked-for, but I do get requests for my opinions every now and again. One came recently from The Perspective Magazine, asking me to write, for its "Millennium Edition," on the issue of "human rights and the justice system in Liberia." My last three articles, which were circulated on my own network, could have easily filled the bill, but The Perspective's request had a time scope, and was somehow issue-specific. Even so, just a quick look back at what can fairly be called my preoccupation will show that I have not swayed too far from the issues which interest The Perspective's staff.

This, however, is not to obviate the need for undertaking The Perspective's assignment, but to show that the concern for justice and other social issues is more than a perennial gadfly's advocacy. In Liberia, we have reached a point at which the abuse we suffer is not merely a result of incidental failing in the execution of civic actions, but that the abuse itself is the course of action by those who are in authority.

Let's take a glance at what I have treated in my previous articles concerning Pappa George, Sam Dokie, James Bestman, and Edward White:

Consider the fact that the request for forgiveness was submitted before Papa George knelt before Mr. Henric Cassell, begging for his life. Mr. George's appeal was denied. He was executed.

Mr. Cassell at first wasn't sure George's life would cover the crime of overtaking Cassell on the highway. So he took George's brother as an insurance. He took him home and tied him up. (Every notable Taylor government official has a private torture chamber or beating ring, it seems.)

We don't know what Mr. Samuel Dokie said on his wife's behalf before they both were murdered, beheaded, and burned. He probably said, ''If you must kill me, be a man and let my wife live.'' We don't know for sure, but then again, Dokie was killed in the bush. That spared us the graphic details such as in the case of Papa George and, to a lesser degree, in the case of Mr. Mulbah. You will remember that Mulbah appeared before the Charles Sirleaf Tribunal, which handed down its beating sentence, as opposed to the death sentence Cassell passed and carried out on Papa George.

Six policemen visited a businessman named James Bestman. They were looking for a missing VCR. They drove Bestman's balls into his stomach by taking turns to kick him in the groins. That was only the interrogation phase of the process the law enforcement officers began at 1:00 in the morning. No witnesses, just a dead man showing signs of police actions. And that's how the lawmen had planned it.

If there is no room in the closet, look in the ceiling of the Executive Mansion for more skeletons. That's where Edward White was found death, but he was looking for his paycheck. Still, he would not rot without stench. He was a Special Security Services (SSS) officer for Taylor's protective network. There are no special legislative committees looking into White's death - not that I know of. That's because stranger things have happened. A legislator was beaten on the job by the vice president of Liberia. I believe a judge was beaten by an executive officer in the courtyard of his judicial building.

There is a reason for my reference to the request by The Perspective Magazine that I render an opinion on the turmoil whose causes now seem more deliberate than incidental to the pursuit of social justice. And so, when it comes to hope for the future under the current arrangement in Liberia, I have flatly run out. But The Perspective, it seems, has not ruled out hope, because they want me to "Include some recommendations on what the government must do to improve the human rights situation in the country." So let me say that I have no recommendations for the Charles Taylor government because Taylor and his government are beyond redemption.

Now, let us not limit ourselves to Taylor and the group which ensures his survival, because just beyond Taylor wait Mr. Amos Sawyer and Ms. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. These are the two people who hired Taylor to start the war. I have spoken enough about that. I will return to it if there is any credible contradiction of what I have just said. But given the Taylor operation as a separate issue, we must begin a catalogue of the names of Taylor's operators so that when one phase of our current violent experience ends, we may not plow the same seedy characters into what should be the next and more promising phase.

I am talking about people like Tom Woewiyu, Blamoh Nelson, Tambakai Jangaba, and Charles Sirleaf. I am sure there are more, but I will limit myself to those whose work I have seen. There, of course, are many minor utensils in Taylor's kitchen cabinet, but these are the major political appliances. They are not known for their opinions; they are known for their utility. From one administration to another, these people will always find a reason to accept what is objectionable from all indications. Violence does not exist as long as they are not the targets. Of course, they are harmless to their benefactor but can be deadly to anyone with a potential to disrupt their stately opulence. So theirs is not a battle for principle; it's for comfort.

And so I say that the problem is the government. Or, put another way, the government is the problem. We are not asking the government to pay its employees on time; we are not asking for safe drinking water and electricity; we are not asking for education and health facilities. We need all these things for sure, but something comes ahead - way ahead - of all these. It's called life. We are asking the government to stop killing us.

Nothing gives me more hope than knowing that others share my concern about the terrible things that are happening to our people in Liberia. And the hope comes through the heavy volume of e-mail I receive for my commentaries over the Internet. I get charged to the maximum when I realize that I have just read something I could have said or written. It tells me that we can arrive at the truth on parallel tracks. And so, why must I claim that it was I who said it when, in fact, somebody else did?

I have already used up my allotted number of words, and I have not sketched the horror of the past ten years. And so, we will call this a preamble to a series. I hope, in the meantime, that The Perspective will allow me to build on what I have attempted to establish.

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