NSA Chief Says International Community Resents President Taylor
-An Interview-

By George H. Nubo

Much has been reported in this paper on the crisis of national security that has eroded and undermined the fabric of Liberia's fledging democracy. The Taylor government human rights record remains unenviable; continued security harassment, extortion, police brutality, and intimidation of citizens are still quite prevalent.

Noted for its orwelliam "doublespeak," the tendency to either deny, find reasons to explain or justify its actions, blame others or say one thing and mean another, or purposely disinform and mislead, the Taylor government throughout its rule has never taken responsibility for its wrongdoings.

In what appears to be a departure from its lack of truthfulness with the Liberian public, Mr. Freddie R. Taylor, Director of the National Security Agency (NSA), government's pointman on national security, recently granted The Perspective (TP) an interview to discuss pertinent national security matters.

TP: Welcome back to the States. It has been a while since you left for Liberia in the cause of the people over there. Generally speaking we want to have this conversation with you so that you will give us your perspective with respect to what is going on in the administration of public affairs in Liberia. We will give you the opportunity so you can express your views on the political, economic, and security matters in Liberia.

Freddie: I told you before, all that thing you're talking, I'm not the right person to talk about it. If you have something specific [that] you think I can address, that will be fine. But I can't give a general overview of the political, economic and social issues because I don't have access to all the information.

TP: Let's begin with the responsibilities of the National Security Director and the National Security Agency (NSA). What are your responsibilities?

Freddie: Well, [the] National Security Director does not have a responsibility per se. The agency has responsibilities and the director sees to it that those responsibilities are carried out.

TP: So what are the responsibilities of the NSA?

Freddie: NSA is intelligence oriented agency. It collects and disseminates [intelligence] information.

TP: In the security area, lately it has been reported that Liberian security forces/agents are involved in the war in Sierra Leone. And recently President Taylor admitted to the fact that Liberians are fighting in Sierra Leone. Many Liberians as well as non-Liberians believe that the situation in Sierra Leone is an explosive one that is capable of spreading throughout the West African sub-region. Since you are in the area of security intelligence, why is it necessary for Liberians to be fighting in Sierra Leone?

Freddie: We can't stop Liberians ­ soldiers of fortune or mercenaries ­ from going there. You have Liberians fighting on both sides. They are fighting for the Kamajors as well as for the rebels. If you can remember, because I read in your paper, this recent issue - just skimming through - I saw some information that is not correct. It's half stated. Apparently, to me it reads more like a personal opinion than an informative, educational paper.

TP: What issue are you specifically talking about?

Freddie: On this same issue about the war in Sierra Leone. Now, if you can remember ULIMO started in Sierra Leone They're organized in Sierra Leone, they were trained in Sierra Leone, and they came into Liberia from Sierra Leone. Now on the side of the Kamajors you do have Liberians fighting there, on the side of the rebels you do have Liberians. But those people are not being sent there by the Liberian government. Like other African countries, you have common ethnic groups on both sides of the border So it is difficult to know if the man is a Liberian or Sierra Leonean, or mercenary or rebel.

TP: Are you saying that those Liberians who are allegedly fighting in Sierra Leone are remnants of the ULIMO para-military organization that was disbanded?

Freddie: No, I'm not saying that ­ I'm not even pointing my finger at ULIMO. You have some NPFL people there fighting too because there are people who crossed carpets. There are people who felt that ULIMO was better than NPFL and they crossed over You had people going from side to side depending on which side they thought they could get more benefit from. So most of these people left in Sierra Leone ­ Some people went back into Sierra Leone. When they saw the opportunity to fight to get some money, they joined whichever side they thought was okay for them. So apparently those who were in the Freetown [area], they joined that side [rebels], and those who were in the rural area where the Kamajors were formed, they joined that side [Kamajors] Liberians are there, but they are not there with the support of the Liberian government. Liberian government didn't put them in the truck, and say you go fight.

TP: What portion of the current issue of The Perspective regarding the Sierra Leone issue that is not true?

Freddie: The whole thing points to the fact that Charles Taylor being a former fighter, killer, and murderer does not want to stop doing this thing. That's the idea you're portraying.

TP: We have series of articles in the paper, specifically which article are you talking about?

Freddie: You wrote this paper ­ you should know what's in it. The way the article was written, it doesn't give the reader a chance to do his own analysis. It's very conclusive, and it's authoritative.

TP: Which article?

Freddie: Let me get my glasses. I didn't read the whole thing, I just skimmed through it.

TP: While you are looking for your glasses and the article, let's move on. In Liberia, we have had information about the rash of security people harassing the population. There are reports of mysterious disappearances, police officers torturing and beating civilians. To the best of your recollection, is it true that security harassment, extortion, police brutality, and intimidation are prevalent in Liberia?

Freddie: No Give me one example of each of what you are talking about.

TP: Mysterious disappearances ­ has anybody disappeared where the security apparatus is implicated?

Freddie: No not disappearance ­ I know of one case of one Noah Flomo. That was the only case where somebody said they saw somebody in a uniform that looked like one security uniform that was involved in a struggle with this person, and they had a fight and they took the person away. And they later found the people and they had them in jail. I think that was the only case.

TP: Where is Madame Flomo?

Freddie: Well, I didn't follow that case. I think she's dead.

TP: Was she killed?

Freddie: I think she was killed. I think it was a murder case, not a disappearance case Give me an example of disappearance.

TP: You said Madame Flomo was murdered, has her body been found since she disappeared in June of '98?

Freddie: That's what you were told?

TP: This is according to information that we gathered. Sir, was her body found?

Freddie: But then if you do not find her body, you don't have a murder case.

TP: No, we didn't term it murder. We said it is disappearance case, but you said it is instead a murder case. We have information that three special body guards to the President Taylor were involved.

Freddie: Yes, I think they were taken to court and they were not found guilty.

TP: Are you saying that they were falsely accused, and they have been exonerated by the judicial system?

Freddie: No, I'm not the court. I don't know, I said I didn't follow that case through. When you talked about disappearance, I said that's the only thing I remember When you say prevalent, you use word like prevalent, then you talked about one or two cases, then it's not prevalent.

TP: That was just one example of mysterious disappearances. Let's go on to the area of police brutality. Is there police brutality in Liberia?

Freddie: No.

TP: Are you saying there is no police brutality in Liberia?

Freddie: Do we have police brutality in this country [USA]?

TP: Yes, in several cases and in different localities there is police brutality in this country, but you said there is no such thing like police/security brutality in Liberia.

Freddie: Now listen, when you say police brutality, you have to come around and give me a case. Let's talk it case by case.

TP: What about the beating of the Editor of the Inquirer newspaper, Alex Redd, etc. by security agents?

Freddie: Editor of the Inquirer? Wesseh? Who beat Wesseh? That's not correct ­ I talk to Wesseh everyday It might have been another editor, but not Wesseh.

TP: Do you remember the killing of Aloysius Kieh, a suspected armed robber ? Wesseh was arrested, manhandled and detained for criticizing the police for its shoot to kill tactics during that period.

Freddie: Okay, okay, that could be true, but the truth is: I cannot say no, I cannot say yes.

TP: Do you remember the killing of Mannah Zekay, a former ULIMO commando who was seized by police from his New Krutown residence in the early morning hours of Jan. 9, 1998? Mr. Zekay's head was burst with hammer, and his body put on display in a pool of blood at the police station, with rusty rifle... across his chest? That is another example of police brutality.

Freddie: His head burst with hammer?

TP: Yes!

Freddie: I know the man you're talking about... I remember seeing the man [lying] down on his back with the arm in his chest, and I remember the name too.

TP: Where do you remember seeing him? Was it in New Krutown?

Freddie: No, no, no, the body was at the police station I remember that case well, but I can't remember Mr. Wesseh's arrest.

TP: Are you familiar with the case of a human rights activist, Korma Bryemah? He accused Tate of ordering his flogging and detention without charge in April of 1998.

Freddie: Oh, Korma Bryemah ­ the human rights man!

TP: Are you familiar with his case? He said that Joe Tate... ordered his flogging and detention without charge.

Freddie: That's what he said.

TP: And what do you know to be the fact?

Freddie: Yes. What I heard ­ he gave his side to the press, and the president got concerned and instructed Charles Deshield who was security advisor at the time to do [an] investigation He [Bryemah] came and he by-passed the traffic [while lanes in both directions were blocked due to an accident] on heavy speed and the man stopped him and told him what was going on. He said, "you know who I am?" And Joe Tate went to him and said, "oh, so you're somebody too? So you can't obey the law?" That's exactly what happened. And when the man got out of the car, they found out that he was intoxicated.

TP: The president appointed Charles Deshield to investigate the case, and the report was submitted to the President Taylor. Was it made public?

Freddie: No, not to my knowledge.

TP: Members of the Press have asked for the report, but the Mr. Taylor said he was not going to release it. If the report was not to be made public why did the president ask for it? Did the president say why the report should not be made public?

Freddie: Well, it was a fact-finding maybe what he read from Deshield didn't warrant any further action.

TP: On the 15 of July, 1998, the director stopped a taxi cab in Sinkor because two people were riding in the front seat, he pulled the driver over and slapped him. He said the driver was breaking the law by overloading his car. The driver explained that the additional passenger was a police officer. Mr. Tate ripped the police officer uniform and took his police insignia. You are a security intelligent officer, what is your description of Mr. Tate's performance?

Freddie: I think he's doing a very good job.

TP: The international community, (donor countries, Amnesty International), has accused Mr. Tate of human rights violation in Liberia. They have persistently conditioned assistance to Liberia on the removal of Mr. Tate from office. Is this a fact that the international community has made Mr. Tate's removal a condition?

Freddie: Some time last year, [1998], a group of senators came over here, one of them [Representative Shad Artis] went back went on national radio and said the international community has linked the removal of Joe Tate to any assistance to Liberia. The questions asked him were: did they give you the message to bring to the country, or was there an official document? He said that he talked with one [US] senator one-on-one and that was what the senator told him. I don't think there has been any official communication from any quarter to the leadership of that country to say: look, we will give you ABCD and to get ABCD you got to do XYZ and that XYZ includes the removal of Mr. Tate from office.

TP: To be specific, during the April '98 Donors Conference that was held in Paris, the United States made it a condition that in order to train the Liberian police, Joe Tate had to be removed from office.

Freddie: I understand that, but training the police and international donors conference [are] two separate things.

TP: Don't you consider providing training a donation? Are you aware of the information?

Freddie: It was obvious because the police [force] was being trained when Charles Deshield was there by the Americans. As soon as he was removed and Joe Tate got in there, they withdrew all their training staff and they stopped the training.

TP: Why did that happen?

Freddie: I wouldn't know because I was not there [at the time].

TP: At the Paris Donors Conference, donors conditioned further assistance to Liberia on the respect for human rights. Has the human rights situation in the country improved?

Freddie: When you talk about human rights, there are too many things that can be interpreted as violation of human rights. And from what I understand, from what they think that the people have been referring to as the violation of human rights, I don't think it warrant that kind of suffocation of a nation When it comes to the respect for human rights, I will think Liberia has improved as compared to a year or five years ago.

TP: During her visit to Liberia in November of 1998, U. S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Vicki Huddleston, lamented the human rights condition in Liberia. She observed that human rights violation is worse as compared to what it was a year ago. Ambassador Huddleston said "transition to democracy requires human rights, rule of law; and this is lacking in Liberia" Do you remember such statements by the U.S. official?

Freddie: I think people are finding excuses not to assist. They tie it with situation they can't verify, they can't come up with specifics. I think the Liberians over there [at home], or the country [Liberia] will rely on people like you who are here to investigate some of these things as they come out.

TP: Are you saying that Ms. Huddleston did not have any specifics to point to?

Freddie: Personally, I feel that the whole situation is a situation that is targeted against the man, Charles Taylor.

TP: Are you saying there is international conspiracy against the Taylor government?

Freddie: No, I didn't say Taylor'[s] government. I say there is a resentment for the personality, Charles Taylor and not Liberia.

TP: So Liberia is suffering because of resentment of Charles Taylor by the international community?

Freddie: You are correct! That's my personal opinion.

TP: Why is it that the international community which is a conglomerate community will have a unified resentment against this one man ­ Charles Taylor?

Freddie: It is not a unified resentment.

TP: Well, please point out the exceptions. Which countries are engaged in this resentment and which countries are not?

Freddie: Ha, ha, ha! I will say that what ever information about Liberia as a whole about the human rights, I will say there are some areas we ourselves are against. We furnish the information because of our own personal reasons, and people pick it up and they [capitalize] on it because these are things that the international community cannot tolerate.

TP: The international community has diplomats accredited to Liberia. Don't you agree that they will more than likely rely on the information they receive from their representatives than from Liberians in the Diaspora?

Freddie: Don't you know those people [representatives] rely on information they received from the locals?

TP: Not too long ago the Liberian government issued a sweeping indictment against 32 people. According to the indictment documents, your agency plays a leading role in the collection of information leading to the indictment. Among other things, the indictment alleges that Mrs. Sirleaf and some other people including George Boley met with Roosevelt Johnson and some other Liberians in Freetown to finalize discussions in their attempt to overthrow the Taylor government. According to the indictment and according to the section of the law that was quoted for the indictment, Section 11.1 of the New Penal Code of Liberia, page 27; paragraph (1), defines treason as follows: A person owing allegiance to Liberia has committed treason, a felony of the first degree if: (a) he levels war against the Republic of Liberia in an overt manner or otherwise; or (b) he commits any act or acts, overt or otherwise tending to overthrow the government of the Republic of Liberia by the use of force; etc.

We at The Perspective believe that every Liberian should be subject to the law. In your opinion and from where you sit, would you not agree that President Taylor is also guilty of these violations and should therefore be included in the indictment? He should be included because he waged war against the government of Liberia and attempted to overthrow same?

Freddie: Since he became president?

TP: No, before he became president.

Freddie: Taylor as President of the Republic of Liberia, as effective August '97, has not been guilty of anything to subvert the government of Liberia.

TP: But this law came into effect before Taylor became president. We understand that no man is above the law. This is why President Clinton is being brought to justice. Don't you think Taylor should be included in the indictment?

Freddie: No, Taylor didn't conspire to overthrow this government. It was the people prerogative at the time to bring what ever charges they wanted to bring [against him].

TP: Taylor committed these acts from 1989 to 1997 when the law was in existence. There is no statue of limitation here.

Freddie: Taylor had a revolution.

TP: Was it a revolution? Why then do you indict other people who are trying to have their own revolution? Why indict these 32 people for planning a revolution?

Freddie: You know what happened, these people need to go to court and say we're having a revolution.

TP: Are you saying the exception to the law will be those who have revolution?

Freddie: I keep telling you. I was not director of NSA in 1989 or 1990 I can't address [that] because I don't know what Taylor did.

TP: We are talking about the law. Let's repeat this question: Are you saying that revolution does not come under the purview of this law?

Freddie: No, I'm not saying that. I just said Taylor did not conspire to overthrow the government. Taylor had a revolution.

TP: It is alleged that Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was among those who attended the meeting held in Freetown to overthrow the Liberian government. Why was she not included in the indictment?

Freddie: Well, I can tell you that you got to go back to the Minister of Justice. My agency made some contributions, but there were other agencies [that] made contributions. So the Minister of Justice will be the proper person to answer that question.

TP: But, according to the indictment, the government case is primarily based on information gathered by your agency and the Ministry of National Security. Why are you sending us to the Ministry of Justice?

Freddie: How do you know that that information came from me?

TP: Does this mean that the allegation that Mrs. Sirleaf attended the meeting did not come from your agency, neither did it come from National Security Ministry?

Freddie: I cannot speak for the Ministry.

TP: Did it come from your agency?

Freddie: I don't even know. I don't have the information on hand.

TP: Thank you, Mr. Director.

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