Our Apologies
By Tarty Teh
August 28, 2000

There is something wrong with freedom when you have to beg for it. When freedom is at stake - as it is currently - our worries shift ultimately to freedoms down the road. Beg for it now, and you are likely to spend a good deal of time on your knees in the future, if you want more of it. That is why it is not an accident that we humans often choose to fight for freedom.

People who deny freedom to others are usually not as committed to that endeavor as those who fight for it. And that's because while dictatorship is labor-intensive, there are never any high ideals that could make it a permanent sell the way freedom is. The enemies of freedom need a string of victories as a measure of their control. For that, Liberia's President Charles Taylor has a streak going. He has won an apology from some Western news organizations that now see Liberia as a bad place to make a case for freedom of any stripes. For now, they would fill the dictator's bill to secure the release of their crew. They did.

The arrest of the news crew from Britain, South Africa, and Sierra Leone did have a positive effect on the Liberian situation. It gave a new sense of appreciation for some of the insightful news coverage Liberian reporters have managed from time to time in the same environment in which the more independent foreign press dropped an apology and quit Liberia. Of course Liberian news organizations have issued their share of apologies, and did so without being apologists for the government that exacts such toll on the free human spirit.

For instance, when the Liberian Vice President Enoch Dogolea was declared by President Charles Taylor as ''gravely ill,'' a Liberian newspaper reported that President Charles Taylor was among the last persons to address the Vice President in the strange chain of events that led to his death. The paper reported that Dogolea was last seen alive on President Taylor's farm. But the paper had to apologize for mentioning that the Vice President did meet with President Charles Taylor in the hours leading to his sudden, and up to now unexplained, death.

If we were free to inquire about how the Liberian Vice President died, one of the issues to be examined would have been the persistent rumor that the Vice President was beaten to death by President Taylor's security details because of suspicion that he was about to separate himself from the Taylor government and perhaps launch a coup to remove Taylor.

But the Taylor government must have unwittingly enlarged the crime scene when it flew what remained of Vice President Dogolea to the Ivory Coast to create a plausible scenario that the Vice President died abroad. If such move was an advantage, it proved only to be a fleeting one, because the autopsy, which would have determined how Vice President Dogolea died, now requires international or, at least, bilateral cooperation, and has spread into areas in which Taylor's influence, where it exists, may wane with time.

That was only a temporary setback for President Taylor until he came up with the idea of impaneling a friendly committee of legislators, judges, and some political appointees of his government, not to release the death certificate of autopsy already requested by the Liberian people but, to examine the Vice President's lifelong medical history. This threw open a wider area in which to fish for the cause of death just when we thought we had limited it to days before his death. So, for instance, if the Vice President had fallen from a tree in his native Nimba County at age ten, it can be determined that he finally died from the fall.

Well, this latest idea of a clean-up committee - like the one put together to examine the cause of Dogolea's death - proved so ingenious that President Taylor applied it retroactively to another pending issue. That pending issue is the charge made by Britain, and confirmed by the United States, that Taylor is the manager of diamond mining in Sierra Leone, hence the beneficiary of diamond sales through Liberia. Britain maintains that Taylor is buying arms with some of the diamond money to keep the Freetown government from reaching the diamond fields Taylor controls through the Revolutionary United Front of Sierra Leone (RUF) which takes orders from him.

After some ludicrous patchwork of lies - among them the Taylor government's claims of having apprehended a man with a British-sounding name of Charles Beckley as the one who impersonated President Taylor by voice in securing bids for Sierra Leone diamonds ­ Taylor has now applied the friendly committee method to the diamond-smuggling and gunrunning charge he was supposed to have answered with the arrest of a Charles Beckley. Now another legislative committee will have Britain, United States, and some Liberian opposition politicians appear before it with any evidence they have against the Taylor government. Well, that's not the punch line. Here it comes: ''The Commission will report their findings to President Charles Taylor,'' says Liberian legislator Nimley.

While the Western news crew was in Taylor's grips in Liberia, we were hoping that the British Royal Airforce or the U.S. Airforce or both would drop bombs on President Taylor's Executive Mansion. We were wrong again. The two governments dropped some apologies and left. Why? Liberia is not that important, and the problems that Taylor creates, are created mainly for Liberia and Sierra Leone. It's up to these two countries to solve the Taylor problem. Until then, we will be required to apologize as usual.