Our Indifference - The Case Of Aloysius Toe, Et.Al
By: James W. Harris
Since his release and subsequent relocation to the United States (thanks to the tremendous pressure that was put on the ruthless Taylor government on both the local and international levels), the Liberian journalist, Hassan Bility, the regime's latest victim, has been sharing his personal experiences every opportunity he gets, even on the world famous British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
In a rather candid interview with Musue N. Haddad, he revealed that: "An officer of the Special Operational Division (SOD) went for me from the police headquarters. He (the officer) asked, ‘who is the journalist Hassan Bility'. I said, yes, it is I. The SOD officer [then] came [and] brought a black cloth. They tied my face, they blindfolded me. They began beating me and went to the basement of the police headquarter [s] where another pickup [truck], another police jeep was. They put me at the back of the jeep and blindfolded [me] and made the cloth to cover my nose and my mouth, I could not breathe properly and I was yelling."
"When I told them [that] I could not breathe properly, they said that was okay because they were going to kill me [anyway]. So they did not talk to me, they only took me to the president's [Charles Taylor's] house. The PRESIDENT [my emphasis] was the first person that personally INVESTIGATED [again, my emphasis] or interrogated me under a total climate of intimidation and fright [fear]. After that, I was never investigated [again] until on the 24th of July when I was taken from Monrovia [to] Clay, that was 32 DAYS [emphasis mine] after my arrest. I was taken to Clay (outside of Monrovia) to an UNDERGROUND CELL [my emphasis], Bility explained.
Speaking further, he said: "They tied me with the rope they called twine. It is a rubber-like rope but very strong and it usually cuts the victims. It penetrated the areas above my elbow where I was tied. There was a deep cut there and I was physically beaten regularly and they electrocuted me with the hope of extracting [false] statements from me. They electrocuted my PRIVATE PARTS [my emphasis] and all over my body. They usually tied me, tied my hands, blindfolded me, tied my feet and swung me around like [a] bag of rice and threw me in the pickup whenever they were transferring me from one place to the other."
In an interview also conducted by Ms. Haddad, another of Taylor's victims, prominent Liberian lawyer, Tiawan Saye Gongloe, who was seized by the brutal regime's security detail and held illegally incommunicado in Monrovia without a warrant or charge for a period exceeding by far the time stipulated by law [I will not even attempt to quote the exact portion of the law, because I'll just be wasting my time], give his account this way.
"I think [that] I should just tell the story of what happened to me on April 24, 2002...While on my way from the house, I met one Major Nathaniel Dolo commonly referred to as "Dolo Mark" of the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) of the Liberia National Police. He was waiting opposite a police station located in an abandoned building formerly used by the Liberia Institute of Public Administration. Major Nathaniel Dolo asked me to go with him... At 10:30 p.m. three security officers who were placed in the cell on the same day that I was detained were called up to the office of Saa Gbollie, the Deputy Director of Police for Operations. According to them, they were detained because they were falsely accused of theft. When they returned from Saa Gbollie's office they [immediately] became aggressive towards me. They angrily told me to undress myself and I did", Gongloe explained in the sometime chilling interview.
He continued: "I was ordered to squat and stand up at an unending rhythm two thousand times (in local Liberian parlance, it is called pumping tire). I was also physically abused in other manners, including, fist punches in diverse parts of my body that left me with a bruised left eye, right ear and inflamed kidneys. After that one night in detention, I urinated (with) black blood continuously for a week. This is in short what [really] happened to me on April 24, 2002."
In yet another startling testimony of the heartless brutalities that's meted out continuously to Liberians by the wicked regime in Monrovia, James Torh, a veteran Liberian human rights activist, who now lives in exile, described his personal experiences in the cold hands of Taylor's security thugs in an article titled, "The Price of Freedom: Renewing Courage and Conscience", that was published on this very website.
He wrote: "I was there and felt the pains and wrath of these MASS MURDERERS [my emphasis]. I experienced the cruel hands of torture administered by these [thugs]. They told me ‘who do you think you are - we will skin you [to] death'. I was stripped naked at the police headquarters and one of the officers with ‘muscled jacket' dealt with me. He kicked me with his [boot] while he escorted me into the cell. I was pushed into the inner room among the hard-core criminals. I shivered, hating the environment, hating the tightness in my throat and told myself not to cry. I tried to be brave to cope with my new environment, but raindrop-sized tears rolled down my cheeks. I got angry with myself for behaving like a child and used the back of my hand to stifle my tears."
"In my hour of contemplation, I was greeted by one of the prisoners with ‘welcome to our den and be a man'. While grief is normal and natural, clearly the most powerful of all emotions, it is also the most neglected and misunderstood experience, often by both the griever and those around him. I was weeping because a nasty man, a drug addict was torturing me - kicking and hitting me all over my body because I was part of voices that echoed loud and clear, telling the angels of terror and death, men who engaged in relentless campaign of anarchy and bloody games that this thing is wrong. THIS THING MUST STOP! [emphasis mine]. That was [the] price for standing up for what is morally right and trying to secure JUSTICE for our people", Torh also wrote.
Now, taking these first-hand experiences of these three prominent Liberians into account, just imagine what our fellow compatriots, Aloysius Toe, Sheikh K. M. Sackor, Ansumana Kamara, Mohammed Kamara, and countless others are undergoing at this very moment. Are you getting the picture? I sincerely hope so! Needless to say that they're being incarcerated indefinitely because of our "indifference" towards their plight. Period!
The simple truth is that if we came together as Liberians purely on humanitarian grounds, putting aside all our prejudices, and demanded the immediate release of these people as well as many others that are being wrongly held in any number of Taylor's dungeons, they could have very good chances of being freed by the despot. But again, our indifference towards each other for whatever silly reasons we harbor, seems to be the biggest obstacle yet in securing their unconditional release. Even though all of us have been affected in one way or the other by the continuing civil strife in our now failed country, many of us still carry chips on our shoulders with the foolish attitude that "they're not my relatives or friends"; "they're not my tribe"; and ignorantly of all, "they're mostly Mandingos". If even "they're Mandingos", and so what! Aren't they (Mandingos) Liberians too? I mean, if Liberia will ever survive as a nation-state, then we as a people will have to wake up and do away with such pettiness and senseless bigotry.
As far as I'm concerned, it really doesn't matter if you're Mandingo, Kpelle, Bassa, Kru, Lorma, Gio, Americo-Liberian or whatever, as long as you show me respect and treat me just as you would want me to treat you in return. After all, at this late stage in our national life, we should hardly care whether or not those being wrongly incarcerated were mostly Mandingos. Frankly, what we should be seriously concerned about is that JUSTICE be done in each and every case without favor. But in order for this to happen, it is abundantly clear that continuous pressure must be exerted on the morally bankrupt Taylor government since that's the only thing that could force it to act - and swiftly.
But again, that pressure has to come from somewhere - that's exactly where we come in, meaning, that we should get organized en mass and take our protest to the seat of the pariah Liberian government here in the US - its sorry embassy on 16th Street in Washington, D. C. There, we should assemble peacefully, as we did for Hassan Bility, and demand that Taylor immediately let Aloysius Toe and the others go with no pre-conditions. Neither should they be "banished" from their own country, except of their own free will.
If we cannot come together as Liberians for a worthwhile cause like this, then I'm afraid that we're doomed as a people. What else then could possibly bring us together if not to ensure that the rights (God-given and Constitutional) of each of us are protected under the organic laws of the Republic of Liberia? Personally, I just don't know.
But I do know one thing, though - that Taylor could release them if we came together, using whatever means we have presently at our disposal - personal contacts, e-mails, word of mouth, etc., to rally our various constituencies to show up for such a cause. While coming together, we should also condemn in the strongest possible terms those amongst us that continue to show signs of tyranny against our people and claiming falsely to represent their collective interests.
As I'm doing this article, I've noticed that Venezuelans residing in the US State of Florida have organized themselves and carry out demonstrations daily before their country's Consulate there, drawing attention to what they see as their government's misrule. And do you know what they often use to complement their march? POTS and PANS! Yes, indeed, they use pots and pans, striking them rhythmically with metal, like, a spoon. They say that this is something they do in their native country as a matter of tradition. How innovative! In the same fashion, people all around the world, even in these United States, are organizing and demonstrating against President George W. Bush's apparently imminent war against Iraq or some other policies of his administration that they just don't like.
The point that I'm trying to make in all of this is that we too could draw attention to the plight or even fate of our compatriots that are constantly being kept in prison for absolutely no reason, except their courage to stand up in defense of others. I mean, it does not make any sense to keep these folks in jail when the very violent government that's holding them "illegally" is, in fact, in some sort of negotiation with LURD (Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy) to end the ongoing senseless war that's continuing to devastate the already war-ruined country.
Let's not forget that Aloysius is presently being held incommunicado in Taylor's dark den because he was accused of receiving an e-mail "innocently" from Charles Bennie of LURD, the group which is as notorious as their foe, the Liberian government, while the others are languishing in the President's dungeons mainly because they are Mandingos. Never mind the crooked National Patriotic Party (NPP) regime's bogus claim that these otherwise peaceful citizens were members of a cell linked to LURD that was plotting in Monrovia to overthrow the Taylor dictatorship. Such claims are nothing more than complete hogwash, with clearly no basis whatsoever! This shows how paranoia the ruthless Taylor regime has become and how far it would go to tarnish the good image of patriotic citizens.
While it is true and natural that we, as a distinct people, are bound to disagree on many burning issues facing our now despised nation, we have to learn, however, to be uncompromising when it comes to the question of human rights for all, regardless of our backgrounds; our philosophies; our religious beliefs, etc.
Quite often, we hear our so-called politicians, ‘stakeholders' (as if the Liberian people don't exist), in the opposition talking about human rights, freedom of the press, among others. But when it comes to actually taking ‘concrete action', particularly, to address the ever declining security situation as well as gross human rights abuses in the country, they are no where to be found. A good example of this was their conspicuous absence from the last demonstration in Washington, DC, near the Liberian Embassy in demand of Hassan Bility's release.
Maybe someone else did, but personally, I didn't see Cletus Wotorson, Charles Brumskine, Marcus Dahn, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, and T. Q. Harris, among many others passing themselves around as so-called opposition leaders there. But who knows - I just could be wrong. In that case, I would gladly accept full responsibility for not further verifying their presence at what I considered to have been a major event. Or, could it be that they just don't believe in "identifying" with such a cause? I hope not! That's the kind of "indifference" that I keep talking about.
Yet, it still doesn't mean that we should completely abandon Cllr. Charles Brumskine, whose rights to a Liberian passport and free travel are currently being denied or trampled upon by the crooked NPP government, albeit, his highly questionable ties to Charles Taylor. Why? Because the Liberian Constitution guarantees them to each of us unless someone can prove otherwise. And most importantly, if we were to be "indifferent" to Cllr. Brumskine's plight, which obviously amounts to pure harassment, we would be just as worthless and faulty as they (so-called opposition leaders) were in their decision not to attend that demonstration for whatever reasons. Won't we!
That's why it's of utmost significance, especially at this critical time in our nation's history, that our so-called leaders step forward and become pro-active, rallying their "troops" behind them so that they too can be counted. In this way, the severely repressive Taylor regime and the world at large would be served notice finally that Liberians now mean business in terms of shaping their battered country's future. How would they know? By our numbers! When this happens, hopefully soon, we can then demand that President Taylor immediately frees Aloysius Toe and the others without any pre-conditions. Just think about it.
Why do you think the corrupt NPP regime recently staged its own demonstration in the war-scarred capital city of Monrovia against, what it called, "the US government's unfavorable policies towards them"? The answer is simple - peaceful demonstrations have always been very effective and "Ghankay" knows it!
Furthermore, can you imagine what message we could send CLEARLY to President Taylor if each ‘functioning' Liberian organization here in the US, that so often pay, what I consider, lip-service, to the dismal human rights situation in their war-torn country, were to bring their true constituencies (memberships) to the nation's capital, Washington, DC, for a mass rally in support of Aloysius, et. al. right before the Liberian Embassy? It'll be unmistakable and crystal clear!
For all that we can say about Charles Taylor, there is one thing that he responds to well - that is, pressure, especially when it comes from a highly cohesive Liberian community, buttressed by their international allies. The primary intent of our collective efforts would be to hold the President personally responsible for their safety as well as the widespread and unrelenting human rights abuses still going on in Liberia. Taylor should know that we'll definitely not sit quietly while our compatriots remain locked up behind bars in his (Taylor's) unbearable dungeons, which were described earlier in this article by Bility, Gongloe and Torh, respectively
It is here that I'd like to strongly challenge our so-called leaders (whether in the fragile opposition, community, religion, etc.) to organize a rally as soon as possible for the sole purpose of bringing worldwide attention to the sufferings of Liberians, especially, the continuing atrocities and inhumanities being committed by the Taylor government and LURD. Of course, we would also call for the immediate release of Aloysius Toe and the others.
Meanwhile, the Liberian government really needs to give the family members, legal counsels, and even the Red Cross, full access to these "prisoners of conscience" (because that's exactly what they are until the miserably "failed" regime proves otherwise) to ascertain their mental and physical statuses. This would certainly be the most appropriate and humane thing to do!
I'd also like to appeal to Amnesty International (AI), Human Rights Watch (HRW), the UN, the United States Government (particularly, Ambassador Blaney), the European Union (EU), amongst others, to help in securing the prompt release of these patriotic citizens as they've done on many other occasions. Besides, it would be highly immoral to allow them to rot in Taylor's dungeons for crimes that we know they did not commit. If they did commit any crimes as the bankrupt government alleges, then they (the government) haven't provided the irrefutable evidences as defined by the law - not an iota.
In any case, it would be wonderful if the US and EU were to seize the known assets of President Taylor and his highly corrupt officials just as they have done lately to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his cohorts for the very same reasons: "Undermining democracy and contributing (actively) to the ‘deliberate breakdown' of the rule of law" in Liberia and the West African sub-region. I submit that no one deserves this more than Charles Taylor and his alleged criminal accomplices.
Now, let's see which of our so-called leaders will get out and be counted this time around. The fact is that we surely can't remain "indifferent" to the sad plight or fate of others and then expect to be treated differently when we find ourselves in their tight shoes. It's that simple!