Trial Day 4: Testimony Continues
The first week of the "Jungle Jabbah" trial concluded with testimony by four more of the government's witnesses on Thursday.
The first witness of the day, the former director of the Special Security Service (SSS), gave testimony Thursday morning about the organization. The witness testified that he was a member of the SSS from 1966 until he left Liberia in 1994. Holding a variety of positions during his time with the service, the witness was assigned by the interim government in Liberia to be the director of the entire SSS in 1980 until 1994. Asked about the mission of the SSS while he was employed there, the witness stated that it was the responsibility of the SSS to provide protective services for the president and his immediate family. Comparing the SSS to the U.S. Secret Service, he stated that the SSS would protect dignitaries, ministers, and other prominent individuals or organizations when they came to the country. The SSS also provided security services at the executive mansion, where the President and his family reside. The witness testified that anyone who went to the executive mansion would have to provide their name and information about why there were there and then would receive an ID card with the floor they were going to.
Asked about the regulations surrounding SSS uniforms, the witness stated that the SSS was elite security that worked with dignitaries and other high-ranking individuals and therefore was required to be appropriately attired. He noted that all SSS officers had uniforms consisting of a light blue shirt, dark blue pants and a cap in the form of a police cap. Plainclothes SSS officers were required to wear a tie and a coat. Regarding personal grooming requirements, the witness stated that beards were not permitted and their hair had to be cut on a low-cut, dreadlocks were not allowed. The prosecution then showed the witness a photo of Mr. Jabbateh from during the civil war with dreadlocks and sunglasses and asked if anyone in the SSS was permitted to dress that way. The witness responded that the clothing depicted was not in an SSS uniform, and an SSS agent would not be allowed to dress like that. He also stated that he did not recognize the individual in the photo and had never seen that individual at the executive mansion.
On cross-examination, Mr. Jabbateh's attorney asked whether the witness had already retired when the five-man government was installed, to which the witness responded affirmatively. The witness stated that the five-man government was made up of individuals from each of the rebel groups and that Alhadji Kromah was not one of the five, but had a representative from his rebel group who was a member.
During a brief re-direct, the prosecution questioned the witness about ECOMOG and their relationship with the SSS. The witness stated that ECOMOG would provide briefings to the SSS on what they had observed and what they needed from the SSS. ECOMOG did not provide training for the SSS, he said.
The government's next witness was the DHS agent who granted Mr. Jabbateh's asylum status in 1999. As an initial matter, the witness confirmed that her travel expenses to attend trial were paid for by the government and that, like all witnesses, she was entitled to a witness fee.
The witness testified about her extensive educational training and that she worked as a political asylum officer from 1998 - 2007. In this role, she told the jury that she was responsible for adjudicating cases of foreign nationals that feared going back to their home country. She was required to undergo five months of onsight training, in addition to a formal month-long training on asylum law, interview techniques, credibility assessment techniques, and country condition assessments. The witness testified that the only requirements for the asylum process are the I-589 form and oral testimony, therefore making it difficult to ascertain dishonesty.
Confirming that she could recall her interview with Mr. Jabbateh on January 11, 1999, the witness testified that she had a vivid memory of the meeting because it was one of her first grants of asylum and was early in her career. The witness stated that she recalled Mr. Jabbateh brought an interpreter with him to the interview that he didn't need or use, which she said stood out to her. The government asked the witness some questions about her custom or habits she used with applicants, as well as specific questions about the forms Mr. Jabbateh had submitted. The witness testified that during her meeting with Mr. Jabbateh, they reviewed his file and the lengthy personal statement he had provided in addition to his I-589 form. The prosecution pointed out red notations that the witness confirmed she had made during her interview of Mr. Jabbateh recording additions or corrections that Mr. Jabbateh made in his statement during the meeting.
The first thing the witness did with Mr. Jabbateh when he came to her office in January 1999 for his asylum interview was to ask him for identification. The witness testified that Mr. Jabbateh provided her with a passport and an organization ID's, including a ULIMO ID card. The witness then "swore in" Mr. Jabbateh, meaning she asked him to raise his right hand and swear to tell the truth under penalty of perjury. After Mr. Jabbateh had taken the oath to tell the truth, the witness began reviewing the forms he had provided with him.
The government went through the form, line by line, with the witness, having her read various portions to the jury. In the section regarding employment, Mr. Jabbateh stated, under oath, that he was employed by the SSS in Monrovia from December 1992 - 1995. In response to a question on the I-589 about why the applicant was seeking asylum, Mr. Jabbateh wrote: "please see personal statement." Throughout this portion of the witness's testimony, the prosecution had Mr. Jabbateh's I-589 form displayed on a monitor for the jury. Mr. Jabbateh's signature was on the last page under a penalty of perjury statement, which the prosecution had the witness read aloud.
Asked whether the witness had taken a statement from Mr. Jabbateh during the interview, she responded that she had and that the factual portion of her notes mirrored his written personal statement, indicating that he had orally confirmed what he had written and submitted with his I-589. The prosecution had the witness read the personal statement to the jury, interrupting her to ask follow-up questions. Mr. Jabbateh wrote that he had been "employed as an associate in his father’s diamond business" and that when the war broke out because his father had been Samuel Doe's campaign manager, his family decided to flee to Sierra Leone to avoid the violence and threats they received for being Doe supporters. Mr. Jabbateh wrote that his brother and mother were executed by the NPFL while they were fleeing, and Mr. Jabbateh hid in the bush before continuing to Sierra Leone. While there, Mr. Jabbateh wrote, the Sierra Leone government conscripted men and created the Liberian United Defense Forces ("LUDF") and recruited him as an intelligence officer. "Was it your understanding that he was fighting as a combatant with this group?" "No, sir," responded the witness. She testified that if she had been given that information, it could have affected her decision to grant asylum.
Jabbateh's statement continues that he served as an intelligence officer for LUDF until it became ULIMO and then he began to work as a security section liaison before returning to Liberia in 1992 where he was recruited to join the SSS. When asked whether Mr. Jabbateh had provided her with any documentation indicating that he had been a part of the SSS, the witness stated that he had told her that his ID had been taken and burned. Mr. Jabbateh also wrote that at some point rebels forced their way into his home and he was stripped naked and beaten very badly with an electrical cord, hit with the butt of a rifle, flogged and ultimately imprisoned for a period. He indicated that after his release, he was advised to leave Liberia, so he went to Guinea for nearly a year before fleeing to the United States in fear. The witness also testified that Mr. Jabbateh verbally told her during the interview that his wife had been raped. However, that detail was not included anywhere in his statement.
The prosecution highlighted several other questions that Mr. Jabbateh had responded negatively to, including whether he had ever committed a crime, harmed anyone else, or persecuted anyone. Asked what difference an affirmative answer to these questions would have been, the witness stated, "if there was any indication that he was a persecutor, that would have been a mandatory bar." An affirmative answer also would have led to additional inquiries and could have affected her recommendation for asylum. The witness said that she believed Mr. Jabbateh and as a result granted him asylum. She told the court that Mr. Jabbateh never told her or indicated in his application that he was a Zebra battalion commander for ULIMO or that he was a fighter. She stated that she was under the impression that he was secret service. But noted that he did disclose that he was known by the name “Jungle Jabbah,” she testified.
Mr. Jabbateh's attorney pressed the witness on cross-examination about her opinion of his client. "You found him credible, correct?" Mr. Pagano asked. "At the time, yes" responded the witness. Defense counsel asked the witness to review the additional documents that had been filed with Mr. Jabbateh's I-589 form, including various letters, photographs, and newspaper articles. The witness referenced that Mr. Jabbateh had provided some letters that were addressed to him as the "Chief of Staff of ULIMO" and purporting to discuss disarmament. There were also newspaper clippings including an article from NATIONAL titled "Disarmament Race Heats Up" dated 1/13/1997, and another article titled "ECOMOG Receive 2,500 RUF fighters" with the name Alhadji G.V. Kromah within it the text of the article.
Pagano asked the witness about the translator that Mr. Jabbateh had with him during their interview. The witness stated that she remembered Mr. Jabbateh as being extremely articulate and therefore didn't understand why the translator was present. The witness further said that he had the option of using the translator throughout the interview as that choice was entirely in the applicant's control. Defense counsel also highlighted a question on the form asking whether the applicant was comfortable proceeding in English, to which Mr. Jabbateh had responded “no.” Closing his questioning by asking her about her opinion regarding Mr. Jabbateh's credibility following their meeting, Pagano stated that she indicated that the applicant (Mr. Jabbateh) presented information that was believable. The witness responded that she had felt that way which is why she granted him asylum. "If true, it was the correct assessment, correct?" questioned Pagano. The witness responded, "if, true."
The prosecution briefly asked the witness some follow up questions, asking the witness to read a different question and answer from the form that said: "are you fluent in English?" Mr. Jabbateh had checked the box "yes." (The question had appeared in two different places in the papers, with Mr. Jabbateh indicating “yes” on one occasion and “no” on another.)
Government witness #7 was the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS") officer that interviewed Mr. Jabbateh when he applied for his Green Card. The witness stated that he has been working for USCIS since 2008 and informed the jury that the legal way of obtaining a Green Card if already in the U.S. is through an “adjustment of status.” Typically applicants will have what's called an A-File or Alien File containing their application history that USCIS officers review before their interview with the applicant. The witness stated that he had conducted hundreds of similar interviews in his employment with USCIS and that "if an applicant isn't honest and forthright [in his application I-821 form], it's impossible to make an accurate assessment."
Turning to Mr. Jabbateh's application, the witness pointed out that he had applied for what's called Temporary Protected Asylum ("TPA"). Again on this form, Mr. Jabbateh listed the SSS in Monrovia as his employer from 1992-1995, his occupation: security. Once again, Mr. Jabbateh denied that he had ever persecuted anyone or ordered, incited, or assisted anyone in the persecution of another. Mr. Jabbateh signed the I-821 under penalty of perjury on October 15, 1998. Reviewing his form as he'd done with the previous witness, the prosecution asked whether affirmative answers to questions about past criminal activity would have made a difference in his assessment. The witness stated that if Jabbateh had answered yes to those questions, it would have made him ineligible for TPA status.
Turning the witness's attention to his interview with Mr. Jabbateh on March 11, 2011, the witness stated that he had not been assigned to do interviews that day but was handed Mr. Jabbateh's file which he spent 20-30 minutes reviewing before meeting him. The witness told the court that he saw the defendant's ULIMO ID card and, although he only had a rough idea of ULIMO, he knew that Liberia's civil war "was a war where there was a great number of atrocities committed" and "there were no clean hands on either side."
After doing some brief research on ULIMO, the witness stated that he called Mr. Jabbateh into his office and placed him under oath. Mr. Jabbateh did not bring an interpreter to this interview, and the witness reported he saw no reason for one. Reviewing the forms, the prosecutor pointed out two different colored markings - red and blue. The witness testified that he had made the blue marks and that someone else made the red marks at an earlier date. The witness recalled that he was skeptical about the truthfulness of Mr. Jabbateh’s answers about his involvement in the Liberian Civil War given his understanding of ULIMO tactics and pushed for additional detail from Mr. Jabbateh. Throughout their conversation, Mr. Jabbateh never disclosed at any time that he was a battalion commander or commanded troops during the war. Asked whether the assessment would have been different if he'd received information that Mr. Jabbateh was a fighter or combatant during Liberia's civil war, the witness responded that if you commit wartime acts that would make you inadmissible in the U.S.
On cross-examination, Pagano asked the witness whether in the hundreds of interviews he'd conducted he had seen any other rebel ID cards or whether any other applicants had voluntarily provided such cards to him, as Mr. Jabbateh had. The witness responded that he could not recall any.
The government called another USCIS officer to the stand next: the individual that had made the red marks in Mr. Jabbeteh's Green Card application. The witness stated that he had been working with USCIS for twelve years and had conducted an adjustment interview of Mr. Jabbateh on November 7, 2007. He recalled that when he received Mr. Jabbateh's file, he noticed it was a T-file, meaning it was not the entire file. He stated that the first thing he did before beginning the interview was to swear Mr. Jabbateh in or place him under oath. He noted that he remembered Mr. Jabbateh having an attorney with him at that time. While he received Mr. Jabbateh's form during his interview, he made red marks either confirming that the written answer matched the oral response he'd just received or in the alternative, correcting any discrepancies between what was written and what Mr. Jabbateh told him.
Defense counsel had no questions for this witness.
The government’s last witness for the day was an individual from the Mandingo tribe born in Liberia. The witness told the court that he had four brothers, one whose name was Ousman Konneh, also known as Pepper and Salt. Focusing on 1989-1990, the witness testified that he was in Cape Mount County with his parents and his brothers when the war came. His family fled to Sierra Leone, except for his brother Pepper and Salt who stayed in Lofa Bridge. The witness stated that his family fled the war and the NPFL and went to ZImmi, Sierra Leone where they stayed for almost a year. At some point, Pepper and Salt met them there with his auntie. The witness and his family moved twice more in Sierra Leone, once to Kenema where Pepper and Salt joined them. By that time Pepper and Salt was a fighter for ULIMO. The witness testified that his family returned to Liberia around the Freeport of Monrovia, but Pepper and Salt didn't go with them.
In late August 1992, the witness heard that ULIMO had entered Po River and so he and his family decided to see his brother. When they arrived at Po River, they sent for his brother, who brought Jungle Jabbah along to meet them. The prosecutor asked the witness if he recognized Jungle Jabbah, the witness stood and pointed at the defendant and said "Yes, that's him. He knows me very well; he knows my face." The witness told the court that at the time he met Jungle Jabbah he was in charge of the Zebra Battalion and his brother was in the Strike Force Battalion. "They were living together, they were the best of friends" testified the witness.
After returning to Monrovia for some time, the witness went back to Po River to Zero Guard Post where Jungle Jabbah and his brother were living. "It was a special area for execution," he said, "‘zero’ means ‘got rid of you’ in Liberian." The witness testified that there was a large steel container in the area that the soldiers used to hold captives in and that Jungle Jabbah and Pepper and Salt were the commanders of the soldiers at the post. The witness testified that he saw people arrested, and then taken to the waterside and executed. The government admitted into evidence several photos of Zero Guard Post and the area where the witnesses described the executions taking place. Asked whether he ever came into contact with soldiers captured at combat camp, the witness stated that he had seen two NPFL soldiers tied in “duck fa tabae” that Jungle Jabbah ordered to be executed. He stated that his brother and Jungle Jabbah were sitting on the porch at Zero Guard Post smoking marijuana or opium and playing music when Jungle Jabbah ordered a child soldier, Bulletbounce, to execute the NPFL soldiers. He recounted that he heard Jungle Jabbah say in the Mandingo language, “execute him, get rid of him.” The witness saw Bulletbounce put tires over the soldier's heads, pour gasoline on them and light them on fire. "They got burned to ashes," he said. While the NPFL soldiers were dying, the male and the female ULIMO soldiers were shooting into the air "jubilating."
At some point, the witness joined his brother and lived with him in a two-room house at the combat camp. He testified that he, his brother, and two other men slept in one room, and Jungle Jabbah slept in the other room. During the time they were living together, Jungle Jabbah was not a member of the SSS, the witness testified.
The witness also recounted a time he went to visit his brother at Lofa Bridge, where he also saw Jungle Jabbah. He witnessed his brother transporting two men who were tied in the “duck fa tabae” manner in his pickup truck. When he asked his brother who the men were, his brother told him they were members of the Krahn tribe who had been attacking them. His brother explained that they were turning the men over to General Deku and that “they’re going to get rid of them.” He recalled that the men were upset, crying, and begging for their lives. He heard them pleading, “we’re not part of the people you are talking about.”
Defense counsel questioned the witness about his brother's alleged defection and affiliation with the NPFL. The witness stated that his brother never ran away but only went to the NPFL for rescue after the ULIMO split in 1995 because some of the Krahn soldiers became his brother's enemy.
Acknowledging that he had met with prosecutors several times, the witness could not recall the precise number. He testified that the same Liberian man who had introduced some of the other witnesses introduced him to the U.S. government. The man is Mandingo, the same ethnic group as the witness.
The witness stated that he met Jungle Jabbah when he was about thirteen. When Pagano asked the witness if the last time he saw Jungle Jabbah was when he was twelve or thirteen, the witness responded, "since the 15 man execution I've never seen him again."
Witness 9 will continue testifying when the trial resumes on Tuesday.