Week in Review: Week 1

Legal Monitoring of the Jungle Jabbah Case

Week in Review: Week 1

The first week of the Jungle Jabbah trial wrapped on Thursday, with both sides offering insights throughout the week as to the allegations and defenses that will ultimately be at issue. 

Nine witnesses—from a range of backgrounds and roles—have testified so far for the prosecution over three days.  They can be classified loosely into three categories:

  • 3 testified as victims of wartime atrocities (women who were personally harmed by the defendant and/or his soldiers);

  • 3 offered accounts as witnesses to events in Liberia or provided context for events occurring during that period (a photojournalist, the Liberian Special Security Services (SSS) Director, and a fellow war commander’s brother);

  • 3 U.S. immigration officials testified about the defendant’s applications for asylum and lawful permanent residence (a Green Card) in the United States after the war and provided details of the administrative process involved.

From their testimony, a narrative of the case is beginning to emerge.  Prosecutors are seeking to provide evidence of the following:

  • During the first Liberian Civil War, Mohammed “Jungle Jabbah” Jabbateh served as a high-ranking commander of a ULIMO rebel group fighting for control in Liberia. 

  • In that role, Jungle Jabbah committed numerous crimes and brutalities against non-combatant civilians as well as those he believed to be opposition forces. Many of these acts he carried out personally, while others he ordered soldiers under his command to execute at his direction. These crimes include rape, murder, torture, and ritualistic cannibalism, among other atrocities.

  • After fleeing Liberia at the end of the war, Jabbateh applied for—and received—asylum in the United States.  For his application, he was required to disclose, under penalty of perjury, his specific role in the ULIMO.  Jabbateh failed to disclose that he was a battalion commander and combatant fighter during the war; instead, he falsely claimed he was a member of the Liberian SSS and reported that his role was limited to providing security services.  Additionally, he was asked whether he had ever committed any crime or persecuted another individual, in any capacity.  Jabbateh falsely informed authorities, under penalty of perjury, that he had not.  Had he told the truth, his answers would have barred him from receiving asylum.

  • Jabbateh later sought to obtain a U.S. Green Card.  He again submitted an application to immigration officials, under penalty of perjury, that failed to disclose his role as a ULIMO wartime commander, falsely denied that he had ever committed a crime or persecuted another individual, and falsely denied that he had earlier obtained asylum through fraud or misrepresentation.

The first week included sensational testimony from a variety of witnesses.  So far, the jury has heard evidence of the following:

Life in Liberia

  • Life in Liberia in the late 1980s – early 1990s was total anarchy and chaos.  People were afraid to go outside and get food or water because people were getting killed in the streets.

  • Jabbateh is a member of the Mandingo ethnic group, which sided with the ULIMO against the NPFL opposition.  When the ULIMO split into two factions, Jabbateh allied with the ULIMO-K against its enemy, the ULIMO-J.  The ULIMO-K included the Mandingo tribe, and its members were Muslim.  The ULIMO-J included the Krahn tribe, and its members were Christian.

Jabbateh’s Commander Role

  • Jabbateh appeared at an official press conference in Monrovia and was identified as a ULIMO commander.  Journalists covering the event reported that he exerted obvious influence and control over the lower-ranking soldiers around him.

  • Numerous witnesses recounted instances where Jabbateh gave orders to other soldiers, including armed child soldiers, and was addressed as “Chief Jabbah” or “Commander Jabbah” by his reports.  Those familiar with local command posts or patrols testified that Jabbateh was in charge of the stations, made decisions, and issued orders which were carried out by other soldiers.

  • Throughout that time, Jabbateh frequently dressed in camouflage fatigues and wore his hair in dreadlocks. Numerous witnesses confirmed that this was inconsistent with the dress requirements of SSS agents, who were required to dress neatly in suits and ties and maintain a clean-cut appearance. Dreadlocks were forbidden for SSS agents.

  • The former SSS Director testified that he did not recognize Jabbateh as one of his SSS agents and never saw him around the Executive Mansion where SSS agents were stationed.  Others who spent time in close proximity to Jabbateh testified that he was not affiliated with the SSS in any way.

Crimes Jabbateh Committed

  • Jabbateh and his soldiers frequently captured local civilians and bound their captives in the “duck fa tabae” style, which involved tying their arms so tightly behind their back that their elbows touched from behind.  This was extremely painful and sometimes resulted in death. 

  • When Jabbateh arrived in Camp Israel, he ordered one woman to “be his wife” and forced her to have sex with him.  He held her captive by force and intimidation and ordered child soldiers loyal to him to guard her with guns when he was not present.  She was forced to travel with him, cook for him, and have sex with him 2-3 times a day. 

  • Jabbateh demanded that villagers turn over any diamonds obtained from local mines in their possession. On one occasion a woman who purported to be engaged in the diamond business was captured, stripped naked and beaten at Jabbateh’s direction.

  • Another woman was captured along with her family from her village by Jabbateh and his soldiers, marched to another town, and held captive. Jabbateh ordered the men in the group to be soldiers under his command; her brothers were never seen again.  Jabbateh “gave” the woman, who was 13 years old at the time, to one of his adult soldiers to use as his sex slave and warned she would be killed if she refused.  The soldier repeatedly raped her over the next month and a half until she managed to escape.

  • When Jabbateh encountered an unknown man in the area who he believed to be a spy, he ordered the man to be killed so that he could eat the man’s heart.  Jabbateh informed his soldiers that anyone who refused to eat the heart would be killed.  Jabbateh and his men cooked the heart, cut it into pieces, and ate it that same day.  

  • In another village, Jabbateh captured the girlfriend of an enemy General and dragged her into the street, demanding she tell him where to find the man.  When she said she did not know, Jabbateh forced her to the ground, put his pistol into her vagina and shot her.  She was four months pregnant at the time.  He then ordered that the body be left in the street to rot and assigned one of his child soldiers to stand guard and ensure no one moved the corpse.

  • Another woman was captured at a village checkpoint, held captive, and severely beaten when she refused to collect water for Jabbateh’s soldiers.  During her ordeal, she was raped by four of Jabbateh’s soldiers.  While she was being held captive, she observed Jabbateh and his soldiers eating the heart of a man they had killed. 

  • Civilians were frequently detained at a Jabbateh-controlled checkpoint near the Zero Guard Post at the Po River Bridge.  Captives were locked in a large metal container before being taken to the waterside and executed. Their bodies were thrown into the river.

  • On one occasion, Jabbateh ordered child soldiers under his command to execute two opposition soldiers who had been tied in the “duck fa tabae” manner.  Under Jabbateh’s direction, the soldiers placed tires around the men’s necks, doused the tires with gasoline, and set them on fire, burning them alive. 

Jabbateh’s U.S. Immigration Applications

  • In 1998, Jabbateh submitted an application for asylum in the U.S., under penalty of perjury, claiming he could not return to Liberia under fear of persecution for his tribal, political, and/or religious affiliations.  His application included a lengthy personal statement detailing attacks he and his family allegedly suffered in Liberia.  The application asked him to identify his occupation and his affiliations with political groups or organizations in Liberia.  Jabbateh provided a ULIMO identity card, but stated that his role was as an intelligence officer and/or security liaison; he did not disclose his role as a battalion commander or as a combatant fighter. He claimed that he worked for the SSS, but that his SSS identification card had been taken and burned.

  • Jabbateh disclosed to officials that he was also known by the name “Jungle Jabbah.”

  • The asylum application asked Jabbateh whether he had ever committed a crime or persecuted anyone based on their race, religion, ethnicity, political affiliations, etc.  Jabbateh answered “no” to each question.

  • In 1999, Jabbateh was called for an in-person interview with an asylum officer assigned to evaluate his application.  Under oath, he confirmed the statements in his written application, correcting and amending some details, but still omitting his role as a rebel commander and his wartime crimes.  He maintained that he had never committed a crime or persecuted anyone.

  • Based on Jabbateh’s answers and the information he provided, his asylum application was granted.  The immigration officer testified that if Jabbateh had disclosed his wartime activities, it could have affected her decision to grant asylum, and that committing persecution would have been a mandatory bar to asylum. 

  • Jabbateh later applied to convert his asylum status into lawful permanent resident status (i.e. obtain a Green Card).  He submitted another written application to U.S. immigration authorities, under penalty of perjury, and repeated his claims of working as a security agent with the SSS and as an intelligence officer/security liaison for the ULIMO, still omitting his role as a commander and combatant.  He also repeated his denials that he had ever committed a crime or engaged in persecution.  Finally, he denied that he had earlier secured asylum based on misrepresentation or fraud.

  • In 2011, Jabbateh was called for an in-person interview with immigration officials evaluating his Green Card application.  Under oath, he maintained that the statements in his written application were true and correct, and again failed to disclose his command position or role as a combatant fighter, continued to represent that he was a member of the SSS, and continued to deny that he had ever committed a crime or persecuted anyone.

  • The immigration official confirmed that if Jabbateh had included information about his role as a rebel commander and his wartime actions, it could have affected his ability to obtain a Green Card.

Through cross-examination, the defense strategy has also begun to emerge.  The defense counsel has identified several targeted points of attack.  Common themes the defense has levied against witnesses include the following:

  • The victims’ testimony and/or memory are not credible.  According to defense counsel, numerous details in the victims’ accounts have changed from when they first talked to prosecutors to the versions they offered on the witness stand.  This includes details such as clothing that key individuals were wearing, the type of weapon Jabbateh used to commit crimes, and a witness’s vantage point for observing activities.

  • The victims have been influenced to change or add claims.  For example, defense counsel has suggested that claims of cannibalism were not made in initial interviews and were only added later, after witnesses began meeting with prosecutors.  The defense has also alleged that the government influenced witnesses’ identification evidence by showing them suggestive photographs to encourage them to identify Jabbateh as the perpetrator.

  • The witnesses’ testimony is motivated by financial payments, implying they have agreed to testify in order to obtain a financial benefit.  Defense counsel highlighted that their travel expenses were paid for by the government and that they will receive a witness fee for appearing in court.

  • The victims have failed to make similar allegations or report crimes to Liberian authorities at any point in the 23 years since the war, implying that either their memories are not accurate after so much time has passed or that they have ulterior motives for suddenly making accusations now.

  • The witnesses are motivated by tribal alliances and are attacking the defendant because he is a member of an enemy ethnic group.  A number of the victims are members of tribes that allied with the ULIMO-J, the faction opposing the Mandingo tribe’s ULIMO-K, of which Jabbateh is a member.

  • Jabbateh’s U.S. immigration interviews may have been impacted by difficulties with the English language.

  • Jabbateh voluntarily disclosed his ULIMO affiliation, made no attempt to disguise his identity, and cooperated fully by providing available documentation to U.S. immigration authorities.

 

Trial continues next week, with a large number of additional witnesses expected to testify.

 

Reports

Mohammed “Jungle Jabbah” Jabbateh was sentenced today to 30 years’ imprisonment—the statutory maximum—for providing false information to U.S.

On October 18, 2017, Liberian-national Mohammed “Jungle Jabbah” Jabbateh was convicted of four counts of fraud in immigration docume

Mohammed "Jungle Jabbah" Jabbateh Found Guilty on All Counts

The Jungle Jabbah trial wrapped up on Tuesday.  The jury heard summations and began their deliberations.

Government’s Summation

​​​​​​​The third week of the Jungle Jabbah trial began Monday morning with the government's last witness.

The Jungle Jabbah trial continued through its second week, with 13 additional witnesses testifying.

The second week of the trial concluded Thursday afternoon with three more government witnesses.

Witness 15 (continued)

The government’s fifteenth witness continued his direct testimony from yesterday. 

The second week of the “Jungle Jabbah” trial began Tuesday morning with the continuation of the cross-examination of witness nine, Pepper and Salt's brother.

 

Witness 9

The first week of the Jungle Jabbah trial wrapped on Thursday, with both sides offering insights throughout the week as to the allegations and defenses that will ultimately be at issue. 

The first week of the "Jungle Jabbah" trial concluded with testimony by four more of the government's witnesses on Thursday.

 

Witness 5

Trial has officially begun in the federal case against longtime Pennsylvania resident Mohammed Jabbateh in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia).