Trial Day 3: The Government’s Case Continues
When trial resumed on Wednesday morning, one of the jurors was not present. That juror was recused and replaced with an alternate.
Witness 3: James Fasuekoi, Continued
The government’s third witness, the Liberian photojournalist James Fasuekoi, continued testifying on Wednesday morning.
Fasuekoi testified that prior to the 1985 attempted coup by General Quiwonkpa, there was the earlier “Nimba Raid” in 1983. He stated that the raid was carried out by disgruntled citizens in Nimba – including Gios and Manos – who “rampaged,” targeting those who had animosity against them. These citizens “ran up” supporters of President Samuel Doe, including those in authority. Eventually some people were killed; according to Fasuekoi, it was “something like a mutiny.” The witness said that in 1985, following General Quiwonkpa’s failed insurrection, some of Doe’s army came into Nimba County and “ran up” Gios and Manos in retaliation.
Fasuekoi stated that Charles Taylor was the leader of the NPFL, and he recognized a photograph he had taken of Taylor.
Fasuekoi told the jury that the area where he lived and where his friend was killed – a death he testified about yesterday – was controlled by the Doe government forces until rebel forces came in. The witness’s family fled, he continued, after the massacre in Lofa County, and after they saw some of their neighbors killed, and the bodies in the street and dogs eating them; the family decided that they should move to the Roberts International Airport near Harbel, where the United States had a presence.
Fasuekoi testified that his family encountered many “checkpoints” during their journey. The witness explained that a “checkpoint” is a roadblock set up by those fighting the war, as a way to search for enemies. According to Fasuekoi, checkpoints were manned by both adults and child soldiers; the children’s ages varied somewhere between seven and 15. Fasuekoi asserted that he saw child soldiers with his own eyes many times.
The first checkpoint Fasuekoi and his family came to when they fled was in Johnsonville. Fasuekoi saw a child soldier armed with a bayonet with the rebels. The witness confirmed that this was an NPFL checkpoint, and said that he ran into countless NPFL checkpoints along the way. He stated that child soldiers were armed just as adult soldiers were.
The witness recognized two photographs, each one of a different young boy holding a rifle, as photographs he had taken. He identified both children as part of the NPFL faction. He confirmed that the photographs were an accurate depiction of how the children looked at the time.
Fasuekoi testified that his family arrived at the Johnsonville checkpoint in the early morning, and said that it must have been around 7:00, because they had talked to the “people running back and forth,” and had heard that the best time to enter the rebel territory was early morning. This was allegedly the time it was possible to move quickly and without much harassment.
The witness told the court that the child soldier he encountered at the Johnsonville checkpoint had a knife and a single-barrel firearm. The child halted the family and began checking their luggage; Fasuekoi had an old suitcase of clothes. Fasuekoi said that when the child got to Fasuekoi’s uncle’s luggage, an adult rebel said he saw something like a shell casing from a gun, and demanded the uncle tell him “the truth.” The little boy was still going over what was in the suitcases, laying things left to right. Fasuekoi thinks maybe the shell was laid there by the rebel; he remembers the adult rebel saying, “Tell the truth or I kill all of you.”
Fasuekoi testified that his uncle was trembling, and that his uncle told the adult rebel that he only had a pistol before the war for his own protection. According to Fasuekoi, the man replied, “I’m gonna kill all of you.” The witness was aware, as he lived with his uncle, that his uncle had a firearm back in the ’70s.
“We began begging,” Fasuekoi testified, and described his neighbors, who were also fleeing, asking the adult rebel to let them go. Instead, Fasuekoi continued, “he told us to form a line beside a stream” where Fasuekoi had heard “they executed people.”
The witness described how through a single look, he and his foster brother understood that they needed to “make a move” to survive. Fasuekoi testified that they could communicate by a look or a movement, which they learned in the Poro society, so they did not have to say anything aloud. He told the jury that a Poro society is an African society, something like a university for men to become full citizens. The witness stepped out of the witness box to demonstrate the look, and showed how he took a step, and his foster brother moved closer to the adult rebel, who noticed something was going to happen. They were determined to seize his weapon, because he was alone at the checkpoint with the child soldier.
Fasuekoi said that the rebel pointed at him and his foster brother and ordered them to halt. Fasuekoi alleged that the rebel said “You guys stand here,” and put them at the front of the line by the stream and told them, “I’ll kill you first.”
The witness told the jury that his neighbors began begging the rebels to spare their lives, and the adult rebel told the neighbors to take the family’s oil and rice, saying, “Take it away. I’m going to kill them.” According to Fasuekoi, his neighbors were unhappy but some took the oil and rice, because there was no food. He said that with the neighbors’ begging, “something clicked,” because the rebel said, “OK, I forgive you, it’s still early.” It was probably 7:30 by then. The neighbors gave them back some rice, and the family continued from there.
Fasuekoi testified that all along the road they saw the dead, and that some were “good looking, like they were former government officials.” He told the jury that he would never forget a man he saw by the roadside, with flies all over them.
The family continued to the Fendell Campus of the University of Liberia outside Monrovia. Fasuekoi testified that when they arrived on the outskirts, they ran into thousands of people waiting in lines to be interviewed by rebels. He alleged that the rebels had a makeshift administration that was “acting like Immigration,” checking everyone’s tribe and taking some people away. He explained that everyone had to speak in their mother’s tongue to say what tribe they were from, and that the checkpoint guards had a way to tell if people were lying. For example, if you said you were Loma, they had someone there to talk to you and to see if you were genuinely Loma. Fasuekoi said that the person who talked to him and his family was “a mulatto lady.” He described this checkpoint as “the most fearful checkpoint we’d come to.”
Fasuekoi said it took two to three hours before the point where they were interviewed. He said it was “chaotic,” and that the checkpoint was controlled by the NPFL, including heavily armed child soldiers and adults of all ages carrying weapons and marching and staring at the civilians critically. He explained that if somebody was passing by, you tried not to look at their faces; that was the wrong thing to do because “you might look guilty or like a member of the wrong tribe.” Fasuekoi alleged that when civilians were asked which tribe they belonged to, they were either set free or “taken out somewhere else.”
Fasuekoi told the jury that Liberia has 16 distinct regional groups, none of which can hide from the others, although he knows Krahn women who survived because they passed as Bassa during the war. He said that the different groups or tribes understand each other’s languages,; for example, the Gios and Manos live with Mandingos, so they speak each other’s dialects. He said that people were able to detect if anyone at the checkpoint lied, because they had interviewers who understood each tribe’s language.
Fasuekoi alleged that people who were accused of being Krahn or Mandingo were pulled out and taken away from the line, although the crowd was too big to see where they were taken. He confirmed that they were not executed right before his eyes.
In line, people told each other how to say hello in other dialects. People who were just passing through, not in the line, described questions those waiting might be asked: “Who are you? Where are you from?” Fasuekoi’s family used a song to teach the children with them words in other dialects.
Fasuekoi described how interviewers would determine if someone was in the army by checking for boot marks on their legs. He said that for those in the army, it was a regulation to wear boots with socks, so soldiers all had marks that guards were checking for.
Fasuekoi testified that his family “made it through the checkpoint.” He explained that there were so many rebel troops that it was not a mounted checkpoint, but instead groups of heavily armed men were lined up. At other times he saw checkpoints with a semblance of normalcy, with rope across the road and men and women guards.
Fasuekoi testified that his family entered the campus, his school, and stayed there a few weeks. Close to August 24, he said, they heard an announcement that tension was growing because ECOMOG was arriving. He explained that ECOMOG were West African peacekeepers comprised of ECOWAS nations, who sent troops in to stop the war. He said there was news they would be landing in a couple of days, and he noticed the NPFL troops becoming agitated. The NPFL also sent more reinforcements.
“We were coerced to demonstrate against ECOMOG,” Fasuekoi said. He alleged that NPFL soldiers came to the dormitories to round up civilians staying there, and if the civilians did not come out, they would be shot. He described how thousands of people marched, denouncing ECOMOG, chanting, “We don’t want ECOMOG, we don’t want ECOMOG.” The next thing he saw was an army of news crews, television reporters, and photographers. Fasuekoi testified that old pickup trucks began arriving, with skeletons and skulls tied to them. He explained that most of the civilians were themselves just “skeleton bodies,” because there was no food. He said that the reporters were foreign news crews, who filmed the march.
Fasuekoi described living in an old science building with thousands of other people. He said that according to aid workers, there were 250 thousand people on the campus. He called the conditions “horrible,” saying he slept on a bare floor only after his family could secure a place inside. Before that, he said, they slept on doorsteps; when rain would wake his family up, they would sit against walls. After a couple of days outside, his family talked to other families leaving for Buchanan or Nimba, and negotiated for their inside place; Fasuekoi specifically remembers placing their mats and blankets there, as “those things were hard to get.” The witness recognized a photograph of himself at the science building, and one at the spot where he slept, on Concrete Slab #9.
The witness laughed when asked if there were schools for the displaced kids at the campus, and asked if the government lawyer was making a joke. He testified that there were thousands of children at the campus but no schools and no healthcare. Fasuekoi described his old neighborhood of Gardnersville in contrast: before the family fled, there were schools, and a hospital run by the government where children were delivered. There was law enforcement, he said, and basic services; when he was in the science building, there was nothing.
The family was getting scared, Fasuekoi said, and he observed lots of killing by the rebels in control. He described bodies thrown on the outskirts of the campus, many of them half buried. He told the jury about one time he had eaten something and had a runny stomach; he ran outside and sat down on something, and when he turned to his left he saw the grave of a person who was half buried. He said she must have been a lady because he remembers her colorful clothing. He gestured at his ankles to demonstrate for the jury how the body was tied up.
Fasuekoi testified that his family heard about an NPFL commander called Isaac Musa in control of an area, and that the family tried to get there. The witness identified a photograph of Musa; Fasuekoi himself took the picture during the second year of the war.
Fasuekoi remembered that on the university campus, teachers who were also refugees from ECOMOG countries were held hostage. He described Guinea, Ghana, and Sierra Leone as countries who contributed soldiers to ECOMOG, and alleged that teachers of those and other ECOMOG nations were kept out of sight in a building on campus. He himself did not see them, but he saw the building whenever he had to pass through the checkpoint to go find food.
Fasuekoi testified about a checkpoint his family encountered at Careysburg, on their way to Musa’s territory. He said the checkpoint was dangerous because there were two in almost exactly the same place.
Another checkpoint the witness recalled was one he passed before the Careysburg checkpoint; it was where a company of soldiers had been stationed, near a factory. Fasuekoi explained that his foster brother used to be a security guard at a warehouse there; someone at the checkpoint saw his security guard uniform in his luggage, and began to interview him, so the family started getting scared. Fasuekoi said that another rebel started checking Fasuekoi’s photo album, and saw a picture of him with George Weah – now the president of Liberia – and everyone stopped and asked how Fasuekoi met him. The checkpoint guards wanted to know if Fasuekoi would give them the picture. In the background he could see the guy investigating his brother, so he said “Of course.” The witness testified that he believed his brother was spared because of the photograph.
According to Fasuekoi, the family later came to the checkpoint at Careysburg with the powerful double gate. He testified that the rebel commander present said the family had violated Charles Taylor’s order by traveling on August 24, when ECOMOG was landing. The witness said that the commander demanded to know what the other checkpoints were doing. Fasuekoi testified he was traveling with 18 members of his distant family at this time, and all of them were detained at the checkpoint. He said they had left his uncle, who wanted to go to his wife’s house, not a strange place where he knew no one.
The witness alleged that the Careysburg checkpoint had several armed NPFL soldiers sitting and investigating people; these investigators were all adults. There were not many child soldiers there, but the witness said he sometimes saw 15-year-olds.
“There were two beautiful ladies in our team,” Fasuekoi told the jury, “and the rebel commander was aiming at having relations with one,” who was light-skinned. Fasuekoi testified that the commander “saw this distant cousin of ours and grounded us right there.”
Fasuekoi described how two women in the camp, rebel ladies who were there working as cooks, befriended himself and his foster brother. The women gave them food, and Fasuekoi wondered if his sisters in his village could be armed like them. According to the witness, the women told the brothers to “watch out at night” because “things happened;” they warned the brothers to use all their muscle and might not to step outside if told to do so, because “if you do, you disappear forever.”
Fasuekoi said that the brothers shared this warning with their group, which had many strong men in it. The men slept in an open area, but the rebels took Fasuekoi’s sisters on the other side of the building to spend the night. Fasuekoi explained that by “sisters” he might mean “distant cousins.” When soldiers came for the men, he said, the soldiers kicked them with boots and slapped them, and if they tried to drag the men out, the men used their last strength to lock onto something. Fasuekoi and his family locked arms and did not let the soldiers drag them outside to man the checkpoint, although the NPFL soldiers allegedly kept kicking them and saying “Man up,” and “This is war.” Fasuekoi described crying like a baby and his family saying, “We are not soldiers.” This noise disturbed other rebels, so after a while the soldiers would leave; this happened twice a night.
Fasuekoi testified that he stayed with his family there for close to two weeks, and that each day they were not allowed to go anywhere, and could only sit quietly by the checkpoint while some of the NPFL soldiers went on ambushes or on patrol. He remembered one soldier looking at him and touching his muscles, asking, “When you were in Monrovia, were you a soldier?” Fasuekoi told the jury that he showed the man his photojournalist I.D. and answered that he wanted nothing to do with the military, that he was a student at the University of Liberia, and that if the soldier wanted to kill him, he should go ahead. After that, the man left him alone.
Fasuekoi testified that the rebel commander of the Careysburg checkpoint was probably a Gio or a Mano from Nimba, and that he wanted one person from every group that passed through. “One had to disappear.” Fasuekoi said that they “either took one of the girls, or one of us.” He told the courtroom that one of his sisters volunteered to be the sacrificial victim, and turned herself over to the rebels so that her family could go. One night she and the other sister came to the men and told them that the rebel commander wanted that other sister, but she was married and had a jealous husband. The women had convinced the commander to therefore let the married sister go. The sister who would stay had a little two-year-old boy and the family discussed whether he should go or stay. Fasuekoi described the boy’s mother saying she would be lonely if the family took him when they left, so he stayed with her at the checkpoint.
Fasuekoi said that when the family was through the second of the two Careysburg checkpoints, a stone’s throw from the first, he saw a photographer he knew, and tried to avoid him. The photographer allegedly asked Fasuekoi’s foster brother why Fasuekoi was avoiding him, and Fasuekoi told the court that he was afraid because most of the men they knew from that side “could sell us out.”
Fasuekoi testified that there was still chaos going on because of the ECOMOG landing, so when the family heard they would not be allowed into the Firestone International Airport, they went to the Voice of America transmitter site. He said they only stayed there a couple of days, asking people for guidance to avoid rebel checkpoints.
Next, Fasuekoi said, he and his brother went to a village along the train tracks and stayed there a month. Their plan was to get back to Monrovia because they thought the areas controlled by ECOMOG would be safest, but according to Fasuekoi, “it wasn’t easy.” He described how the NPFL moved into the village and arrested the brothers as people not from the area around the village.
Fasuekoi said that he arrived back in Monrovia around Christmas season 1990, sometime in December. He said he resumed his work as a photographer, although he did not start right away, because family members were missing. After six months of the new independent paper The Inquirer begging him to take a job with them, he went to work for them as a photo editor and a frontline correspondent, and they began sending him out.
The witness identified a photograph he took of Thomas Woewiyu in 1991, at the opening of the highway from Monrovia to Taylor’s “Greater Liberia.” The witness described Woewiyu as the NPFL spokesperson and Defense Minister. Fasuekoi explained that by 1991 the war was in its second year, although there was an interim government in place. He said that the NPFL was fighting ECOMOG, and described the capital as cut off from the rest of the country that the rebels occupied. Anyone sneaking into rebel territory was interrogated and suspected of being a spy. “You could be killed for no reason,” Fasuekoi said.
According to the witness, it was for these reasons that when the NPFL decided to open the road, they had a grand event. He said Woewiyu led the half hour ceremony. The witness’s photograph of Isaac Musa was also taken at this time.
Fasuekoi testified that when the road was open, many people came to Monrovia from Greater Liberia. He said people were eager to enter the city, and he personally observed many coming in who were fleeing from the NPFL. There were thousands of people, and the witness recognized a photograph of the crowd he took that day.
The witness said the road was temporary; all of a sudden, the road was shut down, and the only people let in or out occasionally were groups like a football team. From what the witness saw that day, after people entered Monrovia, many did not go back. Personally, he knows people who used that day to enter Monrovia.
The witness recalled that in October of 1992, Monrovia was attacked by the NPFL in a heavy offensive called “Operation Octopus.” The witness remembered heavy artillery shelling close to buildings civilians resided in; he was still in Monrovia himself at the time, and said the city was in chaos. Fasuekoi said it was difficult to establish a clear motive for the operation, but because the objective was to seize Monrovia, the NPFL would fight ECOMOG or anyone living in Monrovia who supported the government.
Fasuekoi testified that he lived close to the airport in Sinkor and that there was a lot of fire directed at the airport. He said the rebels came close to seizing it. He described being unable to sleep, standing all night in the basement with kids. Sometimes Senegalese ECOMOG soldiers would come to take the people in the basement away from the heavy fire; he described being taken to the military base and being kept there until he was allowed to go home. He said the shelling happened between midnight and somewhere around four, five, or six in the morning. This fight, he said, lasted from November onward through December; he was still a journalist on the front lines during this time.
The witness was shown a photograph and identified it as one he took of leaders of the warring factions in Liberia. He could not pinpoint when it was taken, but testified that it must have been before Taylor joined the national unity government in Monrovia in 1995. The witness identified a number of people in the photograph, and their factions: Roosevelt Johnson, the founder of ULIMO, and after its split a member of ULIMO-J, which was predominantly Krahn; Francois Massaquoi, leader of the Lofa Defense Force in Monrovia; the leader of the remnants of the national army; Dr. George Boley, of the Liberia Peace Council rebel group; and Woewiyu. The witness was asked to point to Woewiyu, and he stood up in the witness box and identified the defendant in the courtroom. He described Woewiyu’s position when the photograph was taken as the leader of the NPFL-CRC, with “CRC” meaning “Central Revolutionary Committee,” a warring faction that fought against the NPFL as well.
The witness identified a photograph of NPFL rebel forces he took. The photograph shows men and children in a variety of clothes, not formal military uniforms. Fasuekoi said they were getting ready to go to the front lines and fight; he knew this because he was there in the war zone with them.
Fasuekoi also identified a photograph he shot at an airport in Monrovia when ECOMOG held a big press conference. The photograph shows young children, who were presented as prisoners of war who were captured at the front lines. The witness testified that ECOMOG did not use child soldiers, and he never saw any child soldiers with the national army.
On cross examination by the defense, the witness acknowledged that his photograph of the leaders of warring factions does not show Charles Taylor, and that none of the men in the photograph represented the NPFL at the time it was taken. He described taking the photo while covering a forum in Monrovia for the warring factions, and explained that the Armed Forces of Liberia first fought the NPFL, and then eventually joined a coalition of five rebel factions; the NPFL was the coalition’s rival. The witness acknowledged that, thus, at one time Woewiyu was part of a coalition rivalling the NPFL. The witness also acknowledged that his photographs of the two individual child soldiers, each holding a rifle, were not taken at a checkpoint.
Asked about the first checkpoint he went through, in Johnsonville, the witness said he had every reason to believe he would be killed if he did not stand in line with his family. “It was no joke,” he said. “Had you been there, you would see.” Fasuekoi credited divine intervention for his family’s escape, and the family’s hours of praying before leaving Monrovia. “For what he was charging my uncle for,” Fasuekoi said, “that one bullet shell was enough to kill everyone at that time.” He said that “some of us” wondered if the rebels were trained about whom to target.
Asked about the checkpoint where he gave away his photograph of George Weah, Fasuekoi explained that Weah is one of the best African football players in recent times. He said that the rebels taking the photograph was them paying homage to Weah, and described how sometimes the rebels laid down their weapons during international matches, and everyone watched them before the rebels ran back to the bush.
The witness stated that he did not remember if the road from Monrovia to Greater Liberia was opened during a truce between the NPFL and ECOMOG. He acknowledged his photograph of General Musa also shows the Nigerian commander of the ECOMOG forces, and that the picture was taken at the celebration of the road’s opening.
During a brief re-direct, Fasuekoi testified that there were lots of reasons someone could be killed at a checkpoint, including ethnicity. He also said that if there was a truce between the NPFL and ECOMOG for the opening of the road, the truce did not last.
Before the government presented more witnesses, Assistant United States Attorney Nelson S. T. Thayer, Jr., addressed the jury and explained that the prosecution and defense counsel had agreed to certain facts the jury should consider as evidence. He then read a list of these stipulated facts to the jury, as follows.
Before and during the First Liberian Civil War, five white female humanitarian aid workers lived in a house in a compound in Gardnersville. In October of 1992, two of them were killed in a car along with ECOMOG soldiers.
Approximately two days later, the NPFL entered their compound and ordered everyone out of the house. One of the three women remaining was shot and wounded almost immediately upon exiting, and was followed outside by the other two. The NPFL commander known as “Mosquito” ordered these three white women separated from everyone else in the compound. They were taken near a wall and accused of being American and of working with ECOMOG. “Mosquito” ordered these three women shot dead with an automatic weapon.
Witness 4: James K. Bishop
The next prosecution witness to be called was James K. Bishop, former United States Ambassador to Liberia. He described himself as a “career U.S. Foreign Service Officer,” who spent 34 active years in the Foreign Service, and who then spent 15 years working on international disaster response for The Interaction, a coalition that worked with the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC), the United Nations, and other non-governmental organizations. He is now at the State Department on a part-time basis. The witness described his education, and how after 10 years specializing in African affairs as a Foreign Service Officer, he earned a related Master’s degree at Johns Hopkins University.
Bishop testified that after many years of service, he was appointed to several high-level positions. In 1979 he was appointed Ambassador to Niger, and in 1981 worked at the African Bureau of the State Department. In 1987, he was appointed Ambassador to Liberia. Subsequently, he served in Somalia until the U.S. embassy was evacuated in 1990. He told the jury that a typical ambassador serves for two to three years in a given position, and described the duties of an ambassador as representing the interests of the United States abroad, serving as Chief of Mission at an embassy, and working on programs of assistance from the military to the Peace Corps.
Bishop outlined for the jury the procedure of being appointed an ambassador. He said that a prospective ambassador is nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate, which involves a hearing by a Senate subcommittee. The host government is notified and asked if they acquiesce to the appointment, and there is a formal way by which they indicate their answer. Bishop said the notification of the host government occurs via the appropriate U.S. embassy, which informs the host country’s Foreign Minister of the nomination.
Bishop testified that when an ambassador arrives, a colleague and someone from the host nation greet the nominee; this happened to him in Liberia. He described being met at the airport by someone from the Liberian government, and told the jury that he then met with the Foreign Minister so the Minister could arrange a meeting with President Doe so Bishop could present his credentials at a ceremony. Bishop was accompanied to his meeting with Doe by other senior staff of the U.S. embassy in Monrovia, he said. He testified that among the people with him were military officers in uniform. Bishop said that at the ceremony he announced to Doe who he was and what he was doing, and although he cannot remember his own exact words, he knew he said “something nice about American/Liberian relations.” He remembered Doe made a gracious response.
Bishop testified that he met with Doe on many subsequent occasions in person, and sometimes on the phone. He stated that sometimes they discussed the question of Liberia’s support for the U.S. in international fora like the United Nations, and sometimes they discussed aid programs; often they discussed problems Bishop had in dealing with Doe’s government, given a growing sense of corruption that was making it difficult to do his job. Bishop also remembered some lighter conversation topics, like visiting American V.I.P.s, and Doe telling Bishop about soccer and Bishop telling Doe about squash. Bishop remembered that among the American V.I.P.s who visited were members of Congress, the head of the C.I.A., and military officers who were in Liberia to help with military assistance programs.
Bishop arrived in Monrovia on April 12, 1987, which he said was “unfortunate” as that was the date of the 1980 coup through which Doe took power. Bishop recalled that at the time he arrived, the U.S. embassy was on Mamba Point on the sea front in Monrovia.
Bishop testified that he first met Doe in Washington, D.C., when Doe went there to visit President Ronald Reagan. Bishop said that he accompanied Secretary of State George Shultz to a meeting with Doe at a hotel. The witness identified a photograph of Reagan and Doe together and said it was a fair likeness of both of them at that time; he was in Reagan’s office fairly often accompanying foreign ambassadors, and could speak to Doe’s likeness because his meeting with Doe at the hotel was the day after the picture was taken. Bishop further testified that it would be usual for Doe to meet with the Secretary of Defense on such a visit, due to military agreements between the U.S. and Liberia. The witness identified Doe and then-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger together in a photograph.
Bishop testified that he observed through his work that the government in Liberia had a “structure like the United States,” with separate branches and structures at the county level. He named ministries in the cabinet like the Ministries of Justice, Public Health, and Defense, and noted that the U.S. often assisted with their programs. He described the Liberian higher education system of two universities, and said that the public of the two had two campuses, including one outside Monrovia about 10 miles away. He described the public health system of Liberia, including John F. Kennedy Hospital, a “tertiary” hospital built with U.S. funds; private hospitals, including the one on the Firestone plantation; and Phebe Hospital in Gbarnga.
Bishop told the jury about taking his wife and two daughters on a road trip from Monrovia to Abidjan in Ivory Coast on December 26, 1989. He said that they drove up through the rainforest and crossed Nimba County, where the border guards made a fuss about the Ambassador and served them all Coca-Cola. Bishop said that the family spent the night in an Ivory Coast town called Man, and that when they arrived in Abidjan, his colleagues were in a state of alarm because on the radio they heard people announce an invasion in the same area where Bishop was. He stated that he made arrangements to fly back to Monrovia, where he found the city in a state of alarm.
Bishop testified that he had no contact with the NPFL while on the ground in Monrovia. He told the jury that his three-year term as the Ambassador to Liberia was coming to an end in March 1990, and there was someone primed to replace him. There had been no ambassador in Mogadishu in a year, and the State Department wanted to send him there as Ambassador to Somalia.
Bishop stated that before he left Monrovia, he saw that radios were made available to the NPFL, and assigned a Foreign Service Officer in Man to monitor them, because Bishop was concerned for the 5000 Americans in Liberia. According to Bishop, many were African-Americans “who were physically indistinct” from Liberians and thus likely to get caught up in the fighting. He testified that his goal in giving the NPFL radios was to “de-conflict,” to keep lines of communication open.
When Bishop left Monrovia in the last week of March or the beginning of April 1990, he learned he would not go straight to Mogadishu, but would instead go to Washington, D.C. to head a taskforce with the purpose of monitoring the Liberian situation and keeping the State Department informed. He said that once U.S. naval vessels were deployed to the water off Monrovia, coordinating with the Department of Defense was an additional duty. Bishop described how, as the war continued, part of the taskforce’s role was to encourage Americans to leave Liberia and to facilitate their leaving.
Bishop testified that the taskforce received a delegate from Monrovia, William Tubman, a former Foreign Minister and a representative of the Doe government, because “I thought to promote dialogue between the government and the opposition.” Bishop called Tubman “a prominent Liberian,” and said the taskforce wanted to serve as a bridge between the government and Charles Taylor, to encourage a conversation rather than a force of arms.
Bishop told the jury that before he left Monrovia as Ambassador, Doe responded to the incursion by sending troops to Nimba County. Bishop characterized the troops as “unprofessional,” and said they killed civilians, as did the NPFL. He described the war as “taking on a tribal cast.” He said that Doe was killing Gios and Manos, and that the NPFL was killing other sides. According to Bishop, he gave written instructions to aides who went to Nimba about what to do and what not to do, telling them to “report back.” He said that he met with Doe and counseled him to tell his troops to conduct themselves differently from the reports Bishop was hearing.
Discussing his subsequent taskforce in Washington, D.C., the witness told the jury that the talks he wanted to promote between the government and the opposition were called “proximity talks.” For such talks, the participants do not need to be in the same room; he described the participants as in nearby rooms, with State Department representatives “running back and forth” between them.
Bishop testified that he was informed Woewiyu would appear at these “proximity talks,” and said that Woewiyu claimed to be the Minister of Defense of the NPFL, and that Woewiyu said he had come to Washington, D.C. to talk. The witness said he thought he had two meetings with Woewiyu, but that it was a long time ago. He remembered several meetings with representatives of Taylor and the NPFL, talking about the possibility of talking through their grievances with the Doe government. The witness stated that these talks were in April 1990, but they were brief and did not work out, and the venue for future talks shifted to the U.S. embassy in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Bishop said his replacement, the new Ambassador to Liberia, went to Freetown to facilitate them.
Bishop said the NPFL objective was that it wanted the Doe regime gone, and was not clear on what would replace it, “and that’s what we’re trying to shape.” He reiterated that Woewiyu indicated he was the Minister of Defense “or some such title; he was in charge of the military.”
The witness examined a document that he recognized as a series of reports he prepared as chairman of the taskforce, for Herman J. Cohen, the Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, to whom he reported. Bishop said they were typical of the documents he would prepare for his State Department work.
Bishop recalled that the peace talks in Freetown after the “proximity talks” were not successful either, and that the White House did not want to be any further involved in the process by which “an escaped felon, as it was put to me” could become president of Liberia. He said that afterward, Liberian churches put together talks in Freetown that were also unsuccessful.
Bishop described the military situation at the time of the reports he made to Cohen. He said Doe and the Armed Forces of Liberia held the city of Monrovia, which he described as a “pretty big place” located on the coast. He said the NPFL had come down from Nimba by two routes, one via the railway line around the coast to Buchanan, and one via Gbarnga in the central part of the country. He noted that thousands had fled to the city from the country, and that the food situation was becoming increasingly critical. According to Bishop, the U.S. embassy had some emergency food delivered via the ICRC; food was put on trucks and “sent up there.”
Bishop testified that Doe’s Krahn tribal homeland was up the coast from Monrovia near the Ivory Coast border, and that Taylor’s forces were in between the Krahns in Monrovia and their homeland up-country. Bishop said that the idea was to keep the Sierra Leone road open, so that Doe supporters could escape and then reach their homeland by different entry points. He said that this was to “avoid a bloodbath,” and to avoid fighting in areas where there were refugees.
Examining a memorandum stating that Woewiyu admitted “excesses” occurred in Buchanan, the witness testified that he could not recall exactly what “excesses” these were. He said that both sides were savaging civilians and combatants, and that on the NPFL side, it was hard to tell between the two because NPFL fighters did not wear ordinary military uniforms.
The witness testified that he was personally acquainted with the five humanitarian aid workers whose deaths were described in the stipulated facts.
Bishop stated that from the NPFL, the only person he remembered meeting was Woewiyu, and said that they only met during the “proximity talks.”
On cross-examination, Bishop testified that he was aware Doe came to power by killing the prior president. He was also aware that 13 ministers died in the coup, tied to electric polls in front of a crowd. He was also aware that the only election Doe stood for was in 1985 after the attempted Quiwonkpa coup, and he said there was a considerable amount of fraud on all sides.
Bishop described his relationship with Doe as having “ups and downs, some very deep” over the three years Bishop dealt with him. Bishop stated that he considered Doe “ruthless and volatile.”
Bishop stated that after the incursion occurred, both forces behaved in a brutal manner. He said there was an “ethnic cast” to the conflict, with the army being Krahn and predominantly killing Gios and Manos. He said that prior to the incursion, there was not systematic killing of Gios and Manos by the army, and that to his knowledge, they were not targeted.
The witness testified that before the “proximity talks,” he did not have much background information about Woewiyu.
Bishop clarified that the “proximity talks” never took place, and that although Woewiyu came to Washington, D.C., the State Department could never get the two sides to talk, even with intermediaries. His recollection is that the two sides would not look at the grievances of the other party. He remembered Woewiyu wanted Doe gone, and the Doe government did not want to engage; the talks were to be about elections moving forward, and the Doe government was “sticking.” The witness described the Doe government as a “full-fledged government,” and said it had a legislature, although he did not remember the legislative calendar.
Bishop said that on December 26, 1989, he did not have any contact with fighting or combatant forces while driving through Nimba County. He stated that before he left Monrovia, there were no reports of an incursion.
The witness stated that he did not independently recall the context of a statement he made in a memorandum from June 29, 1990 about wanting to stall the credential presentation of the next Ambassador to Liberia, but agreed that it showed that at the time, Bishop thought it was not in the U.S. interest to support the Doe regime.
On a brief re-direct, Bishop agreed that the June 29, 1990 memorandum said the State Department “can” stall the new ambassador’s credential ceremony.
Witness 5: Herman J. Cohen
The prosecution’s fifth witness, former Assistant Secretary of State Herman J. Cohen, began his testimony toward the end of the afternoon. He described his educational background for the jury, and told them that he was in the Army for two years before spending 38 years in the U.S. Foreign Service. Cohen stated that when he entered the Foreign Service, many African countries that had been colonies were becoming independent, so he thought that would be an interesting specialization; he said that he spent 75% of his career working in Africa. Cohen told the jury that he served in five U.S. embassies in Africa: Uganda; Zambia; Zimbabwe; Kinshasa, Congo; and Senegal as the U.S. ambassador. Cohen said that he was the Assistant Secretary of State for Africa under President George H. W. Bush from April 1989 until April 1993.
The witness stated that he had been to Liberia prior to the ’89 incursion. Before he was an Assistant Secretary of State, he was the Senior Director for Africa with the National Security Council, and in 1987 accompanied then-Secretary of State George Shultz when he visited five African countries. Liberia was the first, Cohen said, and they spent three days there. Cohen recalled meeting President Doe and attending meetings and social events.
Cohen testified that as the Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, he was concerned that the outbreak of war in Liberia would result in considerable destruction and suffering for the Liberian people. He said that his instinct was to stop the war and find a political solution. Cohen described receiving briefings from a State Department office covering Liberian affairs, from messages from the embassy in Monrovia, and from intelligence reports. He said the embassy would send cables signed by the ambassador.
Cohen examined a memorandum that was sent to the office for Liberian affairs from Woewiyu. According to the memorandum, the objective of the military act of December 24, 1990 was to overthrow the Doe dictatorship and replace it with a democratic government. Cohen testified that based on his observations as an Assistant Secretary of State, this was an accurate statement of the NPFL objective, and he said they came across the Ivory Coast border like an invading fighting force, taking villages.
Cohen testified that at the time the invasion occurred, there was a “regular” government in place, with a president and a cabinet, typical of other African governments and of European governments. “We interacted with them the same as we do other governments,” he said. He described that there were people in the provinces to represent the government, civil servants of various kinds. He said that before the invasion, there were education and health services, not generally well developed, but existing along with other infrastructure.
The witness stated that he met Charles Taylor for the first time in September 1990. He recalled that Taylor used to be a member of Doe’s government, as the Chief of the General Services Administration. Cohen said that this was much like the American General Services Administration, dealing with the maintenance of buildings and infrastructure.
Returning to the memorandum sent by Woewiyu, the witness examined the text underneath the document’s “Political Program” heading. The memorandum stated that after the overthrow of the Doe government, a provisional government would be led by the NPFL with the mandate to restore order and establish readiness for multiparty elections, in accordance with the Constitution of Liberia. Cohen said that he initially accepted this explanation, but then the war went on for quite a long time. He said that with the destruction and loss of life, this “Political Program” was not talked about anymore, although the goal of elections was always there.
The memorandum also described Doe’s government as ethnically divisive and stated the NPFL desire to create a “Liberia for all,” including “vanquished Krahns.” Cohen testified that this is “quite accurate” as to what he was told. However, he noted that during the war, the NPFL had a tendency to be “quite harsh” with anyone Krahn that they encountered, and there was lots of killing.
The witness next examined the June 29, 1990 memorandum from James K. Bishop, former Ambassador to Liberia. Bishop was then heading a crisis watch group working 24 hours a day to monitor the situation in Liberia. The memorandum quoted Woewiyu on the topic of leaving the Sierra Leone road open for Doe supporters to escape. Cohen testified that he himself was worried because he knew Doe supporters would fight to the death; based on what was happening in other parts of the country, they thought they would be killed if they were captured or surrendered.
Cohen stated that he spoke to Taylor directly about leaving the Sierra Leone road open, with the thought that it would let Taylor take the city of Monrovia with little bloodshed; Cohen was the first one to raise the idea. According to Cohen, Taylor did it because the U.S. government asked him to. He did not want the U.S. operating against him, as it was better for the U.S. to be neutral than against him. Cohen also noted the special relationship between the United States and Liberia, and said that both sides understood they did not want to get into a fight.
In Bishop’s memorandum, Woewiyu is quoted as saying the “front” has “trained military police” so as to avoid the “excesses” that occurred in Buchanan. Bishop believed this referred to summary executions by the NPFL of members of the Krahn tribe found there.
The witness examined a section of Bishop’s memorandum that he explained was a transcribed telephone communication. The section referred to fighting between the Armed Forces of Liberia and Prince Johnson, who was one of Taylor’s commanders when the war broke out, but who several months later split off and formed the INPFL. Cohen stated that the INPFL had the same objective as the NPFL, but also had animosity toward Taylor.
In the Bishop memorandum, an Economic Officer from the embassy is mentioned, who complained to Woewiyu about the shut down of the Omega Site and the harassment of “V.O.A.” personnel who were “F.S.N.s.” The witness explained that the Omega Site was a coast guard staging ground, and that there was a transit relay station in Monrovia for the Voice of America (i.e., the V.O.A.) programs. Cohen also explained that the acronym “F.S.N.” refers to Foreign Service Nationals, employees from the host nation – here, local Liberians – who worked for the U.S. government at, for example, the V.O.A. site. The memorandum noted Woewiyu said these acts were contrary to NPFL policy and that he would talk to Taylor about it.
Cohen testified that approximately three to four weeks after the war began, he received a phone call from Woewiyu, describing himself as “a Liberian living in New Jersey, the official spokesperson for the NPFL and Charles Taylor,” and telling Cohen to call him if there were any problems, so Woewiyu could transmit them to Taylor. Cohen said that they spoke two to three more times, because Taylor had acquired a satellite phone and Cohen could call him directly.
Cohen specifically recalled speaking to Woewiyu about keeping the Sierra Leone road open, and wanted Taylor to understand that was very important to the U.S., and that the U.S. wanted to avoid a tragedy. He said that when he spoke to Woewiyu, he believed he was a close confidant of Taylor and that if Cohen sent Taylor messages via Woewiyu, they would arrive. “He impressed me as someone of reliability,” Cohen said. Cohen believed that the issue of the escape route was the main issue they talked about.
Cohen stated that the spring of 1990 was very difficult from a humanitarian standpoint. Cohen testified that he spoke to Taylor about the hydroelectric dam that provides electricity to Monrovia, and told Taylor that if Taylor achieved his objective of overthrowing the government, he would need infrastructure if he ever came to power. Cohen said he asked Taylor to please restrain his troops from destroying the dam, “but apparently he couldn’t,” as the dam was blown up and only recently replaced.
Cohen testified that in 1990 he received a directive from President Bush to talk to every government who had troops on the ground in Liberia, including Taylor. Cohen said he flew to Man in Ivory Coast near the Liberian border, and crossed the border in a vehicle to a point about 15 miles inside. There he saw Taylor in his compound, and they met for about an hour.
According to Cohen, he traveled with several senior United States officials, and when they came within half a mile of the camp, they were greeted by teenagers, all of whom had large automatic weapons. Cohen called this “quite frightening,” because as an army veteran, he knows “you don’t mess around with that stuff.” The teenagers were glaring and not smiling, and something about their manner made Cohen think they were on drugs. Cohen stated that they were “basically bodyguards,” present so no one could get close to Taylor. He continued that, judging by his own children, the youngest was 12 or 13.
Cohen said that Taylor was waiting in a “thatched roof thing, sitting on a chair like a throne.” Cohen remembered that behind Taylor was a large portrait of the Kennedy family, and Cohen said that when he saw it, he got the feeling that Taylor wanted to be identified with them, plus they were American and he wanted to be close to Americans.
The reason for the meeting, Cohen said, was because he wanted Taylor’s view of how the war was advancing. Cohen explained that Taylor did not capture Monrovia when it was just guarded by Doe’s troops, and now that West African forces were there, he would never capture it. The witness stated that when he asked Taylor if he would agree to a ceasefire, Taylor said yes, “but he kept fighting.” Cohen said that Taylor explained that the reason he kept fighting was his lack of trust in ECOMOG, but that Taylor indicated additional West African troops would decrease his animosity.
“Something I can work on,” the witness explained. The Senegalese President, Cohen said, would be in Washington, D.C. shortly after Cohen returned, and as Cohen had been Ambassador to Senegal, he knew the president well. This is how he approached the President of Senegal about sending troops to Liberia. Taylor said this would be acceptable, according to Cohen. However, he noted that when a Senegalese battalion arrived, despite Taylor’s statement that they would be treated as neutral, they were deliberately killed by Taylor’s troops.
The witness was familiar with Operation Octopus, which he described as an effort by Taylor’s forces to attack ECOMOG in Monrovia, as they wanted to push ECOMOG out of Monrovia. He said this was roughly to the middle or end of 1992.
The witness examined a document and recognized it as a cable from the U.S. embassy in Monrovia. He stated that the repatriation of the remains of the five aid workers whose deaths were stipulated was very important to him as an Associate Secretary. The cable described the ambassador speaking with a representative from NPRAG about the five bodies and requesting they be repatriated if in NPFL territory, but although the witness had heard of NPRAG, he was not familiar with it. Cohen noted that the Ambassador wanted his message about repatriation to go to Taylor or Minister of Defense Woewiyu.
The witness stated he did not know who Isaac Musa was. He said he had contact with only two people in the NPFL, Taylor and Woewiyu.
On cross examination, Cohen agreed that the Omega Site and Voice of America relay station were “vital American interests.” He agreed that there was also a C.I.A. site that all the C.I.A.’s African interests went through; all three of these interests were in Monrovia, on the peninsula. He noted that Firestone – now Bridgestone – owned over a million acres in Liberia for rubber, and that because the U.S. military relies on such rubber during conflict, the Firestone lease was also a vital national interest.
The witness acknowledged that he was aware Doe took power in 1980 by assassinating President Tolbert. He was aware that in 1979, the economic downturn meant Tolbert was having trouble keeping people fed, and there was discontent. He was not aware of any discontent between indigenous Liberians and Americo-Liberians.
Cohen testified that the American relationship with Doe deteriorated before the 1989 incursion, although the U.S. government had attempted to work with him because of those vital national interests; however, his regime had committed extrajudicial killings of Gios and Manos in Nimba County.
Cohen agreed that the object of the December 24, 1989 incursion by the NPFL was a military installation, about 15 miles inside the border from Ivory Coast. He agreed that the Armed Forces of Liberia had a significant arsenal there, and that 12 NPFL soldiers went in and killed the guards and took the arms. The witness stated that the war was initially fought with those arms, and with arms received from Libya. He knew Prince Johnson was part of that group, and believed Taylor was not there. He stated that Woewiyu was in New Jersey at the time.
Approximately four weeks after the incursion, the State Department received the memorandum from Woewiyu, and Cohen noted that “we liked hearing” from the memorandum that the NPFL was “pro-West.” He noted that the statement was made during a period where the United States was unhappy with the Doe government.
Cohen testified that all his contact with Woewiyu was on the phone. He also testified that he spoke to Taylor via satellite phone on dozens of occasions.
In examining the memorandum about leaving the Sierra Leone road open, the witness stated that Prince Johnson mutinied and broke off with his own militia and blocked the road. Cohen agreed that Prince Johnson prevented Doe from leaving; it was not the NPFL.
In examining the word “excesses” as mentioned by Woewiyu and repeated in Bishop’s memorandum, Cohen stated that he did not know if Woewiyu regretted them, but he said Woewiyu knew the U.S. was upset about them.
The witness agreed that Taylor was in charge of the NPFL, not Woewiyu.
Cohen stated that although he discussed the hydroelectric dam with Taylor, Taylor was not able to prevent it from being blown up. Cohen testified that the way Taylor reacted was, “Yeah, we’ll try our best to keep it safe.”
There were five countries of ECOWAS who supplied troops to ECOMOG, according to Cohen. He said that Taylor feared Nigeria wanted to keep Doe in power, as Nigeria was the most dominant military in the region. Cohen recalled Taylor specifically saying that Doe and the president of Nigeria were friends.
The cross examination of Herman J. Cohen is expected to continue next week; tomorrow morning, the government’s case will continue and it will call a new witness to the stand.