Trial Day 4: Elizabeth Blunt and Former Child Soldiers Testify

Legal Monitoring of the Woewiyu case

Trial Day 4: Elizabeth Blunt and Former Child Soldiers Testify

Trial opened on Thursday morning with an announcement from Judge Anita B. Brody that the juror who was unable to attend trial yesterday, and who was replaced by an alternate, will in fact return to the courtroom for the remainder of the case.

Witness 6: Elizabeth Blunt

The first witness to testify on Thursday morning was the former British Broadcasting Corporation (“BBC”) journalist Elizabeth Blunt.  She began by telling the jury about her educational background, including her history studies at Cambridge University.  After she received her degree in 1968, she started to work at the BBC in a training program.  Blunt testified that her training program involved work in studios, where she made recordings and prepared transmissions for the radio; subsequently, she worked in Tanzania as a sound recordist on a film.

Blunt told the jury that when she returned to England, she became a writer and producer with the BBC, writing current affairs scripts for the Africa Service.  Her scripts were translated into many African languages for broadcast, including Swahili and Arabic.  She explained that her early period with the BBC included reporting trips and working in news rooms, so when the BBC posted a job for a BBC correspondent in West Africa, she applied and was accepted.

Blunt testified that her correspondent position began in 1986, and that she was based in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.  She described the BBC’s business practice of accurately reporting those named in a broadcast, and told the jury, “If they say somebody, you can be pretty sure it’s right.”  She also described the geographic region she covered, which included Mauritania, the Democratic Republic of Congo (then known as Zaire), and Eastern Chad; she confirmed that her territory included Liberia.  Blunt stated that she covered her “patch” from 1986 until the first week of November in 1990, and later returned for a short time.

Blunt told the jury that it was BBC policy for new regional correspondents to visit each country in their territory as soon as possible.  She first visited Liberia shortly after taking up her position, but said that “Liberia was not considered terribly newsworthy until December 1989.”

As a result of the Christmas Eve invasion of Liberia in 1989, Blunt said, she went to Liberia on January 8, 1990.  Blunt explained that Ivory Coast is adjacent to Liberia, and that “It was obvious that something fairly serious had happened,” because hundreds of people a day were crossing the border from Eastern Liberia into Ivory Coast.  Blunt testified that she heard from Ivorian authorities that there was fighting on the Liberian side of the border, in northern Nimba County.  For that reason, she flew to Monrovia and then traveled north by road to Nimba; she said that Monrovia was much as it always was.

Blunt explained to the jury that the primary tribes in Nimba County were Mano and Gio, although there were smaller populations of other tribes.  “Liberia was well-mixed.”  She said that the urban areas of Nimba had a significant Mandingo population, who were mostly shopkeepers.

Blunt testified that on arriving in Nimba County, she spent the night in the presidential guest house in Sanniquellie, which she called “very strange” and “eerie.”  She described it as “very deserted,” telling the jury that normally she would have seen children running around, chickens, and people cooking outside.  In contrast, she said, Sanniquellie was “not at all normal” on her visit, with shops closed and very few people; she heard gunshots in the night, although she does not know why.

The witness testified that in the morning, she traveled to a town near the Ivory Coast border, and saw dead bodies lying on the road.  She described the town as empty, with the last few people packing up; she saw Mandingo shopkeepers preparing to leave.  According to Blunt, people were told to leave so that the army could clear the field of fire.

Blunt stated that as a reporter in the conflict, she first met Thomas Woewiyu on June 25, 1990.  Previously, she said, she was familiar with his name based on the reporting of Mark Huband, who had attended peace talks in Freetown in Sierra Leone.  According to Blunt, Huband had described Woewiyu as an NPFL spokesperson who attended the Freetown peace talks.  Blunt herself met Woewiyu in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, when Woewiyu spoke to the press there on his return from the Freetown talks.  She explained to the jury that for Woewiyu to get back to NPFL territory in Liberia, he could not cross the border from Sierra Leone, but instead had to fly to Abidjan and travel by road from there.  The witness recognized a photograph of Woewiyu as an accurate depiction of his appearance in 1990.

Blunt testified that during the Abidjan press conference, Woewiyu was focused on the peace talks in Freetown, and his and his organization’s point of view.  According to Blunt, Woewiyu was not interested in coming to an agreement with the Samuel Doe government, and said that if it took too long for Doe to acquiesce, the NPFL would “go down to Monrovia and get him out.”  At this point in the war, Blunt said, NPFL and government troops were fighting, and there was another faction involved as well.  According to Blunt, Woewiyu said that the NPFL planned to form a provisional government.

Woewiyu was “a good choice for spokesperson,” Blunt said, as he was articulate and well-dressed; although he was not as flamboyant as Charles Taylor, he “presented himself in the same style.”  In her opinion, Woewiyu “was a good PR man if you’re trying to say you are a serious organization.”

Blunt testified that on August 7, 1990, there was a regional meeting of ECOWAS in Banjul, The Gambia.  That meeting was of neighboring governments and was not originally intended to involve fighting factions.  However, she said, an NPFL delegation “unexpectedly turned up,” including Woewiyu as spokesman.  The witness acknowledged that by then he was also the Minister of Defense, but that to her knowledge, he was mostly still a spokesman.  The meeting included talk of an intervention force, and according to Blunt, the NPFL expressed concerns to journalists that it would be “risky” if an ECOWAS force was sent in without an agreement and consent from those involved.  Blunt recalled that the NPFL delegation was not ready to give their consent, and were going home to talk to Taylor.

The witness was shown a photograph of Prince Johnson, and stated that she saw Prince Johnson in person, so she could recognize it as an accurate depiction of him.  She described Johnson as a soldier involved in an earlier rebellion against Doe, who was part of the early group of NPFL rebels who invaded Liberia, and then split away.  She explained that both the NPFL and Johnson’s forces reached Monrovia, as Johnson entered by a westerly route and got to the port, and Taylor was in the easterly suburbs.

Blunt testified that on Sunday, September 9, 1990, she was the only mainstream Western journalist in Monrovia.  She was living in an empty USAID house, and said that on the prior day, she heard gunfire at the port in the neighborhood known as Freeport.  The witness explained that this was an area used by ECOMOG forces as a staging area, and told the jury that the bridges from the center of town to the port were closed on the Saturday when she heard gunfire.

By Sunday morning, she said, it was quiet, and people told her the bridges were open, so she went to see what was happening; she was accompanied by a Liberian journalist and his nephew, who drove them. Blunt testified that at the port, everything was “very quiet,” and that when she asked a young Nigerian ECOMOG officer about Saturday’s gunfire, he said he would see if General Quainoo, the Ghanaian commander of the force, would speak to her.  Blunt explained that the soldier went upstairs, and she remained downstairs with a Nigerian BBC journalist who had arrived in Monrovia embedded with ECOMOG.

Suddenly, Blunt told the jury, there was a great commotion outside, and Doe – who had not been seen in weeks – appeared.  According to Blunt, he had come to visit General Quainoo, and was annoyed because “anywhere in Africa, the first thing you do is greet the chief,” but Quainoo had never greeted Doe, so now Doe had to come to him.  She testified that Doe arrived with cars and guards, and she saw the president disappear upstairs while she waited at the bottom of the stairs with microphones hoping for a quote.

“Then there was more commotion,” she said, and Prince Johnson arrived.  She alleged that he controlled the port and had “allowed” ECOMOG in, so he felt he had “landlords’ rights” over the area, and came and went “unchecked.”  Blunt testified that while Doe’s bodyguards had been disarmed, Johnson and his forces retained their weapons when they went upstairs.

Blunt told the jury that she heard shouting and the sound of guns being cocked.  She described ECOMOG pushing the journalists into offices along the hallway at the base of the stairs, and then gunfire started; it was a “huge” gun battle that lasted for an hour and a half.

Blunt testified that she was familiar with Doe’s voice, and that she recognized it toward the end of the gun battle when she heard it through the wide-open window of the ground-floor office where she was lying on the floor.  She testified that through the window she heard people coming outside, and Doe pleading, saying “Please, please, I beg of you” and “You are embarrassing us.”  Blunt told the jury that she then heard vehicles roaring off.  She remembered that when ECOMOG soldiers in the office with her opened the door, she saw numerous bodies in the hallway and the washroom, and outside on the quayside.  Blunt said that she was then taken up to town, where she spent the night in the British embassy because everyone was “very afraid.”

The witness testified that she spoke with people walking up from the port the next morning, who said that they saw Doe’s body lying dead in a small private clinic on an island adjacent to the port.  According to them, something had happened to Doe’s body, and his hands and ears were chopped off.  Blunt testified that she saw people the day after the gun battle “still in shock” and afraid of what would happen next.

Blunt described contact that she had with Woewiyu on October 16, 1990, when he was again travelling into Liberia via Abidjan and stopped to give a press conference there.  Blunt described him as “more on the defensive,” as the NPFL had been pushed to the east of the suburbs of Monrovia.  She said that he had softened his position, saying it was not set in stone that the country would have to have Taylor as a leader.  She remembered Woewiyu complaining that ECOMOG had clearly taken sides, because Nigeria was friendly to Doe, so ECOMOG could no longer be seen as neutral.

On cross examination, the witness acknowledged that she had heard reports of Doe’s army persecuting Gio and Mano people in Nimba County, and she noted that happened before she was a correspondent, as a result of an earlier rebellion.  She stated that she first arrived in Liberia in August 1986.

Blunt testified that the NPFL arrived in Liberia via Buoto, and she heard of the incursion on Christmas Eve.  She later spoke about the incursion with Ivorians who had crossed the border to Liberia to buy alcohol for Christmas, and who had been caught up.  She described first hearing about the incursion on the BBC itself, because Taylor called a program called “Focus on Africa” and said that he had invaded Liberia, so the BBC put him on air and Taylor made his claim.  The witness said she probably heard this broadcast on December 26, 1990.  She explained that “Focus on Africa” was a regularly scheduled program that went out three times every afternoon, and that everyone in Liberia listened to the 5:00pm broadcast.

Blunt thought that she had met Woewiyu three times, including once at peace talks in the spring of 1991.  She explained that although she was working in London at the time, but she traveled back to Liberia to cover the peace talks held in the Hotel Africa in Monrovia.  She believed Woewiyu was present at the talks, but did not have written notes to confirm his presence.  Blunt said that when she left her correspondent position, she was transferred to the main newsroom and worked on the “three A’s: Africa, Asia, and Arabs,” so when the talks occurred, she was asked to go back to Monrovia because she knew Liberia.

Blunt testified that the conference led to the opening of the road between Monrovia and Buchanan, and said that Buchanan was far from Monrovia, beyond Roberts International Airport near the Firestone plantation.  She remembered that there was also a small local airport in the middle of Liberia.  She referred to the talks as “confidence-building” between ECOMOG, the NPFL, and church and civic leaders.  Blunt believed this was the only time she met Woewiyu in Liberia, because he did not go to Monrovia, and she did not go to the other side of the country where he was.  She agreed that the road was only open temporarily, but did not want to give an opinion as to whether Prince Johnson was responsible for its re-closure.

Blunt agreed that Prince Johnson commanded a rival group to the NPFL, and that Woewiyu had nothing to do with Prince Johnson on the date of Doe’s death.  She explained that their forces were at opposite ends of Monrovia, with ECOMOG and the city between them.  She described the port as to the southwest, and the NPFL as “to the east.”  Blunt described the port facility as big, with many warehouses.  She agreed that there was an “alliance” between Prince Johnson and ECOMOG, explaining this was “in the sense that he allowed ECOMOG to set up camp in his area.”  The witness acknowledged that Prince Johnson was fighting both the NPFL and the Armed Forces of Liberia (“AFL”).

The witness testified that prior to his death, Doe lived at the Presidential Palace, and that ECOMOG was not near the Palace but instead near Doe’s rival’s area of control.  She stated that she did not hear directly that ECOMOG did not come to see Doe, but heard it second hand.  She clarified that she did not personally hear Doe say anything when he arrived at the ECOMOG port building, as he “swept up the stairs.”  Blunt explained that she had talked to many sources about ECOMOG, but she did not see peacekeeping forces at the Presidential Palace herself because she was too scared to go there.  She said it was dangerous because there were many frightened AFL soldiers there, and told the jury she thus avoided the Palace because she tried not to put herself in danger.

Blunt did not think she had previously met with ECOMOG about the situation with Doe, but pointed out that was what she was trying to do on the day Doe died.  She stated that there were, however, other people in Monrovia with whom she talked about the situation.  She also stated that peacekeeping forces had been in place for a few weeks before September 9, 1990.

Blunt described entering Monrovia for this “second wave” of the war by riding into the city on a Nigerian oil tanker, a civilian vessel bringing supplies to ECOMOG forces.  She stated that she was not allowed to enter on naval vessels.

The witness agreed that she was not present for any meetings between ECOMOG and Doe before September 9, 1990.  She clarified that Freetown is the capital of Sierra Leone, and “Freeport” references the port area of Monrovia.

On a brief re-direct, Blunt said that she was familiar with Operation Octopus, and that the 1991 peace talks at the Hotel Africa occurred prior to October of that year.

Stipulation

Before the government presented its next witness, Assistant United States Attorney Linwood C. Wright, Jr., addressed the jury and explained that the prosecution and defense counsel had agreed to the authenticity of a number of BBC broadcast recordings, that are government exhibits in the case.

Witness 7: Jennifer Lohmeier

The next witness called by the government was Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) Special Agent Jennifer Lohmeier.  She told the jury that she has been a Special Agent since 2009, and assisted the FBI in cases involving national security and human rights violations.  Lohmeier testified that she previously listened to each of the BBC broadcast recordings stipulated to by the parties.

Lohmeier testified that she had met Woewiyu previously, and indicated him in the courtroom.  She also testified that because she had talked to him in the past, she was familiar with his voice.  She said she had heard his voice on each of the BBC recordings presented by the government, telling the jury that the broadcasts identified Woewiyu as a participant, and that she confirmed this by recognizing the sound of his voice.

A BBC broadcast was played in the courtroom, presented as part of the program “African Perspective.”  The broadcast described the situation in Liberia three years after the outbreak of fighting, focusing on child soldiers.  The broadcast contained the comments of a man the BBC identified as NPFL Minister of Defense Woewiyu, who said that the “Small Boys Unit” was put together by the NPFL to keep child soldiers from doing anything “we don’t want them to do.”  The man in the broadcast said the children were 13 or 14 years of age, “not babies.”  He explained that when the NPFL reached Bassa, there were many children whose parents were killed, and said that an “AK-47 weighs, you know, maybe ten, fifteen pounds.”  The man said that “if this young fellow feels like, if he doesn’t fight, he will be dead anyway,” then “he comes forward to do what he has to do.”

On cross examination following the playing of the broadcast, Lohmeier said she would have to review the tapes to know whether anyone asked Woewiyu where he was calling from.

Lohmeier acknowledged that she was not present when Woewiyu was interviewed in 2010 “about the Boley matter,” and did not speak to him at that time.  She explained that there were no FBI agents involved in the investigation, and that it was conducted entirely by immigration officials.  She stated that she was not present in 2012 when the FBI spoke to Boley.

On a brief re-direct, Lohmeier testified that to her knowledge, the FBI investigation of Woewiyu began in 2009

Defense Objection to Prosecution Interpreters

Judge Brody dismissed the jury from the courtroom so that she could hear an objection raised by the defense.  The defense objected to the use of an interpreter for the next prosecution witness, whom the government called to translate from Liberian English into American English.  The defense counsel explained that they assumed the witness would be speaking in a Liberian language, and were not appraised that in fact the witness would be speaking English.  They argued that if an interpreter translated “some words that don’t mean what we think she means,” the defense should be allowed to present a counter translation.  Defense counsel further objected that the use of an interpreter paid by the government suggested the translation provided might not be neutral and may be biased, and because they were worried about an ethnic motive or bias on the part of the translator.

The lead translator for the government was sworn in, and testified to his credentials.  He described his education in Cameroon and Nigeria, including his receipt of a Bachelor of Arts degree in Foreign Languages, and a Master of Philosophy degree in Language and Literature.  He testified to his 25-year work history as an interpreter specializing in French and local West African language, which he characterized as “mostly conflict languages.” 

The lead translator testified to his service in Federal District Court in prior cases, including interpreting for Liberians in the Chuckie Taylor case brought in Miami, Florida.  In prior cases, he was hired by the Court and received compensation for his services from the Federal government.  He explained that was how the government found him for the Jabbateh prosecution based on his involvement in the Taylor case, and testified that in the Taylor case, he interpreted for both sides.  He gave other examples of other federal cases where he translated “broken English.”  He told the Court that he employees other interpreters part-time, but only those who speak language he is proficient in and whom he can train; he described the process of looking for another translator to assist in Liberian English interpretation in the Mohammed Jabbateh prosecution in Philadelphia last year.  He also testified that he has been helping the prosecution for a few days to prepare the government’s witnesses to testify at trial.

The government’s second interpreter, who is a part-time employee of the lead interpreter, was called and sworn in before the court; he was immediately cross examined.  He described leaving Monrovia for a village in Ground Cape Mount County, living in that village near the border with Sierra Leone from 1990 to 1992, and then living in a refugee camp from 1992 until 1998.

The second interpreter explained that this is his second year working for a private company offering interpretation services, and that he does not know who the money in his paycheck originally comes from.  He stated that this is his second week working on the Woewiyu case, that he has been helping the government prepare witnesses to testify, and that he has not traveled to work on the case. 

The second interpreter testified that he is a member of the Mende tribe, and has been a practicing Muslim since birth.

On a brief direct examination, the second interpreter testified that he previously translated in Federal District Court in the Mohammed Jabbateh prosecution, in which the defendant was a Mandingo and a Muslim.

On re-cross examination, the second interpreter described leaving the village in Grand Cape Mount for the refugee camp in Sierra Leone because of the NPFL and other forces.

Judge Brody told the parties that, in observing the testimony of both interpreters, she had no reason to believe they were not capable.  After a brief recess in which the Judge considered the law, she ruled that she will allow the government to use the interpreters, but that the interpreters would not be allowed to simultaneously translate for the witnesses.  Instead, they would translate from Liberian English to American English when specifically called on to do so.  In this manner, the Judge explained, the jury would hear the witness speak, and would then hear a translation as needed.

Witness 8: “GG”

The next witness called by the government, GG, told the jury that she was born in Gbarnga in Bong County, and identified herself as a member of the Bandi tribe.  She told the jury that she graduated from the University of Liberia, earning a degree in business management, and that she is now a businesswoman running “mini shops” or grocery stores selling a variety of goods.  She stated that growing up, she had two brothers and a sister.

GG testified that she fled Gbarnga because of the war, going with her brother (Witness FF; see below) to the town of Kakata in Margibi County.  In Kakata, she started a business in order to survive, buying oranges and water and other goods and then selling them herself to make a living.  She told the jury that she used to sell around town or in the market.

The witness testified that the brother she fled with was her little brother, her mother’s fourth child.  GG recalled that when they fled, she was 18, and her brother was 11, almost 12.

GG told the court that she always took FF along when she sold goods.  She stated that they would put things on their head to sell, with FF putting goods on his head if there were too many for her to carry alone.  She explained that this is a traditional way for both men and women in Liberia to transport items.

The witness testified that Kakata was controlled by NPFL soldiers, and that she saw NPFL commanders including Martina Johnson in the town.  She stated that she saw Woewiyu in Kakata once.  GG explained that because Kakata was on a main road, many officers used to come in and out.

GG said that she knew who Woewiyu was when she saw him because he was a “big man,” the Defense Minister at time.  She testified that if Woewiyu came to town, everyone would look, saying “Oh I see him! Look!”  She told the court that she was sitting at a little distance when someone told her “That’s the Defense Minister!” and told the jury that she got a good look at him. GG stated that she knew Woewiyu’s name already, because as Minister of Defense he was always on the air at 3:00 and 5:00 in the afternoon, when everyone would always sit and listen to the BBC radio.  She said the BBC broadcast would identify his name as the person speaking.

The witness testified that she and FF fled Kakata when Operation Octopus happened and the town was attacked.  She described Octopus as “the war that came from every part of the county,” and said that because it did not just come from one location, they fled Kakata and went into the bush, to the village of Konola.

GG testified that she and FF passed through a checkpoint to reach Konola.  She said the checkpoint was controlled by NPFL soldiers, both children and adults.  According to GG, the child soldiers were armed with the weapons of war; the primary weapon she saw was AK-47s.

GG told the jury that she and FF survived in Konola by finding things to sell, and rested on the road where people came from the village.  She said they sold bananas and cassava root, and that she would take these into the Konola market by foot, using the main road.  GG explained that the Konola market was where they went most often, and if there was enough merchandise they would go to other markets as well.  GG did not know if they went to the Konola market on a specific day of the week.

GG testified that in October, shortly before her birthday, she went with her brother to the Konola market.  She said her brother was then 12 years old.  GG recalled having plenty of cassava and small edibles to sell, and said that when they got to the market, they put the items down for people to buy.

“There was a heavy group coming,” GG said, and described seeing people running everywhere, including soldiers.  “Everyone was frightened.”  GG told the jury that she asked people what was happening, and someone told her the soldiers were catching children and putting them in cars.

GG called to her brother, she said, and had him in his arms when soldiers pulled him from her and carried him to a car.  She testified that the soldiers were “throwing and throwing children on board.”  The witness clarified that the soldiers were all NPFL fighters, and they were catching able-bodied men as well as little boys.  She told the jury that those who caught her brother were from his age group.  GG recalled that all the fighters, including the child soldiers, had AK-47s.  She explained that the car her brother was thrown in was a truck like a pickup, and told the jury that the soldiers did not have a specific car; they had all kinds because they took every car they saw.

GG testified that she and the other parents and relatives of those taken were all crying and running behind the truck full of children, when someone told them that the Defense Minister was in town that day, and said they should go to him.  She stated that the relatives grouped themselves together to go talk to Woewiyu, and someone showed the group where he was.  She identified the place as Konola Base, where the soldiers did not train but where they were staying.  Before the NPFL came, GG told the jury, the base was a Seventh Day Adventist mission school.  The witness did not recall ever being at that particular mission before.

According to GG, when she and the other relatives arrived at the base, soldiers would not let them get to Woewiyu.  She said the group walked to the base, because it was not far from the market; when they got there, there were many bodyguards around.  She testified that she saw Woewiyu standing and talking on a radio.  GG said her group was yelling, “Please, we’re begging you to let our children go,” but the bodyguards kept pushing them away.  She described these bodyguards as of mixed age, some adults and some child soldiers of 17 or 18.

GG testified that her group kept asking the soldiers to leave their children alone, but the soldiers replied, “They are not better than those dying,” and kept pushing the group away.  GG and the other relatives kept calling to Woewiyu, she said, still asking him to please let their children go.  Again, the soldiers told them that “Other children are dying on the warfront.”  The witness explained there were many children on the warfront because the NPFL was catching children to fight.

The witness testified that Woewiyu was standing outside and she saw him clearly.  To demonstrate GG’s distance from Woewiyu, the government attorney walked backward across the courtroom from the witness box; GG told him to stop as he reached the first row of the public audience, and identified that length of approximately twenty feet as her distance from Woewiyu.  GG recalled that Woewiyu wore a white shirt and camouflage trousers, and was wearing an army belt.  She stated that there was a pistol on the belt as well as a second handset, in addition to the radio he was holding in his hand.

According to GG, Woewiyu stood with his back to her group as he spoke on the radio.  Her group was calling him by name, and she said that eventually he turned around and looked at them, before turning back around and continuing his conversation on the radio.  Woewiyu said “not a single word” to them, GG told the jury.  She felt that from the expression on his face, he did not care.

The witness identified Woewiyu in a photograph of the leaders of rebel factions that was also shown in court yesterday, and stated that in the photograph, he looked exactly like he did on the day in Kakata. She then looked around the courtroom and identified the defendant as Woewiyu.

GG described how the NPFL soldiers were still pushing her group as they pleaded for their children, so the group eventually left.  She testified that she could do nothing but cry; a woman who was a cook for the NPFL soldiers on the base told her not to cry, and said that sometimes people came back from the front lines, so GG should pray hard and maybe she would be lucky.  GG decided to stay with the woman, she said, but she could not sleep and every time she thought of her brother, she cried.  She told the jury that she stayed because she was “hoping one day my brother would come back.”  GG explained that she helped the cook in order to get food to eat.

GG said that every time she heard cars coming along the road from Konola, she would run to see if it was her brother.  She stated that she spent four days with the cook, and that every time she went to the road, people would see her crying.

According to GG, on the fourth day, people told her there was a car that was ambushed, and that the wounded soldiers were carried to Phebe Hospital.  When GG told the cook, she said the woman told her to “run and check,” and helped her with transportation.  The witness clarified that she was told about the ambush by people on the road, and that they said the soldiers ambushed were the children arrested at the Konola market.  She described Phebe Hospital as in Bong County not far from Gbarnga, a little farther from where she was living; the witness decided to go to Phebe Hospital and check to see if she could find her brother among the wounded.  The witness explained that when she said “arrest,” she used the word to mean the taking of children, not that the children had committed any crimes.

GG told the jury that she was able to get to Phebe Hospital because the cook gave her 500 Liberian dollars for a bus ticket.  At Phebe, she said, she ran to the gate and explained to her security guard that she had heard wounded soldiers arrived last night and that they were the children taken in the market; she told him she was looking for her brother.  According to GG, the security guard agreed to let her in, and took her to the ward where the wounded soldiers were.

“I was calling his name,” the witness told the jury, clearly emotional.  “I heard my brother calling my name, and I held him and I started to cry.”  She testified that his whole body was bandaged, with his fingers gone and his thumb hanging down; a nurse told GG it should be amputated because it was useless.

GG described her search for FF through a long hallway with many partitions, and how she heard him call her name, saying, “I’m dying, I’m dying.”  GG testified that his whole head was bandaged; because of what happened, his eyes were injured.  She told the jury that he never had problems with his eyes or hand before.  She explained that the nurse asked if GG was his sister and then told her that his thumb should be amputated.  All of GG’s brother’s fingers were missing, but the nurse had managed to hold his thumb on with a bandage.  GG said that she told her brother to let the nurse take his thumb, and GG and FF stayed at Phebe for two or three months while FF recovered.

GG stood before the jury with a large map of Liberia and pointed to Monrovia, Kakata, and Konola.  She showed the route of her journey with her brother.

The witness testified that she still lives with FF, and that she helps support him.  She explained that the wounds to his eyes affected him badly, and that he cannot see and that his eyes water constantly.  “The tears run day and night,” she said, and told the jury that his eyes still hurt him.

On cross examination, the witness stated that her brother was hurt in November of 1992.  She said she knew this because Octopus started in October, which she knew because she had just turned 18.  She could not say if the wounds occurred in early or late November, and did not know the day they left Phebe Hospital.  GG stated that she was with her brother the whole time he was in the hospital.

GG testified that they went to Gbarnga to live after they left the hospital, and stated that it was under the control of the NPFL, just like the area of Phebe Hospital.  She stated that they decide to go to Gbarnga because it was the safest place to go after the hospital.

The witness stated she did not know which force ambushed her brother.

Witness 9: “FF”

The government’s next witness was the brother of GG, FF.  He testified that he grew up in Kakata, and identified himself as a member of the Kpelle group.  He explained that his father was Kpelle, and that in Liberia tribal identity is determined by your father; he said that he and GG have the same mother but different fathers.

FF told the jury that he went to school in Kakata but did not stay in school long because the war broke out.  He was not sure how long he spent in school, maybe one or two years.  He stated that when he was growing up, he lived with his sister, GG.

FF testified that he first experienced the war in 1992 when he was 12 years old.  He described that at the time he and GG were selling peppers, pineapples, and fruits called “bitterballs” to support themselves, selling from village to village and market to market in Konola. 

The witness identified the day of his capture as a Friday, because that was market day in Konola.  He described sitting in the market and seeing a group of soldiers running toward him, grabbing people and putting them in a truck.  FF said that the soldiers he saw were his “peer group,” meaning they were his age, and that they came and kicked away the items FF and GG were selling, and put him in a truck.  There were many soldiers and many who were put in the car, he said.  He identified those captured as a mixed group, some older than him and some boys younger than him.

FF testified that the soldiers took him to Konola Base, which was previously a mission school and that before that day he had never been there before.  He described how everyone was crying and missing their parents, “and for me I lost my mother and couldn’t see my sister;” he was crying as well.

FF recalled Commander Zobon of the Small Boys Unit telling the boys there was no way they could go, they had to be trained.  FF saw Zobon personally; “he was always with us,” FF said.  FF testified that he was trained in how to kill, shoot, dismantle an AK-47, and how put a gun together, so the boys would be able “to go to kill.”  He stated the group trained for three days on the base.

On the fourth day, FF testified, he was told the Minister of Defense was going to come talk to the boys.  He described everyone as jubilant and firing guns in the air because they would see their chief. 

FF clarified that when he arrived at the base, he trained with adults, because they were all going to face the same battle.

When the Chief of the Defense Staff arrived, FF said, the fighters “called him Chief Tom Woewiyu.”  The witness recognized the name because he heard the name before he was taken from the market, “because anytime anything happened, he had to come to talk to everybody.”

FF recalled that when Woewiyu came to the base, he told the group, “Gentlemen, do not worry.  We are going to liberate our country and take it back from ECOMOG.”  According to FF, Woewiyu said he wanted a “country for all of us, a Liberia for all of us.”  The witness clarified that Woewiyu addressed everybody in general, not just the adults or boys, because all were going on the battle front.

When FF learned he was going to battle, he said, in his heart was the feeling that he could not see his mother or his sister, and he was full of fear.  He said that everyone was crying, and fighters told them, “Why are you crying? Crying cannot help you.”  A commander told the children who were crying that they were not better than other children, so they had to go fight; FF testified that when the commander said this, he was on a platform with Woewiyu.  The witness described a large group on the platform, spread out in the front and center.

Woewiyu was wearing a white shirt and camouflage pants, FF recalled, with a .45 on his side and a Motorola radio handset.  FF testified that Woewiyu told the group, “Keep courage.  You’ll be back.”

FF remembered that in the evening, he was put in a pickup and was heading to the battlefront when a launched rocked fell into the truck.  The next thing he knew, he told the jury, he was in the hospital.  The wounded were taken to the hospital, he said, and his head and hand were bandaged up because the rocket exploded in his eye.  FF said that before the explosion, he could see clearly.

The witness told the jury that his hand was “cut,” and lifted his right arm to show to the courtroom.  He had no right hand; his right arm ended at his wrist, in flesh that looked like it had healed from an amputation.

FF stated that at Phebe Hospital, he trembled every day.  He said that the wounded soldiers were carried into the hospital to see the one doctor.  “It was a terrible thing.”

According to FF, he was lying in the hospital crying when he heard his sister shouting his name.  He said that he called back, “I’m here, I’m lying here, I’m dying! Come for me!”  He told the court, “I was in severe pain.  Everyday people were dying in the hospital.”

FF testified that he cannot see things at a distance, and that he feels pain in his eyes every day.  He said that he would not be able to see things too clearly even up close.

The witness was shown a photograph and recognized Konola Base, which he said looked how it did when he was 12.  He stated that he had not been to Konola Base since the day he left and was ambushed.

FF stated that he was also hit by particles from the rocket in his shoulders and side, and recalled the prosecution taking photographs of his scars.

On cross examination, the witness stated that he did not know the date he came to the hospital, the timeframe between his birthday and the rocket attack, or who launched the rocket.  He stated that when attacked, he was with NPFL soldiers.  He did not know the date he left Phebe Hospital, whether he had spent Christmas in the hospital, or how old he was when he left the hospital.  He testified that no one told him what day it was when he left the hospital.

Witness 10: “X”

The last witness to testify on Thursday, X, told the jury that he was born in Nimba County, in the city of Ganta.  He identified himself as of the Mano ethnic tribe.  He said that he left school at the elementary level when he was very small, because of the war; he is now a motorcyclist who transports people from place to place, a common taxi method in Monrovia.

X testified that when growing up, he lived with his aunt.  He was living with his grandmother because he was very small when his father died, but then he moved with his aunt to Kakata in Margibi County.  He said that he lived with many of his aunt’s children, including one with whom he was close, Obie, who he called his “older brother.”  He explained that cousins often call each other brothers in Liberia, and that he was next in age to this cousin.  He said that his aunt worked selling bread around Kakata to provide for the family.

The war first came to Kakata in 1990 when X was 14, he said.  X stated that he first experienced it one afternoon when his aunt was working and got information that everyone should stay in their houses.  A few hours later, he continued, AFL soldiers said everybody should stay inside and should not go anywhere.

The witness testified that the next morning he heard gunshots and hid under a bed.  The shooting continued for a long time, and then he heard people knocking on the door.  X told the jury that he was brought out from under the bed, and that he saw some people wearing red cloth tied around their heads, although they were wearing normal clothing.  He said they had weapons, including AK-47s and Berettas.  “They told us they were Charles Taylor’s rebels,” X said.

According to X, the rebel soldiers came inside and began searching for AFL soldiers, asking if any were hiding in the house.  X explained that he did not answer because the soldiers were talking to his aunt.  There were no AFL soldiers, so the rebels left; X said some went to the neighbors’ houses to search, and some went back to their compound.  He identified the rebels as adults.

X testified that a few days later, the government counter-attacked, so X and his family fled into the bush.  They went to the Bong Mines Highway that finishes near Coles Farm in Lower Bong County.  X explained that they went to Coles Farm to hide in safety, because there was so much shooting.  They stayed at Coles Farm for many months before returning to Kakata.

When the family returned to Kakata, X said, there were two soldiers living in their neighbor’s house.  X identified the soldiers as members of Charles Taylor’s group, the NPFL.  Clothes and other things had been looted from X’s aunt’s house, he said.  According to X, of the two men living in the neighbor’s house, one was named Alphonso; X did not know either man before the war.  He described how they had hung red cloth at the house they were living in, but he did not know the significance.

X said that there was “no more trouble” in Kakata and everyone was “doing normal things.”  He testified that he lived for about a year under NPFL control, and did not see AFL soldiers anymore.  Sometimes, he said, the NPFL soldiers brought them food.

X testified that he returned with his family to Coles Farm in 1992 to make a farm and cut palm nuts from the trees there to make oil to sell for use in cooking.  He said they farmed there for many months but he was not sure of the exact number of months, and that eventually his aunt and others left to go back to the village, but that he and Obie remained.

X told the court that one day a group of men came, and he heard them say “Halt! Stop!”  He testified that at the time he was in a palm tree cutting palm nuts with a machete; at the time, Obie was under the palm tree standing on the other side.  X said that he saw soldiers pointing guns so he came down with the ladder he had used to climb the palm tree, made of a type of flower that grew in the bush.  X stated that when he came down, he saw Obie on the ground and the soldiers told the boys to accompany them back to a village.

The witness noted that when he went up the palm tree, Obie had his shirt on; when X came back down the palm tree, Obie was not wearing a shirt.

X testified that at the village, men were lying on their backs in the sun, and women and children were sitting against the walls of buildings; the men did not have shirts on, and were lying with their arms very straight beside them.  X stated that he heard a commander give an order to take the men lying down to Bong Mines; he was also taken, along with Obie and some other boys who were younger than him.  X told the jury that this was in 1992 when he was 16.

When the group got to Bong Mines, the witness saw a group of men under the orders of other soldiers there, and he described how the soldiers sat the new arrivals down.  X recalled orders were given to “Keep them,” and that anyone making an attempt to escape should be killed.  X could not recall the name of the commander who gave this order.  X said it was a big group of men and boys, and that the people who were already there had also been captured and taken.  X identified the soldiers who captured him and who were in charge at Bong Mines as part of the NPFL.  He said he and the other captured people were ordered not to escape.

X testified that a few days afterward, soldiers came in a car convoy and the captives were told to come outside and get down into formation.  He explained that at Bong Mines was a big house, and the captives slept in the house; the soldiers were outside, surrounding the house.  He said the captives were called outside into formation, and those without arms – including X – were surrounded by armed men.

X remembered the arrival of three commanders very clearly.  He testified that he stood with other children, and none of them had weapons.  When the commanders came, he said, they brought arms and food.  X identified the first commander to speak as General Zah, the second commander to speak as Bruce, and the last commander to speak as Woewiyu.

X said everyone was gathered in formation in the middle of town, and that the cars had come and were parking when everyone was called in formation.  The witness demonstrated the distance between himself and the commanders who spoke based on his distance to the prosecutor, who stood near the jury box.  The distance was “not far,” X said, and commanders were not on a platform, but standing on the ground.

The first commander who spoke “told everybody they should remain in the queue,” X said, and that if they did not, they would be killed.  X said that General Zah explained they would all be going to the frontlines, and they would be trained in a few days’ time to fight.  According to X, the second commander to speak, Bruce, said the same thing.

X testified that Woewiyu was the last commander to talk; before he spoke, X had never heard of or seen him.  X knew who he was because Woewiyu identified himself, and X heard soldiers call him by his name.  X described that when Woewiyu arrived, he was honored by the soldiers, and they called him “Sir.”  The witness stood up in the witness box and demonstrated for the jury how the soldiers stood formally before Woewiyu, with their arms stiff by their sides, standing perfectly straight, and how they saluted him.

According to X, Woewiyu told the crowd that everyone should “get prepared,” because the soldiers would train them for a short time, and they had two weeks to get used to arms and then they would go to the front and fight.  X recalled that Woewiyu then introduced himself as the Defense Minister of the NPFL, and said his name.

Later, the captives went around in a circle singing, X said.  This was the first time he was made to sing by soldiers; he described how the soldiers would sing and the captives would repeat or answer their song.  When asked if he remembered the words, the witness laughed and said he did not have a good voice, but he demonstrated the kind of singing that he was made to do by singing the line “I’m on the battlefield for my love.”

The witness said that before Woewiyu left Bong Mines, he gave the command that no one should make the attempt to escape, or they would be executed.  X said that Woewiyu left arms and ammunition on the ground so the captives could be trained.  He described being training in putting together guns, putting bullets in the chamber, firing, jogging, and taking cover.

X testified that at the meeting with the three commanders, those gathered were told they were going to the frontlines, but did not remember being told who they were fighting.  He remembered that there were children younger than him at Bong Mines, including 12-year-olds.

X stated that he was trained by the NPFL fighter Alphonso, his former neighbor, who accompanied the group of captives to Bong Mines.

X recalled that the first time Woewiyu addressed their group at Bong Mines, he wore khaki trousers, a white shirt, and brown boots, and he had a pistol and a grenade.

The training lasted two weeks, X said, and then Woewiyu returned, and the group of trainees was divided in two.  The witness testified that Woewiyu returned in a convoy with General Zah, with AK-47s and other kinds of guns as well as ammunition, and distributed them.  Everyone was issued an arm; X’s AK-47 was given to him by Alphonso, he said.  According to X, Woewiyu was present while this was happening, and Woewiyu gave the orders to distribute arms because the trainees were going to the battlefront.  X recalled that after the arms were issued, everyone sat and sang songs.

X testified that Woewiyu told them they were all going to Duwalla to attack ECOMOG on the Grand Cape Mount Highway from Monrovia to Freeport.  X explained that the highway goes to Freetown, Sierra Leone.  He recalled Woewiyu saying that they were “going to fight ECOMOG soldiers and it’s not going to be an easy thing.”  X described Woewiyu telling the crowd that they would be divided into two group for the attack.  X said he was placed in a group that took the train track road, under the command of Alphonso; General Zah commanded the others.  The witness did not know the exact number of people in each group, but said there were “many,” and that there were child soldiers in each group.  General Zah’s group used the car route.

X recalled walking along the train tracks for two days before getting to Duwalla.  He described being kept in an ambush position until 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning before attacking ECOMOG, which was based in Duwalla across the road.  The witness testified that his group began to deploy in the early morning and everyone was shooting, with over an hour of heavy fire.  He described the group retreating, and said that his friend was killed.

X testified that he escaped to the bush with his brother, and that they spent three days in the bush before going back to Kakata, where they got some clothes and then “started going.”  The witness told the jury that he threw his gun in an abandoned building because he did not want it, and said that he was “so afraid” he would be captured.  His brother threw his gun in a banana bush.  The witness stated that in Kakata, the boys put clothes in a bag, and then they spent a week on a truck before arriving in Nimba.  He testified that he did not have to participate in the rest of the war.

The witness described seeing Woewiyu again after the war in Dou, in Lower Nimba County, in District #8.  He stated that this was in 1997, and they were very close to each other at the time.

The witness recognized Charles Taylor and Woewiyu in a photograph.  Woewiyu stood just behind Taylor in the photograph, and the witness testified that was how Woewiyu looked when X saw him.  The witness circled Kakata and Bong Mines on a map of Liberia, to show the jury the route of his journey.  He then identified the defendant as Woewiyu.

 

Trial will resume on Monday morning, June 18, with the cross examination of X.

Reports

CHARGES AND VERDICT IN THE TRIAL OF JUCONTEE THOMAS WOEWIYU

The third week of the trial of Jucontee Thomas Woewiyu ended on Thursday when the defense rested its case.

Witness 32: Marsilina “Marsha” Eikerenkoetter, Continued

Trial began Monday morning with a discussion of the evidence and witnesses that will be presented this week.

The second week of the trial of Jucontee Thomas Woewiyu ended on Thursday with the presentation of dramatic evidence by the prosecution.

The first week of the trial of Jucontee Thomas Woewiyu ended on Thursday with emotional testimony from the government’s witnesses.  Over the course of the week, the jury heard fro

When trial resumed on Wednesday morning, one of the jurors was not present.  That juror was recused and replaced with an alternate.

Trial officially began today in the federal prosecution of Jucontee Thomas Woewiyu, the former Minister of Defense for Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (“NPFL”