Trial Day 13: Closing Arguments
Defense’s Proposed Additional Jury Charge
The trial of Thomas Woewiyu began on Monday morning with the presentation of a motion by the defense to change the proposed language in a portion of the jury instructions.
The prosecution and the defense agreed as to changes of language in Counts 1 and 2 of the charging sheet, with respect to interrogatories. The parties agreed that for each interrogatory, or question, on the verdict sheet, the jury must answer each interrogatory unanimously.
The defense moved for an additional jury charge as to a “good faith reliance on an attorney.” The defense argued that the jury had heard evidence that Woewiyu consulted with attorney Raymond Basso, and that it was up to the jury to determine whether the elements of the “good faith” defense are met as a question of fact. The defense argued that factually, Woewiyu sought advice on the potential legality of any false answers from an attorney, and that good faith reliance on the advice of an attorney is a complete defense to perjury.
The prosecution agreed that unlawful intent is not proved as an element of perjury if the accused makes a good faith report of material facts to his or her attorney and then reasonably relies on the attorney’s advice in good faith.
Judge Anita B. Brody ruled that she would instruct the jury that good faith reliance is a defense to perjury charges, and that evidence of a defendant following the advice of counsel in good faith goes to the defendant’s intent.
Prosecution Closing Argument
The prosecution closing argument was delivered by Assistant United States Attorney Linwood C. Wright, Jr. He began his statement by thanking the jurors for their attentiveness, and by telling them that “America remains the idea that inspires the world.” Wright told the jury that it is a privilege to be born here, an honor to become a citizen, a gift to vote here and raise a family here, and a gift to live here. He told the jury that he himself did not pen “those simple and eloquent words,” and “some may be surprised who did:” former Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger, on becoming a U.S. citizen.
Wright, in his words, “suggested” to the jury (a turn of phrase he would repeat often in his closing argument) that there are “problems and divisions” in the United States, but that U.S. citizenship is still so valuable that it is difficult to quantify. “Whatever you do,” he said, “if you’re in the jungle and if they’re pulling out your fingernails, you don’t give up your American passport.” He said that “people come here, and those who deserve it are welcomed. We are still a welcoming nation.” He reminded the jury of two witnesses who testified, who were born in Liberia and who are now American citizens. “They came to this great nation of ours and earned citizenship,” Wright said, “something whose value cannot be bought.”
Wright told the jury that it “cannot be ignored that this defendant attempted to get that sacred honor of being an American citizen through fraud.” He suggested that the evidence was clear, showing that since Woewiyu “came into this nation he has only had a passing familiarity with the truth,” and Wright characterized that familiarity as “fleeting at best.”
Wright replayed a BBC recording was played for the jury, in which a reporter described the NPFL territory of Gbarnga as a “twilight zone,” with “hundreds of children.” The reporter identified Woewiyu as the NPFL’s Defense Minister, and described the NPFL’s Small Boys Unit. “It is a very small group,” Woewiyu said, “We put them all together to make sure they don’t do anything that we don’t want them to do and uh, to keep them disciplined. But the Small Boys Unit contains maybe from thirteen to fourteen on. They not, they not babies, they not ten years old.” The reporter asked if Woewiyu saw anything morally wrong with arming children, and he responded, “I see something morally wrong about having a ten-year-old child killed.” When the tape ended, Wright suggested to the jury that Woewiyu saying “they’re not babies” was Woewiyu playing to his audience.
Wright then suggested to the jury that Woewiyu’s “break with Charles Taylor is a temporary break.” He described the NPFL-CRC as “a council of warlords” that “fought against Charles Taylor,” but said that when Taylor was elected President, Woewiyu reconciled with him and became the Minister of Labor in Taylor’s cabinet. Wright quoted from an article previously read in court, in which Woewiyu wrote that “those children who fought in the NPFL and died were not related to Taylor.” He said that while children were fighting the war in Liberia, Taylor’s own children were in Swiss boarding schools. The article went on to discuss eight-year-olds dragging AK-47s behind them. Wright told the jury that Woewiyu and Taylor “were together” in 1992, but that in 1994 when they broke, “it was a change in narratives.” Wright reminded the jury of Woewiyu’s declaration that NPFL fighters “weren’t babies,” but “all of a sudden they were eight-year-olds.” Wright then read the transcript of a BBC interview, in which Woewiyu said he was “strongly behind Taylor” and “of one mind with him.”
Wright showed the jury a photo of Woewiyu with Taylor, and reminded them that Mark Huband testified to seeing Woewiyu seated at Taylor’s right hand. He showed the jury a photograph of a child soldier, entered into evidence in this case. Wright indicated that by his own words, Woewiyu was “of one mind” with Taylor in 1990 and 1991. He said the photograph was taken at a “confidence building session” while opening a road, and that Woewiyu attended the session as Minister of Defense, while there were checkpoints manned by child soldiers at the same event. He showed the jury another photograph, and said that the children depicted “were in fact his fighters.” Wright said the Woewiyu was the Minister of Defense from 1990 until 1993, “so when he changes the narrative, it’s a shading of the truth” because all along, the children were his fighters. “When you talk to the BBC, they’re not ‘babies.’ But in reality, and when it suited his purpose, they were eight-year-olds.
Wright reminded the jury that he had an opportunity to cross examine Woewiyu’s immigration attorney, Raymond Basso. He described asking Basso a question, and showing Basso a document that Basso said “looked like a resume.” Wright reminded the jury that he had asked Basso if Woewiyu had told him that as Minister of Defense, he was in reality more of a spokesman who “mostly did PR,” not the planning and commanding of the NPFL. This was stated on Woewiyu’s resume, which also stated that Woewiyu was out of Liberia for most of the duration of the war. Wright told the jury that Basso had answered “No,” and Wright suggested that was because it suited Woewiyu’s purpose at the time to present this image.
Wright then discussed the statement Woewiyu gave on March 3, 2006 in a Dutch prosecution of a third party. He reminded them that Woewiyu swore in testimony given before a magistrate that “the rebels came from the northern border. I know this, I know that, because I’m an expert. I was Minister of Defense.” Wright told the jury they had heard witnesses testify to Woewiyu giving “pep talks to soldiers, including child soldiers.” Wright read from the Dutch statement, in which Woewiyu said, “I never physically engaged in fighting. As Minister of Defense of the NPFL, I issued orders to fighters.” Wright told the jury they had heard about the orders, when they heard about Woewiyu instructing soldiers they were going to fight ECOMOG or Doe. Wright reminded them of the testimony of Witness X and Witness Y, who were abducted by the NPFL and forced into battle. He suggested to the jury it “cannot be ignored” that they encountered Woewiyu.
“Do you know who else he gave orders to?” Wright asked. He reminded the jury of Witness FF, who was 12 years old when NPFL rebels “literally tore him out of his sister’s arms and conscripted him,” and took him for training at Konola Base. Wright told the jury that Woewiyu was the Minister of Defense when he came to the base and told FF and others, “You’re going to fight ECOMOG.” “This kid crying for his sister […] from whose arms he was torn, [was] thrown into a pickup truck on the way to the front” when he was attacked, Wright said, and added that “he can’t write right-handed.” Wright raised his right hand, clenched into a fist, to demonstrate to the jury that FF had lost his hand when attacked.
Wright then told the jury about “something else that can’t be ignored,” the July 12, 1990 massacre at Bakiedou, the Mandingo village in Lofa County. He reminded them of the two witnesses who testified that NPFL rebels rounded up the Mandingos “to the extent they could,” and put them in the town hall. Wright recalled to the jury Witness V, whose brother was a town chief who said “We are not political,” and have the rebels a cow and money. “What happened?” Wright asked rhetorically. His answer: “We don’t trust you people, kill them.” Wright described Witness V and Witness W, who “fell among the other falling bodies,” and “played dead.” “What happened?” Wright asked. Witness V lost his brother, his blind mother, and his father. Witness W lost his brother.
“What else can’t be ignored?” Wright asked. “The oath.” He told the jury it was “not to be trifled with,” and was “not a matter of whim […] it is mandatory.” He described the “solid obligation” to “in fact be truthful.” Wright referred to the defense argument that Woewiyu “told everybody who he was,” and agreed that the list included the BBC, the U.S. State Department, and the international press, but said it did not include “the entity and individuals in it who he was legally obligated to tell.” Wright argued that Woewiyu “could not get what he wanted if he did” tell the truth to those whom he was obligated to be truthful with.
Wright suggested to the jury that the evidence supports that Woewiyu’s failure to honestly answer the questions on the Form N-400 Application for Naturalization was by design. Wright argued that Woewiyu joined the NPFL in 1987, and could have applied for naturalization at any time from 1977 onward, and thus had 19 years – as he submitted his application in 2006 – to acknowledge membership in the NPFL, NPFL-CRC, or the National Reconstruction Assembly Government (“NPRAG”). Wright told the jury that the evidence showed the omission was “by design, because he knew that if they knew [about the NPFL] they would find out about child soldiers,” or that he was Minister of Defense, “and then he couldn’t get what he wanted. So again the narrative on his part shifted. All you have to do is write it down and be honest, but he didn’t do that.”
Wright referred to the movie Jagged Edge, in which Jeff Bridges’ character challenges a prosecutor to prove that Bridges killed his wife. Wright told the jury that Bridges “had a right to say ‘prove it.’ And that’s how it ought to be.” He reminded the jury that the law never places the burden on a defendant to come forward with any evidence at all, and that Woewiyu had a right to expect the government to prove its case. Wright also told the jury that just because there is a trial does not mean there is an actual issue, and no matter how overwhelming the evidence is, the defendant has the right to make the government prove its case.
Wright then suggested that there was “no issue” in relation to three of the lies Woewiyu was alleged to have told, and listed them: 1) when instructed to list his affiliations, “there was no ‘NPFL’ there;” 2) when asked if he ever directly or indirectly advocated the overthrow of a government by force or violence, there was “overwhelming evidence” that he did; and 3) when asked to list prior convictions, the “falsification of business records just isn’t there.”
Wright then told the jurors that Judge Brody would instruct them on the law, and indicated he would discuss the counts as well, but “she’ll tell you if I’m wrong.” He began with Count One of the indictment, a charge of fraudulently attempting to obtain citizenship. Wright read the jury the elements, and said that the “reality is that if you find” that Woewiyu “lied with regard to four areas on the N-400, then [the jury] can find for the government on all counts” and “the government will have fulfilled all of its obligations under every statute tried.” Wright argued that Woewiyu knew he was under oath, and reminded the jury it had seen Woewiyu’s signed affidavit attesting to the truth of the matters contained in his application.
“Each count is simply dependent on the fact that he was not honest on the form,” Wright said, before classifying the other counts of fraudulently attempting to obtain citizenship, making false statements on an immigration form, perjury, and making false certifications. He told the jury that for the perjury charges, some are based on Woewiyu’s alleged false swearing, “where he raised his right hand,” and some are based on false certifications of the data on his application.
Wright then addressed Woewiyu’s membership in the NPFL. He told the jury again that Woewiyu could have applied for citizenship “every year from 1977 to 2006,” and could have declared his membership in the NPFL any year after its founding. He showed the jury Woewiyu’s application form, with its red checkmarks, and told the jury that U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) Officer Marsha Eikerenkoetter reiterated her question as to Woewiyu’s associations a few times, “and he said ‘No.’ She said, ‘Are you sure?’”
Wright told the jury Woewiyu then told Eikerenkoetter the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (“ULAA”), and she wrote it down. “He didn’t even have to write it down, he just had to say NPFL,” Wright argued. “But he didn’t do that, he instead came up with this. And then he said later on that’s an umbrella organization.” Wright professed incredulity to the jury, that a civic organization in the United States could be an umbrella organization for a rebel group trying to overthrow a country and form a new government. He asked the jury to look to their “human experience” as to whether Woewiyu’s answer was reasonable. “He just didn’t do it, and he had every opportunity.”
Wright then reminded the jury of evidence it had heard about Woewiyu’s membership in the NPFL. He showed a photograph of Woewiyu at a conference, sitting at a table behind an NPFL sign. He asked the jury to remember the “Turning the Tables” article purportedly written by Woewiyu, discussing his breaking ties with Charles Taylor in 1994. Wright read aloud from the article, quoting Woewiyu as saying, “Gentlemen of the press, I am a founding member of the NPFL.”
Wright turned to the Dutch statement taken in 2006, and read to the jury Woewiyu’s assertion that “I’m a co-founder of the NPFL. Together with Charles Taylor, I founded the NPFL.” He read further into the statement, in which Woewiyu discussed logging rights that the NPFL could cede because it controlled 90% of Liberian territory, and named others who could have led the NPFL instead of Charles Taylor, including himself. Wright reminded the jury of the BBC broadcast in which Woewiyu, then with the NPFL-CRC, said “I’m in charge now.” Wright asked the jury, “Was he in the NPFL?” He answered, “Certainly he was.”
Wright then discussed the depth of Woewiyu’s relationship with the NPFL organization. He read from a BBC transcript in which Woewiyu discussed NPRAG and his own place in the NPRAG cabinet, saying Taylor had “appointed some of those cabinet ministers, one of which I was.” Wright told the jury Woewiyu’s omission of his NPFL membership from his Application for Naturalization would be akin to Robert E. Lee describing himself as an educator, and omitting his history with the Confederacy. Wright told the jury that the “evidence has shown that [Woewiyu] was embedded in the fabric of the NPFL, and that the fabric of the NPFL was embedded in him.”
Wright then turned to the next question on which Woewiyu had allegedly lied, telling the jury Woewiyu “checked no” in answer to whether he ever advocated directly or indirectly the overthrow of a government. Wright reminded the jury that Woewiyu’s immigration attorney, Basso, “admitted on the stand he knew they were trying to overthrow” Samuel Doe’s government. Wright argued that although Woewiyu “said under penalty of perjury that he never tried to do that,” his past actions indicated the opposite. Wright read aloud from a memorandum written by Woewiyu to a State Department official, quoting that the NPFL “has as its objective the overthrow of the Doe government.”
“We know that was the goal of the organization he founded,” Wright said, adding that Woewiyu “was the Minister of Defense and he did what Ministers of Defense do” – purchase arms. Wright referred to Woewiyu’s statements to the Dutch that “I’m the Minister of Defense and I know everything about this.” Wright argued that Woewiyu’s negotiation with undercover Special Agents for stinger missiles “goes to whether he was trying to overthrow the government,” and read aloud from Woewiyu’s Certificate of Authenticity which he gave to the Agents, allegedly to prove his good faith in the arms deal. Wright read, “Jucontee Thomas Woewiyu hereby certifies as follows: I am Minster of National Defense” of NPRAG. Wright asked the jury “And what did he try to do? Get guns.” Wright added that Woewiyu’s statement in the Dutch case showed he received guns from Libya and from Nigerian peacekeepers.
Wright quoted the Notorious B.I.G., asking the jury, “What ya think all the guns is for?” Wright told the jury that “we know what they were for” – the overthrow of the Doe government. He then read again from a BBC transcript, when Woewiyu’s answer to whether there was a ceasefire was “No,” and that there was “No change in the plan to take Doe down.” Wright continued to read from the transcript in which Woewiyu said Doe’s ministers “are all in danger,” and advised them to “flee the country if you can,” or, if approached by a hitman, “and you can cut his throat first, you do so.”
Wright returned to other BBC broadcasts, reading to the jury from a number of transcripts that had been entered into evidence. In one, Woewiyu said that if Doe went on the radio to announce his resignation, and begged to negotiate, Woewiyu “might” go to Sierra Leone to attend ongoing peace talks; he said the war would “continue until it comes to an end.” In another transcript, from July 3, 1990, Wright read Woewiyu’s statement that “when we’re done with this campaign, there’ll be no more Doe.” In it, Woewiyu also discussed Monrovia’s location on a peninsula, and how the NPFL had blocked all escape routes, including by water. Wright then read from a transcript of a broadcast made two days later, in which Woewiyu called it “unrealistic” not to include Charles Taylor in an interim government. Wright suggested to the jury that Woewiyu was saying the NPFL would not stop fighting until Taylor was in power, and that Woewiyu “committed acts that showed us overwhelmingly that he was attempting to overthrow by force or violence.”
Wright called to the jury’s attention the testimony of American diplomats, and showed a photograph of Doe and Amos Sawyer, who became the interim president after Doe’s death, receiving the 1986 Constitution that is still in force in Liberia. Wright characterized Doe’s election in 1985 as “not the best election in the world” but one which was legitimate enough to allow U.S. diplomats to present Doe their credentials. He also told the jury that the Liberian government is “modeled on ours,” and listed those structures and services that are similar, including its three branches of government, public services, civil servants, public works, public hospitals, roads, and schools. “They had everything that is indicative of the existence of a government,” he said, adding that it was “recognized” by the United States. He showed the jury pictures of Doe in Washington, D.C. with President Ronald Reagan and separately with Caspar Weinberger, Reagan’s Secretary of Defense.
“But remember [Woewiyu’s] constantly changing the narrative,” Wright cautioned. He said that when Woewiyu talked to the Dutch in 2006, he told them that in September 1990 President Doe was murdered, and Sawyer was elected president. Wright said that in an earlier conversation with the Dutch, Woewiyu indicated an interim government was set up in Monrovia, but that the NPFL controlled the rest of the country, and set up its own interim government, of which Woewiyu admitted to being Minister of Defense. Wright read Woewiyu’s statement to the Dutch, quoting him as saying that “the interim governments were converted in 1994 to a single interim government in Monrovia. I became Minister of Labor in that government.” Wright continued to read aloud from the statement, saying Woewiyu created the NPFL-CRC in April 1994 when he wanted to disavow Taylor, who wanted to continue fighting, but that “in 1997, elections were held and I reconciled with Charles Taylor.”
“And this is the most curious,” Wright said, and read aloud from the Application for Naturalization the question as to whether the applicant had ever been convicted of a crime. “Falsification of business records is not listed there,” Wright told the jury. Woewiyu could not have forgotten about the conviction, Weight argued, because his attachments to the Form N-400 suggested otherwise. Wright told the jury that because Woewiyu did not know what USCIS knew about his past, he and Basso “tried to go and look and find out what they had.” He showed the jury a letter from the State of New York saying a record of Woewiyu’s arrest could not be found. Wright argued that the letter proved Woewiyu had not forgotten about the conviction, “but once they saw that, they said they’re going to provide a false narrative.”
Wright addressed the handwritten attachment to Woewiyu’s application, in which he said he was arrested as a parking attendant on the strength of a “blanket warrant.” Wright said that in his time as a prosecutor, he had never heard of a “blanket warrant,” telling the jury it is “like a pink and green zebra.” Wright showed the jury a bench warrant with only Woewiyu’s name on it, asking them, “Where’s everybody else in the zebra?” He called the handwritten note “a false narrative once again concocted by the defendant in order to get what he wanted.”
Wright then discussed Woewiyu’s fourth alleged lie, telling the jury that “this is where battle’s to be joined if battle is to be,” and read aloud, “Have you ever persecuted (either directly or indirectly) any person because of race, religion, national origin, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion?” Wright told the jury Woewiyu answered “No,” and suggested that “the evidence shows again that’s another false narrative.”
Wright reminded the jury that the rebellion began on December 24, 1989, and then read aloud from a BBC transcript of a June 1990 broadcast, in which Woewiyu said the NPFL had taken 90% of the land mass of the country, and in which he indicated that 99% of the population of the country was on the NPFL’s side. Wright suggested that this accomplishment in just six months could not be done “if you don’t have control over your forces. You can’t do that.” Wright referred to the American diplomat witnesses who said the NPFL had a way of communicating, and to Witness DD, who testified that when Woewiyu was present, soldiers behaved.
“Remember he was the one who was advancing the dialogue,” Wright said. Wright referred to three witnesses who heard Woewiyu say “a good Krahn man is a dead Krahn man.” Wright told the jury Woewiyu admitted to saying that in 1994, after working with Krahns and Mandingos in ULIMO-K and -J to try to “take out Charles Taylor, before they reconciled.” Wright read aloud from the letter in which Woewiyu wrote that his statement was “maliciously aired” on NPFL radio after his split from Taylor. The “interesting thing,” Wright said, was that Woewiyu was “rationalizing.” “Witnesses said they heard it during the war,” Wright said, and asked the jury to consider “Where is NPFL radio gonna get a recording of him saying that?”
“Let’s take a look at what was happening around the country,” Wright said, and referred to James Fasuekoi’s testimony about his Krahn friend tortured in the style called “duck fa tabae,” buried face down, and called a “Krahn dog.” Wright reminded the jury of Witness C, who said that as a Krahn, she survived the NPFL by “Divine Providence.” He described her testimony, including how the NPFL found her at a farm and tied her in the tabae style, and how she “still has faint marks as a result of it. They were going to take her away and kill her merely for being a Krahn.” “What you have to remember is these are civilians, these aren’t combatants,” Wright said.
Wright explained to the jury the reason for the prosecution showing so many maps: “We talked about checkpoints from one end of the country to the other,” listing them in Bong County, Lofa County, Montserrado County, and Margibi County. Wright called the NPFL checkpoints “horrendous,” and said some “had severed heads still dripping in middle of road. Intestines in baskets, ropes made of intestines.” He described the questions asked “over and over again” at the checkpoints as to tribal affiliation, telling the jury the NPFL searched out different dialects. “Krahns and Mandingos were separated out and many were never seen again.” He referred to a witness who saw a Krahn man shot. “And who was doing that?” Wright asked. “Who had the least developed brains” and were “easily indoctrinated” to be “used as weapons?” “Child soldiers,” he said.
Wright suggested the NPFL policy with regard to Mandingos was equally violent, and “Woewiyu understood what was going on because he knew.” Wright referred to a document authored by Woewiyu, and said in it he called Taylor an “enemy of the NPFL,” arguing that “this was a circumstance where [Woewiyu] said it was someone else,” but that Woewiyu had in fact said “the only good Krahn man is the dead Krahn man,” and who was Minister of Defense during the war. Wright read more from Woewiyu’s statement, in which Woewiyu condemned those using the uprising to search for revenge, but connected the fighters who “took over the diamond region of Liberia” to Guinea, “where they had natural ethnic affinities.” Wright told the jury that “this is after the CRC thing where he needed Krahns and Mandingos,” and that Guinea has a Mandingo population. Wright reminded the jury that witnesses from Bakiedou testified that after their families were massacred, they went to Guinea.
Wright then read from two more BBC transcripts. In one, Woewiyu downplayed the suffering of Mandingos. In the other, Woewiyu said he had a suspicion of Guinean ECOMOG forces because Guinea had the same tribes as Liberia, “so when you have problem between Mandingos and Manos and Gios,” Guinea “cannot serve as a referee.” Wright reminded the jury of two witnesses who testified about witnessing animosity against Mandingos.
Wright turned to the “circumstances with connivers,” which he told the jury was relevant to the persecution of someone based on their political opinion. “And you know that opinion was repeatedly articulated by the defendant.” Wright read from a BBC transcript, in which Woewiyu said that “anybody that entered the land called Liberia without the consensus of the people of Liberia” would be met with arms. Wright described the NPFL continuing to fight when ECOMOG arrived in Liberia, and reminded the jury of a witness who said it was a crime to go to Monrovia, and of Fasuekoi’s response when asked if there were government services provided at Fendell: “Are you joking?” Wright read a BBC quote from Woewiyu in which he said ECOMOG was being helped by the U.S., and played aloud a recording in which Woewiyu discussed ECOMOG shelling civilian areas and said its activities were coordinated by the U.S., so the NPFL would “have to organize ourselves properly” to fight “until we are dead.”
“Of course ECOMOG was the enemy,” Wright said, and reminded the jury of Fasuekoi’s testimony about teachers who were from ECOMOG countries. He reminded the jury of the witness who passed a checkpoint at Patience Shop, where NPFL rebels were checking for dialects of people from ECOMOG countries. Wright told the jury that “after the fact,” Woewiyu said his “heart goes out to […] Ghanaian immigrants in Grand Bassa County” who were rounded up and placed in a “concentration camp” by the NPFL, that was broken up when Woewiyu learned of it and urged Taylor to end it. “This is years later after,” Wright argued, “and you ask yourself how, as Minister of Defense, he could not know about a concentration camp being run by his forces in Nimba County.”
The “evidence doesn’t stop there,” Wright said, “but I want to leave you with one thing in relation to persecution, and that involves five American humanitarian aid workers.” He recalled the testimony that two were killed in a vehicle and three at a different location on the orders of Mosquito, “who was a commanding general who served under Woewiyu, who in the Dutch testimony says he trained” Mosquito. Wright then reminded the jury of a witness who testified that during Operation Octopus, Woewiyu arrived with ammunition and told Mosquito “he’s strong, tell the boys to hold the line” in the pitched battle for Monrovia. Wright argued that during that time, the innocent humanitarian workers were killed for their perceived opinion of supporting ECOMOG.
Wright addressed Woewiyu’s control, reminding the jury of Witness DD’s testimony about Koko Dennis and the two suspected connivers. He told the jury that DD testified that Dennis said, “You tell the Chief what you know” while Woewiyu was present. When they protested their innocence, Wright recalled DD saying, their ears were cut off “and then they’re taken away.” Wright described Woewiyu’s “Turning the Tables” articles as in fact turning on Koko Dennis, “who he was standing next to and did nothing when he cut off their ears. The narrative goes the way he wants it to go. And I suggest the evidence shows he’s guilty on all the charges.”
Wright told the jury that everything said in the courtroom “all gets written down,” and then quoted extensively from the defense’s opening statement. He began by quoting Catherine Henry, the Federal Public Defender who delivered the opening statement, as asking why the prosecution brought “these poor people” over to testify to what happened. Wright told the jury that the U.S. government “does not have the ability or desire to compel someone from another country to come here and testify. Those brave souls came here because they had something they needed to say.” Wright told the jury that “something happened to them that should never happen to anyone,” and that the witnesses “came here voluntarily, and it was a cathartic experience.” “They were here because they wanted to tell their story.” Wright told the jury the government did not bring the witnesses for “emotional manipulation,” as suggested by the defense’s opening statement, but because “when someone pleads not guilty, we have to prove it. […] These were the people we had to ask.”
Wright quoted from the defense’s opening statement as to the roles of the NPFL spokesperson and Minister of Defense “basically doing the same thing.” “Does Sarah Huckabee Sanders go out to meet with people to buy Stinger missiles?” he asked. “No. [Woewiyu] was a spokesman.” However, Wright then reminded the jury of the testimony of Witness Z, whose brother was a fisherman who was taken away at Woewiyu’s order.
Wright read again from the defense’s opening statement as to the Form N-400 being “open” until the end of the application process, and then told the jury that even the defense witnesses testified that an oath was binding. Wright indicated the defense expert said that if a Form N-400 was incorrectly checked by an Immigration Officer, “Don’t sign. You can’t lie. And evidence showed that’s what the defendant did.”
Wright quoted the defense’s opening statement that Woewiyu “has been an open book for 50 years,” and told the jury “No, he applied in 2006. It just didn’t happen. It’s as simple as that.” He referred to the defense opening statement that Eikerenkoetter rushed the interview, and reminded the jury of the document showing she had one hearing that day. Wright quoted the defense opening statement that the Form N-400 is now twice as long (“an acknowledgement by the government it was unclear”), but argued there is only a “slight difference in wording.” Wright told the jury there is “nothing in evidence about why they changed the form.”
Wright referred to the defense opening statement that Krahns and Mandingos were not singled out because of their ethnic group, but because they were the “other side” in the war. “They were civilians,” Wright argued, and Woewiyu “in fact said that.”
Finally, Wright referred to the defense opening statement about the importance of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (“TRC”). “What does that have to do with the price of coffee in Brazil?” he asked. “I suggest that may be a great report” for healing Liberia, “but that doesn’t have anything to do with [the issues] here.” Wright told the jury that the prosecution is not asking the jury to accept anything in the TRC as true, even though it was relied on by Immigration Officer Peggy Lin Chang to deny Woewiyu’s naturalization application. “You don’t need that,” he said. “What matters is the evidence you heard from this witness stand. That’s what counts, not a report where we don’t know how things were put together or how people were interviewed.” Wright called the TRC Report a “distraction.” He further argued that the defense position as to the TRC Report’s importance “does not make sense,” because “it says [Woewiyu] was in the NPFL advocating overthrowing” Doe, and serving as Minister of Defense, and that along with Charles Taylor he ordered the murder of six Senegalese peacekeepers. “It helps the government’s case,” Wright said, “but you don’t have to accept it as true.” He asked the jury to accept as true the testimony from the witness stand.
“Those people in the TRC haven’t come to the U.S. and committed fraud and perjury,” Wright said. “They’re in Liberia or wherever” they happen to be, but Woewiyu “came here and he committed these crimes.”
Defense Closing Argument
The defense closing argument was delivered by Catherine Henry, a Senior Litigator with the Federal Community Defender Office. “If anyone has given you false information or omitted material facts or engaged in a false narrative, it’s the government,” she told the jury. “They tried to hide things from you and they’re guilty.” She referred to her opening statement and her argument that Woewiyu “never lied,” and said that he “consulted with a lawyer and answered [the questions on the Form N-400] to the best of his knowledge and belief.” Henry told the jury that Woewiyu “tried to supplement his Form, but an incompetent Immigration Officer shut him down. When he finally could give the information, he did.” She argued that USCIS had all of the facts about Woewiyu before his application was adjudicated.
Henry said Woewiyu was “not guilty of the crimes in the indictment, and it’s that simple.” She told the jury that he was “never secret, never deceptive” because he made statements on the radio and in newspapers, and met with members of the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security, and sent his testimony to the TRC. Henry told the jury that “all that [was] while his citizenship application was pending,” and characterized Woewiyu as “in the public eye.”
Henry told the jury that the prosecution had “bombarded” the jurors “with maps, checkpoints, and child soldiers […] to try to distract you from the issues” of the case, and that the government was trying to take a very simple issue and make it more complicated. She cautioned the jury no to “worry about the complicated facts of the Liberian civil wars” that the government was trying to distract the jury with, because when the jurors retired to deliberate, they would see that the jury instructions “have zero to do with war crimes.” She told the jury that all they needed to consider was what Woewiyu thought and intended at the time he answered questions during his interview. “Don’t let them insult your intelligence by saying it’s about immigration,” she urged. “It’s not, as far as the government is concerned.” Henry characterized the trial as “a four-week odyssey of the government trying to play you,” because in fact the immigration process “worked.” “None of us quibble with his denial,” she said.
Henry reminded the jury that in her opening statement, she told them that is where the process should have ended, with the denial of Woewiyu’s naturalization application, and characterized it as “no harm” to the United States. “He applied, was denied, end of story.” She indicated some of the jurors had previously sat on juries in robbery or burglary cases, and argued that while those harms are continuous, the harms at issue here in an immigration case are not continuous. “This isn’t a case where victims need to come to court.” Henry argued that the prosecution presented witnesses and asked them “When did the war come to you?” because they wanted “to have a war crimes trial.” “There isn’t a person in this courtroom who doesn’t think Liberians have story to tell,” she said, but argued that the United States does not have jurisdiction over war crimes. She accused the prosecution of “tunnel vision about what the facts are.”
Henry reminded the jurors that they took an oath to uphold the law as given them by Judge Brody, and told them that that it was immigration law, and they must have a clear view of facts. She told the jury it would “not be able to convict [Woewiyu] of crimes he did not commit and crimes he was not charged with.” She told them they might want to help Liberian victims, but cannot do so here.
Henry reminded the jury that during voir dire, the potential jurors were asked if they knew anything about the Liberian civil wars, and they said “No.” She said that what the prosecution had done throughout the trial was “give little pieces” about the war, “and in doing that it’s been deceptive.” “I shouldn’t have to go through all of this with you because it’s totally irrelevant,” she said, “but we have to go through it because […] the government has forced us to clear the air about what really happened.” Henry referred to the NPFL’s commission of massacres at which Woewiyu was not present, “and you heard from about five witnesses about ethnic cleansing, and heard about the forced recruitment of child soldiers all by the NPFL, according to the government” and to Immigration Officer Chang, who denied Woewiyu’s Application for Naturalization. Henry told the jurors that they had “heard from the government that the NPFL committed the majority of violence during the Civil War, and ECOMOG were peacekeepers.”
Henry argued that Chang “only used little snapshots of the TRC in her decision, portions out of context, and they’re one-sided,” and told the jury that was why the government “tried to object and shut it down every time” the defense asked witnesses about the TRC. Henry referred to Special Agent Jennifer Lohmeier’s testimony about reading the TRC Report, and said the prosecution shut down that line of questioning.
Henry told the jury that the TRC was a three-year project funded by the United Nations and the United States “to apportion blame” and to suggest prosecutions and sanctions, and to help Liberia “move forward.” She said it cost $7 million, and described the methodology as “they put up flyers” about holding hearings, “and everyone can come.” Henry told the jury that the TRC went to 15 counties and sent statement-takers who could take statements in secret if witnesses were scared; she said some were trained in talking to child soldiers and some were trained in talking to “women who had been treated violently.” Henry described the TRC as taking 40,000 statements from people in Liberia, other places in West Africa, and the diaspora including in the United States.
Henry argued that the TRC Report “confirms what I said in opening, that there’s plenty of blame to go around.” The prosecution objected that Henry was arguing substantively from the report, and Judge Brody reminded the prosecution that she had allowed portions of the report to come in as evidence.
Henry argued that the “TRC said the majority of violations were committed by other factions, not the NPFL.” She said it was “devastating” that the TRC listed enough massacres occurring to cover four pages. “We heard about one and it gave us goosebumps.” But, she said, only 30 massacres out of 103 listed on those four pages were carried out by the NPFL, and that massacres were a common feature of the civil war on all sides. She referred again to the prosecution’s “tunnel vision,” and explained that the massacres were committed by all factions, “and that’s important because it’s not noted in the government’s case or the report” in which Woewiyu was denied citizenship.
Henry called the NPFL the “bogeyman in the ethnic cleansing campaign,” and argued that the jurors did not “hear any evidence that their goal was to eradicate ethnic groups.” She said it was “true” that Krahns and Mandingos were Doe supporters, and said the jury had not heard about any “ethnic animosity” by the NPFL. She said the jury heard the NPFL was “the aggressor,” but that the TRC described a massacre on July 29, 1990, carried out by Doe, that “violated the sanctity” of a church when 600 people were killed by the Armed Forces of Liberia. Henry argued that this was a war and not an attempt at ethnic cleansing.
Henry argued that the jurors “had to sit with a binder and listen to all the BBC tapes,” but did not hear the BBC broadcast in which witnesses said they heard Woewiyu say on the BBC that “the good Krahn is a dead Krahn.” She argued that the prosecution did not play that broadcast “because it would have given the whole context” of the statement.
Henry told the jury that “USCIS and the government painted the NPFL as the only violent faction” at checkpoints, but that it was “important to note that all factions committed a wide range of violence against civilians at checkpoints. The picture is so much bigger than they’re giving you.” She said “all” factions committed human rights violations, and that the TRC had listed the groups, including the NPFL, the Liberia Peace Council, ECOMOG, and the Liberian National Police as perpetrators. “All of these groups were using violence, all had checkpoints, all were targeting civilians,” she said.
Henry addressed the use of child soldiers, because Chang “found the NPFL’s use of child soldiers a factor” in her denial of Woewiyu’s Application for Naturalization. Henry argued that all factions recruited and used child soldiers during periods of armed conflict. She quoted the TRC Report as saying not only that did all warring groups use child soldiers, but estimated “that 70% of all combatants in the Liberian conflict were children.” Therefore, Henry said, “to say they’re relying on the NPFL’s use of child soldiers is deceiving.” She continued that this is not how the U.S. military would fight today or in 1994, but “this is what it was like there” and “we can’t go back and try to pass judgement on what happened there.” She reminded the jurors that “you’re here to pass judgement on an immigration case.”
Henry said that Chang’s report denying Woewiyu’s application stated that the “NPFL constituted the overwhelming majority of violations in the war,” but that the TRC Report showed that 61% of the violations, a majority, were done by other factions, including ECOMOG. Henry characterized the prosecution’s portrayal of the peacekeepers as “they came with white hats as good guys,” but reminded the jury that they were combatants with guns, and that ECOMOG was “the only faction that had planes and could bomb people.” She described Witness FF as the “person with the most significant injuries you saw here,” and said he was “bombed by ECOMOG” after being asked if he was ready to go fight them, and while he was on his way to fight. She said that ECOMOG “might have started as peacekeepers, but they didn’t end that way.” She reminded the jury of the November 2, 1992 BBC tape in which Woewiyu said they had “been bombed, women and children are dead,” and Henry told the jury that the TRC Report showed that the day prior to the broadcast, ECOMOG had bombed a football (soccer) match, killing 150 and wounding 86.
Henry told the jury that the government said because Woewiyu was a member of the NPFL, he lacks good moral character. Woewiyu did not appeal his citizenship denial, although he could have, and reminded the jury that they “only have to decide if he’s guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.” She said that unlike what the prosecution presented, “the war wasn’t black and white. It just wasn’t. It was grey all the way.” She argued that the jury only needs to determine whether Woewiyu lied on his immigration forms and nothing else. She suggested that the prosecution’s “various witnesses may have had an ax to grind.”
Henry argued that the evidence showed Woewiyu “largely acted like spokesperson.” She said he often called the BBC from “various places,” and that he travelled in the United States and Europe, and indicated that if the jury listened to the BBC broadcast tapes, they would hear Woewiyu trying to seek a conclusion to the armed conflict. She reminded them that they had heard about other NPFL commanders, like Mosquito, Martina Johnson, and J. T. Richardson.
Henry told the jury that they heard that the NPFL’s civilian soldiers were “largely undisciplined,” and reminded the jury of pictures in evidence of soldiers wearing dresses and wigs. “You heard testimony they didn’t follow orders,” she said. She reminded the jury of the testimony given by Mark Huband that Samuel Dokie had to tell his soldiers not to rape people and not to loot shopkeepers, and that the soldiers took down the flyers that told them not to loot. Henry characterized this behavior as a “level of disrespect,” and reminded the jury of Witness DD’s testimony that “when [Woewiyu] left, [soldiers] would start killing people.” But, when Woewiyu was present, soldiers behaved.
Henry told the jury that it was “interesting” to her that despite “all these people who were embedded” (referring to journalists who took photographs and testified about them), the jury “never saw [a picture] of Woewiyu with child soldiers on the ground,” or a picture of him in fatigues and a white shirt. Henry acknowledged there were four pictures of Woewiyu with Charles Taylor that were shown to the jury: two from peace conferences, one with commanders including the leader of ECOMOG, and one other. She said that in all four pictures, Woewiyu was wearing a suit and tie, “like you’d expect from a spokesman.” She argued that “if there were pictures of [Woewiyu] on the ground commanding soldiers,” the prosecution would have surely shown them to the jury. She pointed out that in the photograph of the six faction leaders, two were Krahn men.
Henry argued that although Woewiyu was given the title of Minister of Defense, he had “no military training.” She characterized his attempt to buy guns as “unsuccessful,” arguing that he was bad at attempting to buy guns, and reminded the jury that when Mark Huband saw Woewiyu with a gun between his legs, he said Woewiyu “looked like he couldn’t handle it.” “I very much doubt he trained General Mosquito,” Henry said.
Henry also reminded the jury that “the rebellion happened very quickly,” and that the INPFL was a “completely different group” responsible for murdering Doe. She acknowledged that “the conflict went on after Doe died,” and said this was because “various groups have opposing interests.” She described ECOMOG entering the conflict, and said it “went from peacekeeper to aggressor.” She described Taylor becoming “more and more unbearable” as the conflict went on, “which is why Woewiyu broke from him, then went back to him.”
Henry characterized it as “shocking” that the government, through Chang, “tried to paint Woewiyu as the #2 guy” based on information in the TRC Report. Henry said the prosecution had “left out” of its case that the dispute between “the people of Liberia versus Woewiyu had already been decided.” She showed the jury numerous charts from the TRC Report, in which the Commissioners recommended outcomes for various participants. She showed the jury that Woewiyu was not recommended for prosecution as a leader of a faction, a list with nine names; and he was not recommended for persecution as a notorious perpetrator, a list for which the Commissioners “considered the same circumstances you’re considering,” and for which they generated a list of 116 perpetrators recommended for prosecution. Henry showed the jury that Woewiyu was also not recommended for Liberian domestic prosecution, a list in which Group 1 had 44 names and Group 2 had 14. She said Woewiyu was also not on the list of 26 people recommended for prosecution for economic crimes. Henry told the jury that Woewiyu was on the TRC’s list of those who “should be barred from holding office for 30 years,” along with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who won the Nobel Peace Prize and went on to serve as President of Liberia; and Grace Minor, “a woman in government in Liberia.” “That’s why they didn’t want you to see the Report and why they didn’t want us to ask questions about it,” Henry said, because it was “clear” that the TRC had considered the worst of the worst acts already.
Henry told the jurors that they would have to consider if the civilian witnesses who “came from Africa” proved beyond a reasonable doubt that events happened according to their testimony. She pointed out to the jury that it did not hear from any military officer or commander who would say Woewiyu told them to kill Krahns and Mandingos. She also pointed out to the jury that the prosecution witnesses could not testify as to what day or month or season the events they described happened in. She added that two of the witnesses, “who had terrible stories to tell” about “pleading to have someone released,” were not asked to identify Woewiyu in court. “Ask yourselves why,” she urged the jury. Henry also reminded the jury that none of the prosecution witnesses “sought to testify or give a statement to the TRC.”
Henry argued that there was “no way for us to test the stories these witnesses came to court and said,” because “we can’t go to Liberia and ask someone to tell a story from 30 years ago” without knowing the exact date of what happened. There was “no way we can challenge that evidence,” Henry said, “nor do we have to under the law.” She asked the jury to consider that it was not until April 2018 that the witnesses took the opportunity to come to the United States, after they were “referred” to speak to the prosecution. She questioned whether the witnesses were “really desperate” for a chance to speak 30 years later, or if they wanted an all-expenses paid trip to the United States and a witness fee. Henry acknowledged that it might be cathartic to have testified, but said it “does seem strange” that they would be “desperate” to tell their stories 30 years after the events, instead of to the TRC “in their own backyard. I don’t know if it means they’re not telling truth. Are they accurate and reliable? I don’t know. But it doesn’t matter” because it has no bearing on whether Woewiyu lied on his immigration forms, she said.
Henry argued that even if the witnesses were accurate and everything happened exactly as they said it did, their testimony would not change the fact that Woewiyu did not lie on his Form N-400. She said the main point the government needed to prove was “what Woewiyu thought when he went through the process.” She told the jurors that when Judge Brody instructed them on the law, they would hear about knowing and willful conduct, which go to Woewiyu’s state of mind, and that good faith is a defense. Henry told the jury they would hear that acting on the advice of counsel could negate the willfulness element for perjury. She told the jurors they would hear from Judge Brody that the prosecution must prove that any alleged false statement “goes to materiality,” meaning “whether it would influence USCIS.”
Henry argued that Woewiyu did not lie on his FormN-400, and that the jury could tell he did not intend to mislead by looking at what he did after: “he told the truth after.” She said the prosecution could not prove Woewiyu was trying to hide who he was, because he was interviewed by the State Department in 2007, and the jury had seen the email where Chang received information about him being in the NPFL. Henry asked, given his past disclosures, “Why in the world wouldn’t he put the NPFL on the form?” She told the jury that Woewiyu had wanted to give the information, and that if it was an intentional lie, he would not have disclosed his NPFL membership on his response to the Form N-14 Request for Evidence. She told the jury that “what he put on the N-14 is relevant to what he wanted to put in the first place,” and told the jury there was “no way” for Woewiyu “to give this information on his own,” given the bureaucracy in place. Henry reminded the jury that when Basso tried to submit Woewiyu’s response to the First Request for Evidence, the USCIS said it was never submitted.
Henry discussed “the four questions he’s accused of lying about,” and said it was fine that Woewiyu’s first lawyer submitted the “incomplete” Application for Naturalization in 2006, because Woewiyu could add more at his hearing. “And that’s why Basso told him to get lists together and get all his information together to give at the interview.” Henry exhorted the jury “to think about what happened on Friday January 30 at 10a.m. because that’s what’s relevant.”
“I don’t know any way to say this other than [Eikerenkoetter] did a terrible job,” Henry said, telling the jury that Eikerenkoetter violated her own protocols and the law, as well as acting in dereliction of her duties, “in those few minutes” of the interview. “She’s the reason we’re here. If she had done her job that day, none of this would have happened.” Henry told the jury that Woewiyu’s hearing was “such a special concern” that Eikerenkoetter “blocked off a whole day and got his A-File five weeks in advance” so she could consider it. However, Henry said, Eikerenkoetter “completely ignored her ability – in fact, her duty – under the Code of Federal Regulations to cross-examine applicants with contrary information.” Henry told the jurors that the law said Immigration Officers “shall” examine such applicants, and that “shall” means mandatory.
Henry argued that Eikerenkoetter should have asked Woewiyu about the NPFL directly, based on reading his A-File. “The point is,” Henry said, “she’s supposed to get as much information as possible to get it right.” Henry argued that Eikerenkoetter could also have asked about the other groups “within the umbrella,” or asked Woewiyu to step outside to talk to his lawyer about the information “about the war.” “That’s how she should have examined Woewiyu. She had all day. In not doing that, she violated the Code of Federal Regulations.” Henry argued that the government, through Eikerenkoetter, had a chance to pursue Woewiyu already, but “we’re here because now they say that’s not good enough.”
Henry suggested that Eikerenkoetter “knows [the interview] was a shoddy job” because she did not videotape or transcribe it, or file an affidavit swearing to its accuracy, as she was required to do under the Code of Federal Regulations. Henry stated that Eikerenkoetter was “not allowed to put it in a ‘Memo to File,’” and asked the jury to “think about why she didn’t do any of those things. She treated it like a mini vacation day.” Henry pointed out that Eikerenkoetter recorded when Woewiyu’s interview began but not when it ended. Henry argued that it was the prosecution’s burden to prove how the interview happened, but asked how the jury is supposed to believe the prosecution when “they can’t prove it happened how said they did, with a videotape.”
Henry turned to the testimony of Chang, and pointed out to the jury that it took her 13 months to decide to deny Woewiyu’s Application for Naturalization. Henry said that “all she did was Google [Woewiyu], she didn’t talk to a person in 13 months.” Henry said Chang “stumbled on one thing that was reliable, the TRC, but it supported a predetermined decision she already made.” Henry told the jury that “despite this prejudging,” Chang sent a second Form N-14 Request for Evidence after Eikerenkoetter’s, which Woewiyu answered.
Henry discussed Woewiyu’s “membership in groups,” and told the jury that Woewiyu had “prepared a list at the beginning of the hearing and when he tried to explain, [Eikerenkoetter] shut him down. He tried to explain, started to explain, she shut him down.” Henry reminded the jury that, according to Basso’s testimony, Woewiyu “wasn’t able to explain about the groups until the N-14.” She submitted that Basso’s testimony is worthy of belief because he is a lawyer and an officer of court, who has “every incentive not to run afoul of USCIS” because he practices immigration law “and has to appear in front of them in a professional capacity.” Henry stated that he testified because he “knows [what happened] was not right.”
Henry told the jurors that they need not rely on Basso’s testimony to know that Woewiyu tried to name his groups in the hearing. She suggested the jurors would know it from the actual physical evidence in the case, from the Form N-400 marked up by Eikerenkoetter and from the text of the response to the second Form N-14. Henry showed the jury how Woewiyu’s various positions in the ULAA were written on his resume. She then showed the jurors the Form N-400 where Eikerenkoetter wrote Woewiyu’s association as the “Union of Liberian Association in the United States,” and suggested Woewiyu would never give that name for the ULAA because there is no such association.. She also showed they jury where Eikerenkoetter had written “Liberian Community Associations” and crossed out “Community.” Henry suggested this showed “it didn’t go the way [Eikerenkoetter] said it did, because the word ‘community’ was never spoken, according to her.” Henry suggested that the meeting “had to have gone the way Woewiyu and Basso are saying it went.”
Henry told the jury that “other evidence shows they were telling the truth.” She suggested that whether Eikerenkoetter was “lying or not paying attention, this means you can’t rely on her evidence to convict Woewiyu.” Henry described Woewiyu and Basso as “trying to tell her about the groups, which showed Woewiyu was not trying to hide membership” in the NPFL; Henry reiterated that he “talked to the State Department, it was all over the internet.” She asked the jurors how they could trust Eikerenkoetter “when she repeatedly testified to mistakes.” Henry reminded the jury they had heard Eikerenkoetter call it an “oversight or omission” not to enter Woewiyu’s statement about membership in the Liberian Senate on his Form N-400, although it was in her memo; Henry also pointed out that Eikerenkoetter called Woewiyu by the wrong name in her memo. “You can’t rely on her testimony to convict him in Federal Court,” Henry said. “It went down exactly how Basso told you.”
Henry suggested that Woewiyu’s answer about never attempting to overthrow a government was because he did not believe Doe’s government was a legitimate government. She told the jury that the truth of the legitimacy does not matter; “it matters what he thought. You’ve heard him say this numerous times.” She told the jury that just because Woewiyu called Doe a President did not mean he thought he was a legitimate president. Henry quoted a BBC broadcast in which Woewiyu said, “They are talking things that make believe that there is a government, but there is no government left.” Henry also referred to the Firestone affidavit in which Woewiyu referred to Doe as not being a constitutionally-recognized president.
Henry argued that the second Form N-14 response that Woewiyu filed clarified that he was in the NPFL, and clarified that the NPFL was committed to the removal of the “Doe regime.” She called it “interesting” that, before the application was adjudicated or decided, Basso went with Woewiyu to meet with agents from the Department of Homeland Security. She explained that his attendance indicated Woewiyu did not think he had lied on a federal form, and did not think he did anything wrong or tried to overthrow a government, and further that Basso would not have accompanied him to meet with federal agents if he thought Woewiyu had lied.
“It’s pretty ridiculous,” Henry said, for the government to accept an Immigration Officer’s omission on the form, when she held the job for 20 years and works full-time, and made numerous mistakes, but to not accept that Woewiyu did not think Doe’s was a legitimate government. “How can they say it’s okay for her to leave things blank?” Henry asked.
Henry turned to the question of whether Woewiyu had ever persecuted anyone, and told the jury he did not think he had. She told the jury they heard no testimony about the definition of “persecution” because it means something different to someone who “grew up in the bush in Africa” and someone who grew up here. Henry reminded the jurors that they had heard again and again in the BBC broadcasts that Woewiyu’s aim was to bring democracy. “He had no intent to persecute,” she said, “only to fight the other side in a war.” She told the jury the TRC said there were many sides, and quoted three of Woewiyu’s statements to the BBC about Liberians facing the future together.
Henry argued that the persecution question on the Form N-400 that Woewiyu complete is vague, calling for an applicant’s opinion, and said that USCIS had recognized the issue, which is why the Form N-14 was modified. Henry told the jury that the new questions were designed to elicit “factual answers, and not opinion answers.” She reminded the jury that it had seen the definitions now included in the new form, but that persecution was not defined when Woewiyu applied. Henry suggested that since USCIS wanted to know these things, Eikerenkoetter could have asked them during her full day allotted for Woewiyu’s interview, “but she asked none.” Henry then said that even if Woewiyu answered “Yes” to all the new questions, including the use of child soldiers, he could still answer “No” to whether he had persecuted anyone, because of his firmly-held belief that the NPFL was working to liberate Liberia. Henry also pointed out that the TRC Report, which was first published in 2008, did not recommend that Woewiyu be prosecuted for persecution, which further support’s Woewiyu’s belief that he did not persecute anyone.
Henry told the jury that Eikerenkoetter could have asked anything in her interview and did not, and that Chang could have asked anything in her Form N-14 but did not. Henry argued that Basso did not think Woewiyu answered incorrectly or tried to hide what he did during war, or Basso would not have brought him in to make his statement on the record. The appropriate conclusion, Henry suggested, was that “in Woewiyu’s mind, he was trying to answer correctly.”
Henry turned to the question of Woewiyu’s missing conviction for fraudulent business records, “even though it’s outside the statutory period and it wouldn’t make a difference anyway.” She said it was just one misdemeanor, for which Woewiyu brought documentation to his interview. She described how he tried to figure out what happened when he was taken from work to the courthouse. Henry said Woewiyu “did what most people do” by trying to obtain the records from 1969, disclosing what he found to USCIS, and asking someone else to figure out what they mean. Henry explained that Basso was “not a criminal lawyer,” and was writing what Woewiyu told him about the “blanket warrant.” “He was brought to the courthouse and later released. It’s not for Woewiyu to say what that means,” Henry said. She reminded the jury that Special Agent Lohmeier did not know what “unconditional discharge” means, so asked why either Woewiyu or his lawyer should know.
“This is the shadiness I’m talking about,” Henry said: that the government ridiculed Woewiyu for referring to a blanket warrant, and then showed the jury a bench warrant for Woewiyu’s arrest, and said Basso was lying because he did not know the two are different things. “The bottom line is they gave it at the meeting,” Henry said, adding that “she had the records in the A-File the whole time.” Henry then asked how this information about the arrest could be material to Chang’s decision, because the government already knew about it since it was in the A-File. And no one asked Woewiyu about the arrest during his interview. She added that nowhere in the Form N-14 was there a question about the arrest, because it did not matter since it was outside the relevant period.
Henry reminded the jury that the “other thing” it heard about was when Woewiyu came to the U.S. in 1969 to attend flight school, and changed his mind, and three weeks later enrolled in computer school. She explained that Woewiyu realized he was afraid of heights, since in Liberia, all of the buildings are only a few stories tall. Henry said Woewiyu changed schools but came to the U.S. lawfully, and he told the government where he was and he was “on their radar” – if he were not, she said, “he would be deported anytime.”
Henry reminded the jury that the prosecution is required to prove all the elements of a charge beyond a reasonable doubt, and then went through the different types of crimes with which Woewiyu is charged, answering her own questions about his actions:
- Trying to fraudulently obtain citizenship through a lie? No.
- Knowingly and intentionally lying on his Form N-400? No, because he tried to answer and then filled in his complete information later, on his response to the second Form N-14 Request for Evidence.
- Willfully perjuring himself during the interview? No, because he acted from his firmly-held beliefs and in good faith reliance on the advice of his lawyer.
- Were the disputed facts material? “Unequivocally no,” because USCIS had every fact in front of it by the end of the process, after the research and the Requests for Evidence, and before adjudication.
Henry told the jury that the prosecution “is trying to get you to find he’s a war criminal. But not only did the TRC not say he was to be prosecuted,” she argued, “if the government thinks he’s a war criminal, they should have deported him.” She called this a “petty case,” and told the jury that of the 16 counts on the verdict sheet, “they all say the same things in different ways” because the prosecution is “hoping you’ll think it’s more important than it is. They’re hoping that after such a long trial, you’ll at least find him guilty of one charge. But you shouldn’t.”
Henry called the trial “positively un-American” because the government is asking the jury to find Woewiyu guilty of committing war crimes, but has not charged him with that, which is a violation of the right to due process of law, and said the law was “not so the government can go all over the world and corral people, to punish a 73-year-old grandfather who’s raised successful kids and been a law-abiding citizen” who pays his taxes. She suggested to the jury that “we don’t do that here because that’s what separates us from other countries.”
Henry told the jurors that when they apply the facts to the law, she is “very confident” they will find Woewiyu not guilty on all charges.
Prosecution Rebuttal Statement
Wright opened his rebuttal by asking the jurors if they remembered Woewiyu saying, “I didn’t have no attitudinal complex.” “He started lying from the moment he got here,” Wright said. He stated that “when he said that,” Woewiyu “lied to Immigration,” “shifting the narrative to get what he wanted.” Wright added that Woewiyu could not be considered a law-abiding citizen, given that he has two misdemeanor convictions. “If someone attempts to defraud someone,” Wright said, “that attempt is every bit as much of a crime even if the victim is not ultimately” harmed.
Wright reminded the jury that Woewiyu “raised his hand [and] swore to tell the truth” as well as certifying his application at the end of his hearing. Wright reminded the jury that the defense expert said that if something on the form was not true, you are not supposed to sign the form. “He certified it with his lawyer sitting there,” Wright said, “Basso who wrote the curious part about the blanket warrant.” He indicated that there is an arrest warrant in the same exhibit as the disputed bench warrant.
Wright reiterated that Woewiyu “told everyone but the people he’s legally obligated to about his membership in the NPFL, and this is the guy who wants the honor of being a citizen.” Wright read aloud the State Department email to Chang, which indicated Woewiyu’s motive for revealing a “poison pen” letter was “to ingratiate himself with the present government of Liberia,” but that the writer of the email doubted he had suffered human rights abuses because he was a Minister in Taylor’s government.
Wright told the jury it can accept the TRC Report or not, and that it had a “different process” not dependent “on people taking the stand and telling their story under oath. It’s not what we have here in the courthouse.” Wright indicated the TRC Report may not carry much weight, as it recommended Sirleaf for the same sanctions as Woewiyu – barring her from public office for 30 years – but she was elected President twice. Wright then read aloud the description in the TRC Report of those to be sanctioned, whom it said were “associated with warring factions” and the “most prominent” violators of international humanitarian law and others. Number 31 on the list was Woewiyu, which Wright against said underscored the prosecution’s position. Wright then mentioned the six Senegalese soldiers whose murder was mentioned in Chang’s denial letter. “And as for not being #2,” Wright said, “you heard from him that he was Minister of Defense,” and added that when Woewiyu came to the CRC, he said, “I am the leader of the NPFL.”
Wright discussed the defense contention that, at the beginning of the interview, Woewiyu fumbled in his briefcase for his list of associations to present. Wright said, “The question was how far down? All he had to say was ‘NPFL.’”
Wright then discussed Basso, reminding the jury that “people choose their own lawyers.” He said that for all the interviews Basso had presumably witnessed, he was not forthcoming. Wright gave examples: including Basso saying “I don’t remember” if the questions were asked verbatim, even though the defense expert said that was procedure. Wright pointed out that the defense expert said Immigration Officers do not need to memorialize their findings on the form, they just have to memorialize them somehow, “and she did.” “All of a sudden we’re casting aspersions on Eikerenkoetter who’s gone out to deal with refugees in God-forsaken zones and war zones,” Wright observed, “and now we get up and say she’s taking a vacation day? No.”
Wright called it “interesting” for the defense to say Woewiyu relied on his lawyer, when the lawyer did not know he was Minister of Defense or a member of the NPFL. “Yet he sat next to him while he swore to tell the truth and while he certified” the Form N-400 in a small room, Wright said, and let Woewiyu go ahead and certify the document. Wright added that Basso was “the same guy who wrote that curious memo.”
Wright closed his rebuttal with a metaphor, describing himself as an American expat living in Argentina who did not “like the way things are running in the U.S.” He described going to California to find like-minded people, sweeping up to the San Francisco Bay Area, and then invading Arizona before being repelled and returning to Argentina. “But they had problems with Nazis a few years back,” Wright said, and described a form Argentina might ask him to fill out as an immigrant, saying whether he had ever tried to overthrow a government. “Here I was, the leader of the movement, but I didn’t think it was legitimate.” Wright suggested that this would be the same thing as Woewiyu’s actions in the United States and Liberia, as Liberia had the same trappings of government as the United States.
Wright ended with an exhortation to the jury: “He sits there cloaked in innocence, but I ask you to consider and, based on the evidence, take the cloak of innocence off the guilty defendant, and render a vote of guilty.”
Judge Brody then read the jury instructions to the jury. She instructed the jurors of their duty to listen to all of her instructions on the law, and not to follow their “own notion of what the law is or ought to be.” She instructed the jury as to the need for a unanimous verdict, and instructed them to refrain from any research or communication about the case, except with each other, until a verdict is delivered to the Judge.
The fully jury instructions, as read by Judge Brody, will be available on the Civitas Maxima shortly.
Judge Brody instructed the jury that Woewiyu is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt; she told the jurors that they cannot convict Woewiyu based on suspicion or conjecture. She instructed them as to the meaning of “beyond a reasonable doubt,” explaining that possible doubts based on conjecture or speculation are not reasonable. Those doubts based on reason, logic, common sense, or experience are reasonable.
Judge Brody instructed the jury as to the two types of evidence they had heard: direct, and circumstantial. Circumstantial evidence is that from which reasonable inferences may be drawn, she said. The Judge also instructed the jury of their role as the sole adjudicators of witness credibility, that is, whether a witness is “worthy of belief.” Among other strictures, the Judge instructed the jurors about factors they may weigh as to credibility (demeanor, manner), and about factors they ought not to disproportionally weight (lapses of memory, or a witness’s role as a law enforcement officer). She instructed the jury that Woewiyu had an absolute right not to testify, and that his decision not to take the witness stand may not be weighed against him.
Judge Brody instructed the jury as to the concepts of motive and intent. Motive, she said, is not a required element of the charges in this case, although a good or bad motive could be weighed by the jury. The jury could consider evidence about what Woewiyu did or said, and how he acted, to determine his intent and his state of mind at the time of the alleged crimes.
Judge Brody addressed the specific charges in the indictment, and instructed the jury that an indictment is not evidence. She instructed the jury as to the elements of each charged crime, and defined those words – like “knowingly” – whose legal import the jury may not know.
At the end of the reading of the charges, verdict sheets were given to the jury. These sheets provided the jury with questions to answer, which they must answer unanimously. These questions took the jury through the various counts, asking whether the jury found Woewiyu to have made false statements and/or to have falsely certified his statements in answer to those questions on the N-400 Application for Naturalization at issue in this case:
- Question 8a: “Have you EVER been a member of or associated with any organization, association, fund, foundation, party, club, society, or similar group in the United States or in any other place?”
- Question 10: “Have you EVER advocated (either directly or indirectly) the overthrow of any government by force or violence?”
- Question 11: “Have you EVER persecuted (either directly or indirectly) any person because of race, religion, national origin, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion?”
- Question 18: “Have you EVER been convicted of a crime or offense?”
The jury began deliberations this afternoon, and will continue their deliberations tomorrow.