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Special Feature

Charles Taylor and His Six Prison Journeys

Liberia’s former President Charles Taylor’s appeal hearing began in The Hague, Netherlands on Tuesday, January 22, 2013 with call by the prosecution for Taylor’s prison term to be increased to 80 years. It was originally scheduled for last month (December), 2012 but postponed following the Alternative Judge El-Haji Malick Sow, a Senegalese National outburst that Taylor should have been a freed man.

he appeal intent is to overturn the conviction and if that were to happen, Taylor’s 50 years prison term could be reduced or on the contrary, more years would be added to his period in detention. In mid 2012, Taylor’s defense team led by Morris Anyah came to Monrovia and said they have identified 45 errors in the court’s judgment of which 42 were submitted against the 26 April, 2012 conviction delivered by Chamber Two of the Special Court in The Hague.

Ruling in the appeal case is expected in September or October, 2013, but the world in general, and Liberians in particular wait to see whether or not Taylor would be acquitted or get more prison terms.

In spite of that, Taylor is serving prison for the six (6) times all of which has been outside of Liberia. Jailed twice in the US (1979 & 84); Ghana (1986 & 87); once in Sierra Leone (1988) and now Holland before waiting to be transferred to England if the Appeal does not hold water. Taylor, who is expected to turn 65 on 28 January, 2013, was brought down guilty by the international court on Thursday, 26 April, 2012, for aiding and abetting RUF rebels during Sierra Leone’s civil conflict.

But in the wisdom (rules) of the Special Court, it neither imposes capital punishment (direct death by hanging) nor life sentence (indirect death) on its convict(s).However,  it can announce maximum prison terms which to some extent can render its convicts useless after serving their sentences. 

Taylor bears the greatest responsibility for “Aiding and Abetting” for the atrocities committed by rebels of the defunct Revolutionary United Front (RUF) of Sierra Leone.  The prosecutor originally indicted Taylor on 3 March 2003 on a 654-count indictment for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the conflict in Sierra Leone.

On 16 March 2006, a SCSL Judge gave leave to amend the indictment against Taylor. Under the amended indictment, Taylor is charged with 650 counts. At Taylor’s initial appearance before the court on 3 April 2006, he entered a plea of not guilty.

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In early June 2006, the decision whether to try Taylor in Freetown or The Hague had not yet been made by the new SCSL President George Gelaga King. King’s predecessor had pushed for the trial to be held abroad because of fears that a local trial would be politically destabilizing in an area where Taylor still had influence.

The Appeals Chamber of the Special Court dismissed a motion by Taylor’s defense team, who argued that their client could not get a fair trial there and wanted the special Court to withdraw the request to move the trial to The Hague. On June 2006, the British government agreed to jail Taylor in the event that he is convicted by the SCSL. This removed an obstacle after the Dutch government stated they would host the trial but would not jail him if convicted, and a number of European countries refused to host him.

The then British Foreign Minister Margret Beckett stated that at the time that new legislation would be required. With this, on 16 June 2006, the United Nations Security Council agreed unanimously to allow Taylor to be sent to The Hague for trial; on 20 June 2006, Taylor was transferred and flown to Rotterdam Airport in the Netherlands. He was taken into custody in the UN war crimes tribunal’s detention centre, located in the Scheveningen section of The Hague.

The Association for the Legal Defense of Charles Taylor was established in June 2006 to assist in his legal defense. When Taylor‘s trial on 11 counts for war crimes and crimes against humanity commenced on 4 June 2007, he boycotted the proceeding. Through a letter which was read by his lawyer to the court, he justified his absence by alleging that at that moment he was not ensured a fair and impartial trial.

On 20 August 2007, Taylor’s defense obtained a postponement of the trial until 7 January 2008. Former prosecutor David Crane signed the indictment against Taylor on 4 June, 2003, and trial started 6 January, 2008. The trial ended after 420 days, with 115 witnesses, over 50,000 pages of testimony and 1, 520 exhibits presented before the 26 April, 2012 verdict. Before then, prosecution closed their argument on 8 February, while defense did the same 9 March, 2012

The special court indicted over 15 perpetrators, but Taylor is the ninth (9th) person to have been sentenced. Of the over 15, nine (9) are serving prison terms ranging from 15 to 52 years. Two (2) died before trial, while one still reported missing.

Those convicted and sentenced by the court which is still active, are Issa Hassan Sesay, convicted on 16 counts and sentenced to 52 years; Morris Kallon, convicted on 16 counts and sentenced to 40 years; Augustine Gbao, convicted on 14 counts and sentenced to 25 years and Alex Tamba Brima, convicted on 14 counts and sentenced to 50 years imprisonment.

Others are Ibrahim Bazzy Kamara, convicted on 11 counts and sentenced to 45 years; Santigie Borbor Kanu, convicted on 11 counts and sentenced to 50 years; Alieu Kondewa, convicted on 5 counts and sentenced to 20 years; Moinana Fofana, convicted on 5 counts and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment.

Eight (8) of the convicts are serving their prison terms at Mpanga Prison in Rwanda, a prison center which met international standards of security and treatment of prisoners. Taylor is expected to serve his in England, after Holland in Europe.

But why is Taylor always behind bar all? Was he born to be? However, let go through the thinking time of his six journeys to prison all of which outside of Liberia.  

Early Life of Taylor

Charles McArthur Taylor was born in Arthington, a town of settlers near Monrovia, on 28 January 1948 unto the union of the late Nelson and Bernice Louise “Zoe” Taylor. He is the third of fifteen children in an Americo-Liberian family of modest means. His mother, who died during the course of the war in 2003, was of the Gola tribe, but his father was an Americo-Liberian, who hailed from Trinidad and Tobacco, a Caribbean nation in Central America.

As a young man, Taylor was interested in the history of the slave trade and Americo-Liberian relations. He attended the Bentley College in Waltham, Massachusetts in the United States from 1972-77, earning a degree in economics.EHe adopted the name “Ghankay” during the course of the rebellion he launched 24 December 1989 against Sergeant Samuel Doe’s regime, possibly to please and curries favor with the indigenous people.

Taylor in Liberian Politics

In October 1979, the former Organization of African Unity (now African Union) chairman, President William Tolbert, reciprocated President Jimmy Carter’s 1978 visit to Liberia. During his visit to Washington, D.C., the Liberian leader addressed a joint-chamber of the American Congress, the first Sub-Sahara African leader to have done so at the time.

During the course of event, the Union of Liberian Association in the Americas (ULAA), led by Charles Taylor, Gbai Gbala and others, staged a grand demonstration against the visiting Liberian leader at the Liberian Mission to the United Nations in New York in the US.

But Tolbert, being a persuasive talker, convinced ULAA executives to return home for reconciliation, and that appeal was accepted. However, during their protest, Taylor made the mistake by insinuating that he would seize the Liberian Mission in New York by force. This led to his first arrest and detention by the New York City police that year, but was later released before traveling to Liberia to honor Tolbert’s invitation.

Once in Monrovia, Taylor soon abandoned the ULAA delegation when some TWP (True Whig Party) officials made him aware of his Americo-Liberian background.

Additionally, they gave the traitorous delegate some monetary “cold water”. In that fashion, Charles Taylor became inactive-for a very short time but he saw the murder of Tolbert (that is he was in the country when it happened) and supported the 12 April 1980 coup of the People’s Redemption Council (PRC) led by Sergeant  Samuel Doe (the first head of state of non Americo-Liberian descent). Taylor became head of the General Services Agency-GSA, which is in charge of procuring for government.  

In May 1983, Taylor was sacked for embezzling almost $1,000,000.00 by sending the money to an American bank account. He was later transferred to the Ministry of Commerce as Assistant Minister. The amount was in the 1982-83 national budget and was to be used to facilitate the purchase of spare parts for road maintenance at the Ministry of Public Works under the late Major Edwin Brooks, who succeeded one of the retained ministers, Gabriel Tucker, who parted company with the junta by heading to the United States.

In 1982, Taylor transferred the money to a non-existing “International Earthmoving Equipment,” Inc. account whose address was listed on three separate government vouchers as P.O 129, Isalin, New Jersey, 0 8830 in the United States.

The telephone number of the company listed on the government vouchers was (201-750-91130). This made some government officials at the time to believe that the company may exist, but only as a subsidiary of another Boston-based company, “Grain Cost,” in which the former GSA boss is believed to have being a shareholder. But the number could not be traced, despite effort to verify the existence of the company.

Before the transfer, the Public Works Ministry attempted to process the funds to purchase the spare parts from local companies like LIBTRACO, MONTRACO, BLACKWOOD HODGE, etc. But Taylor argued that he would arrange the purchase of those parts from the United States under the GSA’s “bulk purchasing system,” a scheme which he introduced in 1981.

This scheme was revoked in July 1983 by the government (PRC). Before then, GSA had prepared and submitted to the Finance Ministry three vouchers in the name of International Earthmoving Equipment, Inc. The vouchers, all dated September 29, 1982, were in the amount of $305, 809.74, $283, 428. 04 and $310, 762.22, totaling about $900,000.00.

Those cheques were received by the Ministry of Finance, then headed by G. Alvin Jones, cousin of Samuel Doe on October 13, 1982. Between October and November of the same year, three cheques were prepared and the amount paid to the International Earthmoving Equipment’s account. But it was later discovered that the General Manager of the bogus company was reported to have been the late Edwin Holder, Chairman emeritus of the former ruling National Patriotic Party (NPP) sitting in his Boston apartment. Holder died sometime last year. May Peace be to his ashes.

Why Taylor Fled Liberia

Weeks after Samuel Doe returned from a state visit to Israel, Charles Taylor was sacked as Director General of the purchasing house (General Services Agency), but he was made Assistant Minister at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry with Colonel Arthur Benson, as Acting Minister.

But Taylor’s successor Clarence Momolu, now serving one of the Commissioners of the Public Procurement Concession Commission (PPCC) in the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf regime, called for an audit. The GSA new boss ordered the audit of his predecessor’s transactions before fully assuming the portfolio. During the audit, it was discovered that about $900,000.00 was unaccounted for during Taylor’s incumbency.

This led to the summoning of the GSA’s former boss by the audit committee for his side of the story. Instead of facing the audit committee and possibly defending himself as economist as he claims, the ostentatious Taylor absconded Liberia to the United States in 1983.

Taylor’s Jail Break in the in US

Taylor was arrested 25 May 1984 by United States Marshals in Somerville, Massachusetts, on a warrant for extradition to face charges of embezzlement of $922,000.00 of government funds intended for machinery parts. That was his second detention in 1984 in the United States. But for fear of alleged assassination by government agents, it was announced by Taylor’s lawyer, United States former Attorney General Ramsey Clarke, that his client would fight extradition from the safety of jail.

Clarke argument was buttressed by one time exiled Liberian politician, the first Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs of the junta, Togba Nah-Tipoteh, who admitted when, testified before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 2008. Taylor was canned (jailed) in a House of Corrections in Plymouth, Massachusetts. On 15 September 1985, he and four other inmates escaped from jail by sawing through a bar covering a window in an unused laundry room.

After dropping about 12 feet to the ground by means of a knotted sheet, according to reports, the five inmates climbed a fence and escaped. Of course, there are other versions of how Taylor escaped jail in the US.

Thereafter, Taylor and two other escapees were met at nearby Jordan Hospital by Taylor’s wife, Enid, mother of Charles Taylor, Jr. (Chucky) and Taylor’s sister-in-law, Lucia Holmes-Toweh. A gateway car was driven to Staten Island, where Taylor went underground and surfaced in Mexico. But the first escapee to be caught was apprehended in Brockton, Massachusetts, on 18 September.

Eventually, all four of Taylor’s fellow escapees were tracked down, as Enid Taylor and Lucia Holmes-Toweh was ordered arrested (held) without bail on 23 September for driving the gateway car. Taylor is said to have paid US$50,000.00 for his share in the plan to escaped prison.

According to Taylor’s lawyer at the time, Ramsey Clarke, who is no less than a former US attorney-general, no charges were ever filed against Taylor as a result of his escape. This oversight strengthens suspicious that the US security services might have turned blind eyes to Taylor’s escape, after the event for political reasons. After his jailbreak Taylor passed through Mexico where he acquired a Cuban passport before traveling to France and then arriving in Accra in February 1986.

By his own account, he headed for Ghana at the invitation of an exiled Liberian revolutionary, Dr. Henry Boima Fahnbulleh, Jr. the first education minister in the junta (People’s Redemption Council) who was the most thorough-going Marxist among the MOJA leaders and close to leaders of the Ghanaian government, especially the then redoubtable security chief Kojo Tsikata, a cousin of Ghanaian leader, Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings.

After one week in Accra, during which time he met various Ghanaian officials, Taylor was again arrested and detained for the third time. He claimed that the Ghanaian security said they did not understand how he got out of jail in the US and that he may have been a CIA spy. But later, he claimed to have found out that because he had not joined the MOJA (Movement for Justice in Africa) operations in Ghana, they very Dr. Henry Boima Fahnbulleh, Jr. who invited him to Ghana engineered his arrest.

After three months in a Ghanaian prison Taylor was released and granted political asylum. Again, in early 1987, Ghanaian security arrested and detained Taylor his fourth; he claims it was a result of further intrigues by MOJA leaders, including Dr. Henry Boima Fahnbulleh, Jr. and Amos Sawyer. He was released again, but this time headed for Burkina Faso where there was a small concentration of Liberian exiles, who had received some sort of promised military support from the Burkinabe government. Taylor began shuttling within various capitals in the region, traveling on a Burkinabe passport. He returned to Accra, where he met Togolese dissidents, who were being supported at the time by the Ghanaian government.

In Freetown, he had less success as he was arrested and jailed again in 1988 which was his fifth in prison. It appeared at the time that to have been seen on a later occasion that Taylor offered to pay the late Sierra Leonean President retired General Joseph Saidu Momo for permission to allow the Liberian exiles to operate out of that country, which has a border with Liberia.

But the notoriously venal Momo promptly sought from the late Samuel Doe a higher sum, turning the approach into an auction, action for which his country was later to pay dearly.

His arrest and detention early 1987 in Abidjan along with Jlateh Nicholas Podier, junta ex-speaker, who was killed in the Nimba County’s forest in mid 1987 by the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) while leading his own operations against the Doe’s regime, is yet to be verified. Taylor was reported have been detained on the order of Ivorian singer, Ashia Konneh then in active service in connivance with a senior police officer.

However, Liberian exiles at the time adopted the name the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). Tom (Thomas) Jucontee Woewiyu, an old buddy of Taylor who was the Movement’s Defense Minister during the course of the conflict told the media in Cotonou, Benin Republic in July of 1993 that the late Thomas Quiwonkpa himself founded the organization, but it is doubtful that the NPFL in Quiwonkpa time actually had much formal structure. It was only when it received Libyan backing that it developed a pan-African character, although it was able to build on the pan-Africanist tradition of MOJA, the Liberian radical group founded in 1973.

It is important to note that during the cold war, there was tension between the Libyans and the Americans, boiling out of control.  Eventually, it led to the bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi at the time by the late U.S. President Ronald Reagan in April 1986. There was also some tension between the John Jerry Rawlings’ regime and the Americans, which led to some cold war espionage between both countries, culminating in the arrest and exchange of spies between the two sides.

It was against this background that the late Muammar Gaddafi decided to raise his International Green Army to fight “imperialism’ in West Africa. Accra became a recruiting ground and transit point for men on their way to Tripoli not only Liberians but other Africans against their respective governments. Taylor recruited 100 or more men, who formed the core of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) Special Forces that initiated the invasion in Liberia on Christmas Eve, 24 December, 1989.

They went to Tripoli mid 1987, and then transferred later from Mathaba to a Military Camp, called Tajurah. In Tajurah, the Liberian contingent of Libya’s International Green Army, was trained and named the NPFL which claimed to have had the reflection of Pan African Movement.  They trained for almost two years before heading back through Burkina Faso onward to La Cote d’Ivoire to launch the rebellion on December 24, 1989.

However, Taylor, who is demanding benefits from the Government of Liberia as a former President of the Republic, is in his sixth prison in The Hague, Netherlands since 2006, having been arrested in Nigeria in an attempt of fleeing from prosecution. His appeal hearing to overturn his conviction on 11 count charges began Tuesday and if still found guilty, he will be transferred to England where he will serve rest of the sentence.

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