Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – In day two of the trial of former ULIMO rebel commander Mohammed Jabbateh, also known as “Jungle Jabbah” on charges of immigration fraud, U. S. government prosecutors presented their case against Jabbateh.
Report by Jackson Kanneh and Tete Gebro
They also brought the first of twenty witnesses who will testify against him to the stand.
The lead Government Prosecutor, Assistant United States Attorney Nelson S.T. Thayer, charged that defendant Mohammed Jabbateh, 50, knowingly lied in immigration asylum interviews numerous times.
Thayer said Jabbateh told immigration officials that he was a member of Liberia’s Special Security Service (SSS) and not a member of a rebel faction.
Thayer claimed Jabbateh repeated the lies in a six-page written statement, when he applied for temporary protection status, asylum and later for green card in 1998 and 2001.
"Evidence will show that Mr. Jabbateh was never a member of the SSS. Evidence will show that he was a rebel fight and commander, and not as an SSS officer as he claimed in his asylum papers," charged the prosecutor.
Thayer told a courtroom packed with Jabbateh’s relatives including his current wife and his ex-wife, that the "evidence will show that he would be asked over and over and over again and Mr. Jabbateh answered 'No'" to questions of his participation in any act of violence before he arrived in the States.”
Thayer said Mr. Jabbateh repeated his false claims of being a victim of the civil war "and not a word of being a ULIMO commander or even a fighter."
The U.S. charged that Jabbateh gave sworn verbal and written statements under oaths of perjury. The U.S. is holding Jabbateh on two counts of immigration fraud and two counts of perjury.
He said the 12-member jury would hear stories of “unimaginable” brutality over the 3 weeks of the trial committed by Jabbateh or fighters under his command.
During a break in the court Jabbateh’s wife told reporters that her husband was innocent and that the charges were “made up”. She refused to give her name.
Two prosecution witnesses appeared before the court.
(All witness names are to be withheld because of fear of retribution.) In an emotional testimony the second witness told the court of being in Grand Cape after fleeing Bong Mine when ULIMO troops entered the town shooting all over the place.
She said all villagers ran into their houses but the rebels ordered everyone to come outside.
"At that point she said, Jungle Jabbah called her from the group and said, “Come, you will be my woman for tonight.”
After that she became his “bush wife”. She was forced to travel with him and cook and have sex with him whenever he wanted.
In his opening address Jabbateh's lawyer Gregory J. Pagano denied his client lied in his immigration documents.
"He told the government who he was. He provided the government with his most recent ID and newspaper articles about who he was."
Pagano said Jabbateh was a victim of Taylor's NPFL brutality against ethnic Mandingos.
He said Jabbateh was detained for three months by Taylor's men without food or medical care until Ecomog soldiers released him.
After court yesterday Jabbateh’s supporters from his Mandingo tribe protested his innocence and claimed it was Jabbateh who was the victim.
They claimed he saw his two parents killed by NPFL fighters when he was still a child.
Jabbateh, now a successful car exporter in Philadelphia with several children, faces up to 30 years in prison. He will not be deported.
The case is being closely watched by justice activists around the world.
There has been no war crimes trial in Liberia.
This will be the first trial in which victims will testify against an alleged perpetrator for crimes committed in Liberia’s first civil war from 1989-1996.
“This is the Liberian quest for justice,” said Hassan Billity of Liberia’s Global Justice Research Project which has worked with Swiss-based Civitas Maximas to document war crimes in Liberia and launched a media campaign around the trial.
“It’s driven solely by the victims by those who witnessed it, who suffered it and by those who were there.”
The trial continues on Wednesday with more witnesses.
This story was produced in collaboration with New Narratives with funding from Civitas Maximas. The funder had no say in its content