Philadelphia, USA – U.S. government lawyers prosecuting alleged former ULIMO rebel Mohammed Jabbateh pressed their case Thursday to paint the defendant as a liar who misled US immigration officers when he applied for asylum.
The prosecution put an arsenal of exhibits before the jurors.
Day-4 of the trial featured a tougher line-up of government witnesses including a former director of the Special Security Service - the elite Liberian presidential guard that provided protection to Liberian presidents and other dignitaries.
That witness described a well-groomed unit that prohibits the “afro”, dreadlocks or braided hair styles - the type the former “Jungle Jabbah” has been shown the have worn in photographs taken at the time he claimed to have been employed by the SSS.
Jabbateh claimed he was a member of the unit from 1992 through 1995. His timeline and claims of SSS membership were what government lawyers turned their focus to on Thursday.
"During your time in the SSS, did you ever see this man as a member of the SSS working in the Executive Mansion?" the prosecutor pressed one witness in an effort to debunk Jabbateh’s claims that he once worked with the agency.
The witness said no. (All witnesses identities are being withheld for their protection.)
Interestingly, after a strong show of support from Jabbateh’s family and supporters in the courtroom earlier this week, by Thursday morning it was down to just his wife and two others. By late afternoon, a few more joined them.
Dressed in a gray suit, well-groomed and sitting attentive to proceedings, the 51-year-old alleged ex-General of the ULIMO Zebra battalion was shown batches of evidence displaced on a small TV monitor sitting on his desk.
At one point during a damaging testimony by witness #9, the defendant displayed his frustration as he nodded repeatedly, and was overheard saying under his breath to his attorney, "but he was 12 how would he know that?"
Backed by dozens of files and photographs, the U.S. sought to pin down the accused ex-commander on every count of the charges leveled against him. From witnesses who alleged personal interactions with the once fearful alleged militia commander to former and current asylum officers at the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Agency.
In his small monitor Mohammed Jabbateh saw images of his original applications for Temporary Protective Service (TPS), another application for political asylum, his six-page personal written statement and his most recent application for a Green Card - provided to the jury by U.S. government lawyers.
"If I knew he wasn't truthful at the time I interviewed him, I would not have granted him a recommendation for asylum. I would have sent him to a judge," said Nancy Vanlue, who approved his asylum claim in 1998.
Government attorneys displayed the witness's handwritten notes she kept during her interview with Jabbateh on an official INS form.
"Did he provide you with any SSS ID card?" would be asked, as lawyers pushed to discredit Jabbah's asylum claim.
"No, he said his SSS card had been taken away and burned," she replied.
"Did he at any point indicate to you that he was a battalion commander in ULIMO?
Did he at any point indicate that he needed an interpreter?" asked the prosecutor. Vanlue replied that he did not.
The aggressive grilling was one of the morning highlights that continuously had defense attorney Greg Pagano on edge, as he constantly sought objections but more than a few times was overruled by the federal judge.
The previous day a key witness broke down in tears as she recounted the horrific moments in Jabbah’s brutal killing of her sister in Tubmanburg in 2004, forcing the presiding federal judge to prematurely halt her testimony.
"They brought Massa (name changed) out of the house with her one hand bleeding,” the witness said tearfully said to a packed courtroom. “Chief Jungle Jabbah brought her outside by her hair. Then knocked her down on the ground by one foot.
Then, he was yelling at Massa where is T-Kahla (another commander)? You think I'm playing? Where is T-Kahla?" she said Gen. Jungle Jabbah repeatedly asked her wounded sister, as she laid on the ground bleeding.
"He gave his rifle to his bodyguard and then he pulled up his pistol. Then she said, “I don't where T-Kahla is. She said but why you asking me for T-Kahla?"
So Jabateh shot her in the chest and vagina, the witness said sobbing. The judge leaned gave her some tissues before calling a break in the proceedings.
A previous witness alleged that she was raped repeatedly by Jungle Jabbah's men at age 13, when Jabbah's ULIMO overran a village she stayed with her parents and siblings.
Witness #3 said Gen. Jabbah told his soldiers, "anyone you pick here is your woman."
The trial continues on Tuesday.
Story by Jackson Kanneh, FPA Contributor and was produced in collaboration with New Narratives. Funding was provided by Civitas Maximas. The funder had no say in its content