Former BBC Reporter Elizabeth Blunt, Ex-US Sec of State to Testify in Woewiyu Case
PHILADELPHIA – Elizabeth Margaret Blunt, a former BBC reporter who was a household name to Many Liberians, for much of the civil war era, Mr. Herman J. Cohen, a former US Secretary of State for African Affairs and Mr. Gerald Rose, a former Deputy Chief of Mission in Liberia, are heralding a laundry list of witnesses in the ongoing trial of Mr. Jucontee Thomas Woewiyu, 72, the defense minister for Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia.
Report by Jackson Kanneh and Tecee Boley
Several Liberian witnesses are also expected to provide testimony during the trial.
In opening arguments Tuesday, Attorney Linwood C. Wright Jr., Assistant US District Attorney told jurors that prosecutors will provide detailed evidence of Mr. Woewiyou’s involvement in the civil war. “You’ll hear a recording of Woewiyu making a deal to buy surface to air rocket launchers from undercover US agents in Miami in order to shoot peacekeeper jets from the sky. The deal fell apart because NPFL couldn’t find the cash to pay for transport,” Thayer declared.
The US prosecutor also promised to provide, during the trial recordings from the British Broadcasting Corporation on which Mr. Woewyu expressed the NPFL’s assurances that the late President Samuel Kanyon Doe would be removed from power. Said Thayer: “You will hear Tom Woewiyu on BBC recordings talking about how Doe had to go. You will hear Tom Woewiyu telling the BBC the NPFL would fight to the death to remove president Samuel Doe.”
Defense Attorney Catherine Henry, representing Mr. Woewiyu conceded that he was a member of the NPFL but says the trial is beyond that. “That’s not what this trial is about. “NPFL’S goal was to oust the terrible dictator doe. The only reason the government is going to [raise the war] is to emotionally manipulate you. This is about whether Woewiyu lied on his immigration forms and he did not.”
Woewiyu’s lawyers maintain that their client never purposefully hid his past from American authorities and served during the war as a constant advocate for a peaceful resolution to what has since become known as one of the bloodiest conflicts in modern African history.
On Monday, the first day of the trial, eight men and four women was selected to the Woewiyu jury pool.
The former NPFL’s key spokesman is accused of overseeing brutal atrocities committed during Liberia’s first civil war and later lied about it while seeking U.S. citizenship.
Prosecutor Thayer said Woewiyu was right up there with former President Taylor. “You will hear from the evidence that the only person who was higher up in the organization of the NPFL was Charles Taylor. You will hear that Tom Woewiyu expected those children to put their lives on the line for him as his bodyguard
In the early 1990s, Mr. Woewiyu served as chief spokesman and defense minister to Taylor, who later became president and in 2012 was convicted of crimes against humanity.
Prosecutors say Mr. Woewiyu delivered arms and gave orders to forces who conscripted child soldiers and committed acts of ethnic cleansing, torture, rape, and dismemberment.
Some 20,000 Liberians lost their lives in the civil war and scores more were forced into exile.
Blunt was a major figure in the coverage of the civil war. As a correspondent for the BBC during the early years of Liberia’s civil unrest in 1989 and 1990, she braved the storm to report on the civil war that killed thousands. Her report for the popular BBC’s Focus on Africa program was one of the most reliable coverage of the war era.
Former Secretary of State Cohen served as United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs from 1989 to 1993. He previously helped broker an end to the Eritrean Ethiopian War in 1991 and conflicts in Angola and Mozambique.
Mr. Rose, another key witness was former deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy during much of the civil war and has been involved in the pursuit of justice for five American nuns killed allegedly by NPFL rebels. “I don’t think many American people remember that there were five American citizens killed during the Liberian war,” Rose told ProPublica and FRONTLINE in a May 2015 report. “I think if the American people were aware of that, they too would feel that justice was not done.”