Witness Tells Jury He Saw Woewiyu with AK47; War Intensified After Death of Doe
PHILADELPHIA, PA – Four government witnesses helped build the government’s case that Thomas Woewiyu had been Charles Taylor’s second in command during Liberia’s civil war and was well aware of the violence and war crimes that Taylor and the NPFL had engaged in.
Report by Tecee Boley and Andrienne Tingba
The final witness of the day Gregory Stemn, the Liberian photographer who documented Liberia’s civil conflict, gave crucial testimony that the NPFL escalated fighting after the murder of President Samuel Doe. This testimony undercut the defense case that Woewiyu’s sole motivation was to overthrow Doe, a leader he saw as illegitimate.
The court heard more evidence from unnamed witnesses, whose identities are being withheld for their protection, of the horrors of checkpoints throughout NPFL territory. The described checkpoints strung with human intestines and manned by drugged child soldiers as young as 8 killing people who annoyed them or who were of the Krahn and Mandingo tribes.
“At their checkpoints, there were human skull and intestine. The child soldiers there wore wigs and dressed up in women clothes. They were frightening. Their eyes were always red from the drugs they took.”
One witness described seeing Woewiyu at those checkpoints. Mark Huband, a journalist for the Financial Times and Guardian newspapers, described meeting Charles Taylor with Woewiyu on one occasion at which Taylor’s notorious Small Boys Unit was acting as his bodyguard. He described seeing Woewiyu with an AK47. On cross-examination Huband said Woewiyu looked like someone who didn’t know how to handle a gun or who had handled them regularly.
Court observers say day 6 key testimonies strengthened the US government’s case because it may place doubts in the minds of the jury on the defense argument that the goal of the NPFL was to remove Doe and his government from power. It was made clear that the NPFL kept fighting after the death of Doe.
Former Deputy Chief of Mission Gerald Rose told the court that the West African peacekeeping troops of ECOMOG were the NPFL’s mortal enemy during 1992 Operation Octopus. “They were all the was standing between the NPFL and Monrovia,” he said.
Nuns Raised Again
The prosecution is under strict guidance from the judge to refer to the 5 murdered American nuns only as “aid workers” in an effort to not so inflame the jury that they cannot adjudicate the rest of the facts in the case. For this reason Rose was asked simply if he knew of the case of the five “aid workers” and had seen them at social gatherings at the US embassy.
Rose, who has been a vocal advocate for justice in the case of the nuns, confirmed that he had and he was asked no more questions on the case.
The jurors have been told not to look up anything to do with the case.
UK journalist saw Woewiyu with AK47
Huband testified before the jury that he saw Tom Woewiyu in charge of an AK47 rifle during a meeting with top NPFL leaders at the Liberia Agriculture Company (LAC) in June 1990.
“When we got there, he was sitting on the same bench as Mr. Taylor with an AK47 gun between his legs.”
This part of his testimony highlighted the prosecution’s argument that Woewiyu’s involvement with the rebel NPFL was not only at the diplomatic level. Instead, it sharpened,” their argument that he intentionally lied to US immigration authorities to disguise the level of his involvement in overthrowing the regime of President Samuel K. Doe. If convicted, he faces up to 110 years in prison and a fine of $4 million.
“While in Abidjan- it was April, after my first trip to Liberia. I got a call from Tom Woewiyu who said he was a supporter of the NPFL based in New Jersey,” said Huband. In the call, Woewiyu said he wanted to plan a press conference with Charles Taylor which would take place in Liberia.”
Huband’s testimony highlighted his three separate encounters with the defendant. He said discipline among the ranks of the NPL deteriorated over the two years he covered the conflict from 1990-1992. On his first trip to Liberia where he passed through AFL checkpoint manned by “adult soldiers in the early-to-mid 20s”.
“As things progressed, those at the checkpoints were much younger than the mid teenagers I saw during my first trip,” he said. “These kids, and I use the words kids because they appeared fairly young, were part of the NPFL group of soldiers. When I got to Buchanan, I was shocked by what I saw. The NPFL ransacked the town. There was broken bottles and looting of shops. Other shop owners mainly from Lebanon were very worried.”
The Defense team sought again to remind the jury how much money the government is spending on the case. “How many times did the procession visit you in the UK? In 2016 and again in 2018 the second time?”
Defense attorney Catherine Henry also sought to plant in the minds of the jurors that the higher-ups of the NPFL tried to instill good behavior in the troops and that the violent excesses of the war were in spite of and not because of them.
“You said that the NPFL was an undisciplined civilian force? You rode in the car with Samuel Doekie who reminded the troupes about not raping people?” she asked Huband.
Defense Attorney tries to further reinforce this strategy by highlighting the witness’ encounters with Woewiyu at LAC and during the peace talks in Sierra Leone with Doe’s forces and the All Liberia Conference in Liberia the following year. Woewiyu, according to the witness, led the NPFL delegation during both events.
In an attempt to further prove Woewiyu’s level of authority in the NPFL, the prosecution had witnesses Mark Huband recall his first in-person meeting with Woewiyu. In this meeting, Huband testified that he joined the NPFL delegation as they boarded a German aircraft on their way to Sierra Leone to meet with President Samuel Doe’s forces on talks of peace and reconciliation.
“Woewiyu was dressed in a suit and tie when we were on the German aircraft. He was the head of the NPFL delegation who went to Sierra Leone to have the peace talks with Doe’s delegation. The NPFL demanded that Samuel Doe leave Liberia, and Doe’s delegation wanted Taylor’s forces to back down. The peace talks ended with no agreement”.
This story was produced in collaboration with New Narratives with funding from Civitas Maxima. The funder had no say in the story’s content.