Liberia: ‘I Don’t Know Hassan Bility’- General Butt Naked Refutes Massaquoi Trial Bribery Claims

Joshua Blahyi “General Butt Naked” appeared in court today to refute claims he bribed witnesses

By Gerald C. Koinyeneh with New Narratives

MONROVIA, Liberia – One of the men accused of bribing and tampering with witnesses in the ongoing war crimes trial of Gibril Massaquoi rejected the allegations in court on Wednesday.

Joshua Milton Blahyi, also known by his war name, “General Butt Naked”, was accused of colluding with Hassan Bility to bribe witnesses in Mr. Massaquoi’s ongoing trial by the court from Finland, and other high profile cases tried in the United States and Europe involving people connected to the Liberian civil war.

Bility is the director of the Liberian NGO, Global Justice Research Project (GJRP), which together with its Swiss partner Civitas Maxima, documented Mr. Massaquoi’s alleged crimes during Liberia’s second civil war and presented them to Finnish police. After investigating the charges the Finnish prosecutors charged Mr. Massaquoi who was living in Finland under an arrangement with the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Mr. Massaquoi had served as an informant to the Special Court.

Appearing before the four-judge panel, Blahyi said he did not know Mr. Bility, and has not testified in any court trying people for crimes committed during Liberia’s 14-year civil war.

“I don’t know Bility,” he said, responding to lead prosecutor Tom Laitinin’s questions. “The Bility name is a household name in Liberia, but I can’t remember sitting in a room with him.”

Except for Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), Blahyi said he has not served as a witness in any war crimes court or trial.

Blahyi, 50, is the first former Liberian warlord to appear before the Finnish Court since it returned to Liberia last month. It had heard from dozens of witnesses in Liberia and Sierra Leone in February and March this year. Blahyi was a leader of the United Liberation Movement for Democracy (ULIMO), which supported President Samuel Doe against the insurrection by Charles Taylor’s rebel forces. Doe’s assassination triggered one of the most brutal civil conflicts on the African continent that claimed the lives of an estimated 250,000 people between 1989 and 2003.

Under the war name “General Butt Naked” Blahyi wreaked havoc as head of a troop of young, drugged and naked soldiers known for their cruelty and penchant for magic during the first civil war (1989-1997).

In 2008, Blahyi confessed to the TRC to the murder of thousands of people, claiming that during the war he had magical powers due to his initiation into a traditional secretive society when he was 11 years old. Indicted by the TRC, Blahyi accepted responsibility for his crimes and said he is willing to be tried, and if convicted, face punishment.

Now, an evangelical pastor, he has launched an initiative in Monrovia to get former child soldiers off drugs and out of crime.

Looking relaxed as he took the witness stand on Wednesday, Blahyi told the court that he was not the only person to go with the name General Butt Naked. He said one of the fighters who used the name fought for the Liberia Peace Council (LPC), another warring faction, headed George S. Boley. (Boley, expelled from the United States in 2012 for his involvement in war crimes, currently serves as a member of the Liberian Legislature). The ex-soldier in question is now handicapped, Blahyi said.

Asked by defense lawyer Kaarle Gummerus how he got the name ‘Butt Naked’, Blahyi said during the war a journalist photographed him while he was naked.

“In 1996 my role was to operate in Central Monrovia. During the war a journalist captured me on camera. But because they couldn’t get any response from me, they published a story about me as the Naked General.” 

“I have a traditional position as a priest to my tribe,” Blahyi told the court. “I protected my tribe. And to operate in my priestly office, I have to go naked.”

Three defense witnesses have appeared before the Finnish Court alleging that Mr. Bility coached them to lie about Mr. Massaquoi and Agnes Taylor, who was charged and detained in the United Kingdom. They said Mr. Bility wanted them to testify that Mr. Massaquoi and Ms. Taylor committed human rights violations and promised to pay them between US$15,000 and US$20,000 once they had testified.

Mr. Bility, upon the invitation of the prosecution, appeared before the court earlier this week and rubbished the claims.

Another senior staff of GJRP, Fayiah Williams, appeared in court Wednesday and stated emphatically that at no time he bribed any witness.

Both prosecution and defense lawyers questioned Mr. Williams, 44, about a witness who alleged that he took him to Ghana and coached him to lie to British police that he witnessed Ms. Taylor committing crimes against humanity.

Mr. Williams said he was a founding staff member of GJRP back in 2012, and since then the organization has always maintained its policy of soliciting war related information from witnesses at their own will, not for any payment. Mr. Bility has previously told reporters that he works hard to find credible witnesses who have clear, detailed memories of events and will stand up to stressful cross examination in court.

In a meeting with the witness in question back in 2012, Mr. William recounted:

“I told him that your visit here [the GJRP office], we don’t pay people for speaking to us, but we do pay for transportation. Whatever you spent to come, in that just amount, we pay back. And you are free to end the interview if you feel uncomfortable. I went further by asking him if he would explain his ordeal.”

“I told him that I will take notes as he explained,” Mr. Williams said. “And it was not the formal way we are doing now, but I wrote down those pieces of information he told us. I thanked him and I told him that maybe we will get back to him in the future.”

Mr. William’s notes were subpoenaed and presented in court by lead prosecutor Laitinin.

The third witness, codenamed X8 to protect his identity, corroborated the claims of the first two witnesses about the process for becoming a witness. Asked how he learned about the trial, he said he heard about it through a local radio station. Because he was familiar with the case, the witness said he called a staff of GJRP who connected him with Finnish Police.

The trial continues on Friday which will likely be the final day of the hearings in Liberia before the court returns to Finland.

This story is a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project.