To the astonishment of Liberians and people of conscience who have followed developments which caused more than 250,000 lives in Liberia since Charles Taylor’s reign of terror, there is a document from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts entitled: Notice of Nolle Prosequi. The notice was dated October 13, 1998, and signed by District Attorney Michael J. Sullivan, and First Assistant District Attorney Joseph P. Gaughan. According to the document, “…the State Department has requested in the interest of harmonious relations between the United States and Liberia, that this charge be dismissed against Charles Taylor.” This move has cleared the way for fugitive Taylor’s entry into the U.S. Years ago, the U.S. launched a manhunt for Taylor for planning an escape from a Massachusetts federal prison, along with other inmates.
This fugitive who has taken Liberia a hundred years back will enter U. S., a country that prides itself as a world policeman, as a hero. Ironically, no one in the U.S. State Department is prepared to claim responsibility for the criminal charges dropped against the fugitive Liberian president. Reporting the decision, the BBC said a U.S. State Department official quoted wished to remain “anonymous.” Quoting an unidentified Washington source, Star Radio of Monrovia indicated that an American official said the decision was in the interest of “justice.”
In quandary, we ponder whether this decision is official. If it is, what has prompted such a bewildering development? To give a man with so much blood on his hands a chance to travel to the United States in the name of “justice” appears bogus at best.
Having appointed himself general services agency director in the Doe regime, Taylor robbed Liberia of one million U.S. dollars. He fled but was caught in Boston for extradition to face trial in Liberia. Meanwhile, Taylor broke jail and headed for Africa. With Libya, Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast’s backing, he invaded Liberia, setting the basis to destabilize West Africa. ECOMOG helped minimize what would have annihilated the nation in Taylor’s desperate bid to be president.
This mad man recruited 45,000 children (robbed of their youth) in his rampaging and pillaging army. About 20,000 of them died in battle not knowing why. In 1997, an election of sorts was organized by the late Sani Abacha, then Nigerian head of state. But before then, Taylor had thoroughly looted Liberia, stole and sold giant generators, TV transmitters, and industrial equipment to countries like Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast in return for arms. State property became his as he launched illegal logging operations, sold Liberia’s iron ore, diamonds, gold and pocketed the proceeds.
Although disarmament was the key for the elections, Taylor simply hid his arms and kept the command structure of his marauding private army intact in case he lost the election. The Nigerian commander of the West African force would later admit that disarmament was a farce after a series of disagreements with Taylor that ended a dubious marriage of convenience.
The elections have led to more isolation and insecurity. Many towns and villages are empty as Taylor’s predatory army – with less to loot – turn on farmers, peasants and small traders. The U.S. State Department has revealed Taylor’s policy of dispatching soldiers to rural areas without compensation – a tacit approval of organized looting. Various organizations have reported this year that about one million Liberians in refugee camps have refused to return home and those who did were driven back because of the continuing terror campaign waged by Taylor’s security forces.
The man who willfully destroyed the bedrock of his nation’s economy wants more money from the international community to pocket. Liberia’s pre-war export earnings stood at US$702 million annually. There is no interest to resurrect the dead economy. Liberia is run by international aid organizations that exclusively provide social services while Taylor’s policies ensure chronic economic paralysis.
The unstoppable downward spiral in the economy is not surprising because key economic institutions have become private property of Taylor and his cronies, according to the US State Department 1998 Country Report on Human Rights Practices. Extortion has become “widespread” while a big share of the national budget, which is about US$64 million, goes toward the security of Taylor and his family. A fearsome gang composed of Burkinabes, Guineans, Ghanaians, etc. is commanded by his son, and this force was primarily responsible for the attack on unarmed civilians in September 1998.
Many Liberians wished Taylor’s presidency would have brought relief from harassment and terror. The opposite is now the case. The man who masterminded the killing of thousands of people and massive destruction of property in the name of change and democracy has embarked on erecting the foundation of a ruthless dictatorship unequaled in world history with an ultimate obsession to become a leader in Africa.
Evidence abounds that Taylor represents no cause but his own, preoccupied with crude wealth accumulation. With his calculated destruction of Monrovia’s power facilities during the war, Taylor and his associates are the only persons who have power and water in the city. Moreover, Taylor rides an array of expensive cars, including a Rolls Royce while over one million Liberians were reported by the World Food Organization to have been dependent on relief food in 1998.
Employment opportunities are lacking, with the average wage of the highest paid public servant standing at US$20 per month. Amid such economic malaise, Taylor, his family and trusted friends live in unparalleled luxury while the child soldiers who brought him to power roam the streets without any future or hope for education. This is the man the Clinton administration wants to give a triumphant entry into America. Quite interestingly, the U.S. government pursues other war criminals around the globe.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Susan E. Rice recently noted that America would insist on the investigation of war crimes in Sierra Leone. And as an indication of its determination to see real justice in Kosovo, the Clinton administration is using tremendous resources to ensure that those guilty of war crimes receive the required punishment. But in Liberia, a country that lost over 250,000 people and placed on the world map for recruiting children as soldiers, with over 40,000 of them left without a future so that Taylor could ride a Rolls Royce and become wealthy, America’s message is different: Washington’s welcome of a man who spearheaded the butchering of so many people is a terrible indictment of equal justice and a serious dent for democratization.
If justice were without bias in contemporary times, President Charles Taylor would have been tried for war crimes. This psychopath subjects the West African region to a cycle of terror for personal aims.
People of conscience, therefore, should prevail upon the Clinton administration to rethink its policy toward Liberia by canceling the planned visit and rescinding its decision to drop charges against a man who has no intention to repent for the terrible suffering he has imposed and continues to inflict on a helpless population.
Failure to adopt even-handedness in the Liberian case will be a terrible message with uglier implications. To encourage dictators and corrupt men – as we saw in the case of Samuel Doe during the Reagan administration – leads to a groundswell for more chaos and anarchy. A repeat of this policy by an administration that has shown so much goodwill in Africa is a bad beginning latent with disaster.
Briefly, let us review Taylor’s record for which he should be stopped from entering the United States this September:
1. Since Taylor became president as an alternative to more killings and wanton destruction, Liberia remains under siege. In September 1998, in defiance to his plea for reconciliation as a cornerstone for reconstruction and democratization, Taylor ordered his ex-fighters to storm a densely populated area of Monrovia with artillery weapons, mortars, machine guns, and bombs. According to the U.S. State Department, about 300 people, mostly ethnic Krahns, were gunned down. Other reports put the number of people killed to over 1,500 in view of the population density of the area attacked. A classic case of ethnic cleansing!
Persons wounded during the attack, were pulled out of international medical ambulances and shot. A house-to-house search for Krahns was launched and those arrested were summarily executed. The terror against Krahns was so intense that those ethnic Krahns still living in abandoned homes asked for international assistance to be evacuated out of the city. According to U.S. State Department, 11 officers of the Armed Forces of Liberia, believed to be ethnic Krahns, were arrested, interrogated, tortured and shot.
Taylor however claimed the men were killed in an attempt to escape, a lie disputed by the report which cited the place of execution. What followed was an exodus of Krahns out of the country, with reports that as many 18,000 fled back into refugee camps. In Grand Gedeh itself which is the home of the Krahns, a former Taylor general (Cocoo Dennis) rearmed 200 fighters ostensibly as security guards for one of the many logging companies privately run by Taylor. But the men began to intimidate and harass Krahns from their homes.
2. Earlier in December 1997, Taylor’s ruthless bodyguards executed his former ally, Samuel Dokie, along with three members of his family. They were mutilated and burnt beyond recognition. No one was convicted of the murders and government officials who admitted ordering the arrest remain free.
3. A market woman and known critic of Taylor’s reign of terror, Madam Nowai Flomo, was pulled out of her home and killed by Taylor’s security men. Similarly, no one was convicted.
4. In April 1999, the campaign of terror intensified. The border town of Voinjama was attacked. The government first claimed that dissidents forces based in Guinea were responsible. Weeks after, facing independent account, the government admitted that the horrors caused in Voinjama were the work of its security forces and promised to investigate. No one has ever been investigated and brought to trial since the incident which left the town well-looted and several persons killed. Taylor then ordered his security forces to turn on another ethnic group; this time the Mandingoes. Several Mandingoes were killed and many more detained.
5. In rural areas, farming has come to a virtual standstill because of continued harassment of farmers by government security forces. Many have returned to refugee camps. According to a Muslim cleric who toured parts of Lofa and Guinea sometime ago, many Mandingoes and Lormas have returned to Guinea – citing continued harassment and insecurity as their reasons.
6. Two years after the election and more than 8 years since the beginning of the terror, Liberia is worst off than anytime in its history. Taylor has shown that he pursues no cause order than his own, and that the promise of democratization was a sham to acquire wealth through theft and terror. He sees opposition everywhere and treats dissent with unsurpassed heavy-handedness. He disrespects the rule of law and lies, deceives and terrorizes. When a member of human rights commission he appointed began to exercise independence, the man was publicly flogged by the late Police Director Joe Tate. Tate participated and directed the 1996 looting of Monrovia. The man later fled, citing threats on his life. The president of the Liberian Senate, who is a member of Taylor’s political party, met a similar fate for disagreeing with Taylor on a number of issues, including his backing of the RUF rebels. The Liberian lawmaker was forced out of the country and lives in America.
7. Taylor’s presidency in Liberia causes more instability with nightmarish repercussions in West Africa, soon to engulf the rest of the African Continent. After politically consolidating himself, Taylor’s long-term goal centers on transforming Liberia into a criminal empire for money laundering, drug trafficking, assassinations, among other unwholesome activities.
8. Following Taylor’s horrendous destruction of Liberia, the dream of democracy has evaporated because he and his circle of thieves carefully erect pillars of a brutal dictatorship. The entire western border of Liberia serves as the RUF’s operational base. Sierra Leone’s diamonds are unavoidable attraction for Mr. Taylor the recent deportation of one of his friends from London for gun-running indicates how slowly entrenched criminal-minded men and women are emerging. With Sierra Leone’s rebels in charge of the diamond mines, they are assured of money for Taylor’s continued supply of weapons. As this gang strengthens itself, any dream to end the Sierra Leonean war is wishful thinking.
9. Please be reminded that this fugitive from justice did not only target innocent Liberians during the war, but foreign humanitarian workers as well. His rebels tortured and murdered five American Catholic nuns: Sister Kathleen McGuire; Sister Ann Multra; Sister Agnes Mueller; Sister Mary Joel Kolmer; and Sister Shirley Kolmer.
In view of the above, we want to see justice prevail. What is good for Sierra Leone, Kosovo, and Bosnia, is equally good for Liberia. The level of impunity shown by Taylor since he was made president is due to the failure of the international community to press for war crimes or a truth and reconciliation commission for Liberia.
These steps would have taught a lesson to those who masterminded killing fields in Liberia that crime cannot be rewarded. But the massive benefits enjoyed by Taylor and his janissaries have convinced them of the rightness of their actions and thus, they have no remorse in continuing their campaign of lawlessness.
For all these reasons, Taylor should not be allowed to visit the United States this September.
Without justice, there can be no peace! Therefore, it is in the best interest of a civilized people everywhere to disassociate themselves with like of Charles Taylor.
Done In the Supreme Interest of Freedom and Democracy, this 24th day of August, A.D. 1999.
Liberian Democratic Future (LDF)
Liberian Democratic Institute (LDI)
Providence, Rhodes Island
Bodioh Wisseh Siapoe
Coalition of Progressive Liberians in the Americas (COPLA)
New York City, New York