Thursday, April 13, 2006

Liberia: Charles Taylor - Boogeyman Behind Bars Part I


Like many of my fellow bloggers who write primarily about Africa I have been carefully following unfolding events surrounding Charles Taylor’s attempted flight from justice, capture and arrest, and finally his delivery to the
UN Special Court for Sierra Leone. One of Africa’s most feared and ruthless leaders is behind bars and any decent human being should be relieved that he will finally be forced to face the charges for crimes he committed against millions of West Africans. Charles Taylor, the Boogeyman, is behind bars in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

In a way it is a pity that Taylor has dominated Africa news headlines in the international press and media for several weeks, drawing attention away from the very successful visit by Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to the United States in March 2006. Media focus on Taylor also overshadows the slow but steady progress being made in Sierra Leone documented by people like my friend Bimbola Carrol who operates the Visit Sierra Leone website and blog. The government of Sierra Leone together with the
Commonwealth Business Council and the U.K. government DFID recently held a successful Investors Forum 2006 attracting much needed investment capital and new business partnerships between Sierra Leone and foreign companies.

The extensive coverage of the Taylor arrest and extradition to the Special Court for Sierra Leone in the MSM (mainstream media) has prompted many bloggers writing about Africa to express their opinions and share information with readers. Here are just a few links to posts from some of my favorite bloggers speaking out about Charles Taylor's arrest:
Chippla “
On Charles Taylor
Africabeat “
Charles Taylor and the Special Court for Sierra Leone
Black Star Journal “
Unlike his victims, Taylor get his day in court

After spending weeks reading expert reports, news articles and op-eds, and several blogs in order to better understand the background to
Taylor’s vicious rule in West Africa as well as review the history and special relationships between Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the United States today, I feel that I am ready to have my say. This subject matter is so broad and complex I have decided to write and publish in sections. I hope that I get this right not only for my treasured readers but especially for the people of Liberia and Sierra Leone. Here goes…

Boogeyman Behind Bars - Part I: Follow the Money, Honey

I had the opportunity to speak with a few West African friends here about the arrest of Charles Taylor and of course they are both delighted and relieved. Listening to the stories and opinions of people whose lives were adversely affected by West Africa’s decades of tragic civil wars I heard repeatedly that Charles Taylor must face justice before a court of law and that the verdict handed down in his pending trial should be Guilty. Taylor has already been tried and sentenced in the international media and by widespread public opinion. Some people feel that he should be executed. “Taylor must die for the crimes he has committed against our people…” say many of the young West African men I have spoken with here in Germany.

A young Togolese friend of mine, Victor, who works as a barber said something different from others that helped to guide my decision on how best to approach my first post in this series of articles about Charles Taylor. Victor said when I asked what he thought about Taylor’s capture and arrest, “I feel sorry for him [Taylor]… because he did not act alone. Other people should be sitting in that jail cell with him.” Victor of course is dead right. Taylor did not act alone or in a vacuum, he had lots and lots of help from cronies and supporters all across Africa and from around the world.

Douglas Farah, the intrepid investigative journalist specializing in the tracking of terrorist financial networks worldwide, has published some of the best reports and articles about Charles Taylor and the global criminal networks that helped ravage and plunder Liberia and Sierra Leone during their civil wars that I have read to date. Doug’s website and blog features his work on Charles Taylor and a variety of other lowlifes along with other information about global terrorism today.

I strongly suggest to my readers who are interested in in-depth information about Charles Taylor to read Following Taylor’s Money: A Path of War and Destruction. This extensive report was done for the Coalition for International Justice, a non-profit organization that has worked diligently to support special criminal courts, legal initiatives, and war crime tribunals for Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Sudan, Cambodia, the former Yugoslavia, and East Timor. Douglas Farah and the CIJ’s Shaoli Sakar co-authored the 98-page report about investigations into Taylor’s global financial dealings with gunrunners, despots, businessmen and companies that illegally exploited and extracted timber and diamonds and gold and rubber and other valuable natural resources and state resources from Liberia and Sierra Leone. A path of evidence to several people who are not in jail with Taylor today.

As noted in the acknowledgements section of the report a number of very courageous people and organizations contributed documents, eyewitness accounts, investigative research, and other evidence to help build the case against Charles Taylor Inc. The award-winning Global Witness team, a U.K.-based investigative organization working to expose the truth behind natural resource exploitation and the links to brutal wars, conflicts, and human rights abuses, was a key contributor to the CIJ report. Please visit the Global Witness archive on reports about Liberia and Charles Taylor for further reading on what really lay at the heart of Taylor’s Reign of Terror in West Africa.

The report’s appendices contains lists of names of individuals and companies that supported Charles Taylor’s brutal wars, UN Security Council resolutions, money trafficking flowcharts, bills of sale for military weapons and munitions, and a myriad of other damning evidence that should not only suffice to help convince readers that Taylor deserves nothing less than a conviction but that his global partners-in-crime also must be brought to justice ASAP (As Soon As Possible).

Today it is only Charles Taylor who is sitting in a jail cell in Freetown, Sierra Leone awaiting extradition to the International Criminal Court at The Hague. How is it possible that all these people who should also be indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity can still run around free in Europe, Asia, North and South America, and of course North and West Africa and the Middle East? How is that possible? That’s the question many of us around the world should be asking ourselves. We should be demanding (loudly) answers from our respective political leaders and international law enforcement bodies.

Here are excerpts from Following Taylor’s Money - Executive Summary:

“This report outlines the financial network of former Liberian president Charles Taylor and demonstrates how Taylor’s control of this revenue stream poses a serious ongoing threat to Liberia, West Africa, and beyond.”…

“As warlord, Taylor controlled Liberia’s diamond-rich regions in western Lofa county and eastern Sierra Leone. He also controlled timber concessions, iron ore deposits, and rubber plantations. The U.S. government estimated in 1996 that from 1990-1994 Taylor had access to “upwards of $75 million-a-year passing through his hands.

After assuming the presidency, Taylor’s income grew. We estimate he generated an income of at least $105 million per year from 1997 through to the end of his presidency in August 2003. This derived from the continued spoliation of Liberia’s diamonds and timber, and the imposition of private taxes on gasoline and rice importation, and on rubber, coffee and rice production. As he drew freely from Liberia’s public treasury, the actual amounts available to him may have been much higher.

During both these periods, Taylor spent much of his income on massive weapons purchases, payments to buy the loyalty of mercenary troops, and support for proxy armies. This cost an annual $70-$80 million, leaving him with capital estimated at between $150 and $210 million by August 2003. At least some of this money appears to be banked in West Africa (Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana), Europe (France, Italy, Liechtenstein, Switzerland), Panama and the Caribbean [Islands]. Law enforcement and intelligence officials in Europe believe Taylor has at least 30 front companies active in hiding his assets at this time. A sizeable amount is currently ferried by courier back and forth as cash between Liberia, Nigeria and other West African countries.”…

“From his asylum base in Calabar, Nigeria, Taylor can direct these monies to finance operations aimed at maintaining and furthering his influence in Liberia, and fostering regional instability, his historical modus operandi. Three examples of his current activities bear this out.

First, much of his current capital flow is channeled into undermining Liberia’s fragile peace process. Special Court investigators believe he is giving money to at least nine of the eighteen parties vying in the October 2005 presidential elections. Political leaders inside Liberia, including staunch Taylor allies, and other investigators, corroborate these charges. Taylor is also thought by the Court to have funded violent demonstrations in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital, in October 2004.

Second, Taylor appears to be funding, training, and arming a small but potent military force that poses a significant threat to the stability of West Africa and beyond. There is evidence that Taylor has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to two longstanding, loyal military commanders, with instructions for them to recruit several hundred combatants among the floating population of experienced fighters left over from the region’s wars.

Third, Taylor has been publicly accused by the Special Court of involvement inthe assassination attempt on January 19, 2005, on Lansana Conté, the Guinean president, in retaliation for Conté’s support for the rebel groups, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL), that precipitated Taylor’s fall from power in 2003.8 The attempt failed when the wrong car was hit by gunfire in Conakry, the capital of Guinea.”…

Here are excerpts from the report’s Background on Charles Taylor:

2. Background

From 1989 until assuming the presidency in 1997, Taylor waged a brutal, destructive war against the Liberian government and other warlords. In 1991, he helped establish and train the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), a rebel group and proxy army in neighboring Sierra Leone. The wars helped destroy two of West Africa’s more prosperous nations, left hundreds of thousands dead, and millions displaced from their homes. Less than a year after launching his December 1989 insurgency inside Liberia from neighboring Côte d.Ivoire, Taylor controlled most of the vital economic regions of Liberia and was reaping millions of dollars to purchase weapons and pay his troops. In 1997 he became president of Liberia.

This report maps out how Taylor gained access to and spent hundreds of millions of dollars since 1997, and also identifies some of his current revenue sources. It examines the sophisticated links Taylor developed to organized criminal groups and terrorist organizations that have allowed him to procure hundreds of tons of weapons from an astonishingly broad range of groups and individuals. In 2000, for example, organized crime groups from China, Israel, Russia, South Africa, and Ukraine were operating simultaneously in Liberia with Taylor’s knowledge and permission, as were the terrorist organizations Hezbollah and al Qaeda. In exchange for helping fund Taylor’s weapons procurement, these groups extracted millions of dollars in diamonds, timber and other resources.

The extensive financial, military and political networks Taylor established range from the Balkans to Central America, Bulgaria to Iran. His inner circle of financial advisers and weapons purchasers include, among others, American, Belgian, Dutch, Israeli, Lebanese, Libyan, Russian, Senegalese, and South African citizens. His access to these international criminal networks greatly increased the carnage his troops and those of his allies were able to inflict in the region. His continuing ties to a number of these groups increase the threat Taylor still poses to regional stability.

This report uses evidence of these financial associations drawn from a variety of sources: conversations with former and current Taylor associates who have direct knowledge of events; confidential communications believed to be between Emmanuel Shaw (a longtime associate of Taylor’s, currently his financial advisor) and Taylor, uncovered by Global Witness and reviewed by the authors; and discussions with law enforcement and intelligence officials from the United States and various European countries, and with investigators at the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Given Taylor’s history of murdering associates and his continued reach and publicly-stated desire to return to Liberia, few who know firsthand of his dealings are willing to divulge their identities. The great majority of correspondents and interviewees for this report requested anonymity. Intelligence and law enforcement sources likewise requested that no names be used in order not to compromise their ongoing investigations.

Together, these sources and documents show that a small group of people continue to insure Taylor receives up to $1 million a month in revenue from his Liberian investments alone. It is also clear that Taylor has sought to and likely succeeded in establishing several front companies to handle his finances during his exile. Numerous individuals with longstanding links to Taylor, now based in Liberia, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, and Ghana, continue to play important roles in Taylor’s financial structure.

While some of the estimated $685 million that passed through Taylor’s hands during his six and a half years in office was sheltered outside Liberia, much of his wealth was used to sponsor his wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone. In Liberia, Taylor’s forces abducted thousands of children, many of whom were forced to join
Small Boy Units, the shock troops of the war. His use of torture, rape, and enslavement are well documented. His proxy forces in neighboring Sierra Leone, the Revolutionary United Front, gained international notoriety for those crimes, as well as for their signature atrocity of hacking off the arms, legs and ears of civilians.

Note: highlighting and links (website URL’s) have been added by this author to some of the excerpts above and do not appear in the original report.

Douglas Farah, in an October 02, 2005 article for the Washington Post titled “
Standing By as a Brutal Dictator Plots His Return”, wrote (excerpts from the original article):

Taylor remains one of the single largest threats to Liberia and the region. His Nigerian hosts allow him to remain in regular telephone and fax contact with supporters in Liberia. And thanks to unlimited access to visitors, he carries on financial transactions through couriers who conceal his role while tending to his stake in a major cell phone company in Liberia. They also help funnel millions of dollars that Taylor looted from the Liberian people into the purchase of weapons and the financing of militias so that he might intimidate, kill and bribe his way back to power. If he succeeds, the stage will be set for a regional conflagration. He has plunged the region into chaos before and stands ready to do so again.

While Taylor remains at large, immune from the rule of law, Liberians cannot have truly free and fair elections. Obasanjo has promised to turn Taylor over to the newly elected government of Liberia, but that government is virtually guaranteed to be weak and struggling. No matter who is president, he or she will be unable to stand up to Taylor. After all, Taylor was elected president in 1997 after leading a prolonged civil war characterized by the systematic use of rape, the recruitment of children to fight in his infamous "Small Boy Units" and the mutilation of the civilian population. His support then was based on fear that he would wreak even greater havoc on Liberia again if he lost. People chanted in the street, "He killed my ma, he killed my pa, I'm going to vote for him." He will count on the same style of intimidation to force any new Liberian government -- and some regional leaders -- to continue to protect him.

To maintain the militia threat against the region, Taylor still funds and commands the loyalty of some of the most notorious butchers of his regime, including James "Cucu" Dennis and Adolphus Dolo, aka General Peanut Butter. (Other Liberian commanders have colorful aliases such as General Butt Naked or General Dragon Master.) Time is on Taylor's side, and that is one reason why he is spending money to support up to half the candidates in the election, according to Special Court for Sierra Leone officials and independent observers. All he has to do is buy a year of protection from extradition. The mandate of the Special Court is scheduled to expire in 2006. If it is no longer sitting, Taylor will be in the position of having been indicted by a court that no longer exists. He will be free.

Despite the stakes, the Bush administration, like others before it, is giving Africa short shrift when it comes to acting on high-minded rhetoric and promises of support for democracy, freedom and respect for law. The administration has promised to let freedom ring throughout the world and has used massive human rights violations as a justification for invading a foreign country. Yet it has expended little effort to ensure that another man responsible for the murder and mutilation of tens of thousands of people in his country stand trial. This double standard is not lost on democracy activists and human rights workers -- and dictators -- in sub-Saharan Africa.

The message that the United States sends to a continent plagued by despots, rampant corruption, and actual and potential terrorist havens, is of crucial importance. A sense of impunity has fostered the violence and corruption that have kept West Africa in a state of warfare, strife and desperate poverty for decades. No head of state there has ever been held accountable for his crimes and abuses. Missing the opportunity to hold Taylor responsible will only reinforce that vicious cycle of crime without punishment. Taylor's return will make it less likely that millions of people will be able to freely choose their leaders, enjoy the protection of their government rather than have it prey upon them, and have a shot at living above the poverty line.



The Republic of Liberia
History of Liberia
Presidents of Liberia
Liberian Civil Wars
Charles Ghankay Taylor profile

The Republic of Sierra Leone
History of Sierra Leone
Heads of government of Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone Civil War
Foday Sankoh profile

Douglas Farah, in a class all his own:
Douglas Farah (bio) of and the NEFA Foundation

Doug’s current blog posts on Charles Taylor
In choreographed move, Taylor escapes – Mar 28 06
Pressure mounts on Bush to cancel visit with Obasanjo – Mar 28 06
Taylor is in custody – Mar 29 06

Farah's Testimony before the U.S. House Financial Services Committee - Feb 2005

Coalition for International Justice
Following Taylor’s Money Path: A Path of War and Destruction – May 2005

The New York Times:
A Master Plan Drawn in Blood by Lydia Polgreen - Apr 02 06
(It unfortunately costs money to view the full NY Times article)

NY Times Multimedia Feature (high and low bandwidth option, Macromedia 8)
A Horrific Genius audio by Lydia Polgreen in Freetown, Sierra Leone with photography from leading international photojournalists.

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