04/03/21 [Liberia] Day 11: The Hearing of Witnesses 10 and 11

The eleventh day of public hearings resumed on 4 March 2021 in Monrovia, Liberia.

WITNESS 10 is Heard

The Prosecution questions Witness 10

Witness 10 recalled an incident that occured in 2001, when he was arrested in Waterside. The Witness was 14 or 15 years old when the incident occurred. He explained that people used to go to Waterside to buy goods to sell; although it was difficult to find food at that time, the easiest place to do so was Waterside. That day he decided to follow a friend and other people who were going there  to get food. (Later in his testimony, the Witness clarified that this was not a personal friend and that he did not know the identities of the other people who were with them in Waterside.) He recalled that he was afraid when he went down to Waterside; he saw “people going down, but the place was quiet and lonesome.” His friend encouraged him by saying, “Let’s go, let’s go.” 

When Witness 10 arrived at the scene, he saw some soldiers, whom he later identified as Charles Taylor’s soldiers. This made him feel brave. The store was closed when they arrived. The soldiers told them to put money together so that they could break into the store; they then fired at the door. The Witness recalled that everyone started to rush in because they would be able to keep anything they could get. The Witness explained that while they were doing that, the soldiers left and went to their checkpoint, which was near the store area. Witness 10 later clarified that the checkpoint was on the Old Bridge, with a rope dividing the area before the bridge and the bridge itself.

Witness 10 explained that while they were in the store, a pickup truck was approaching. The soldiers who had broken into the store began shooting. According to Witness 10, one of the soldiers said, “Our boss [is] coming, if we don’t shoot at [the civilians], they would know that we opened the store, so let’s shoot at them.” Some people were killed, while others were captured by the same soldiers who had broken into the store. The Witness later clarified that he saw a man and a woman killed. They were taken to the checkpoint, where they were held on the ground while some soldiers stood over them. The Witness later stated that he saw dead bodies around the checkpoint and the road leading to the former Vice President’s area, towards the Liberian Bank for Development and Investment. The Witness then stated that one of the soldiers’ big men came and asked what they were doing there. The soldiers told him that the captured civilians had broken into the store and that is why the soldiers captured them. The man accepted this explanation and said that he was coming so they could get rid of them. 

There were dead bodies lying near the Witness and the other captured civilians. The soldiers said, Y’all see the dead bodies over there? That the same thing they did.” The big man, whom the Witness later identified as “Angel Gabriel,” then sat down and told the soldiers to bring him his bowl. He said, “This plate is about to turn red. The thing that can make this plate red, that’s what we are about to take from in y’all.” The man commanded the soldiers to bring him a stone, and each time he gave the command, they would just say, “Yes sir, yes sir.” When the soldiers brought the stone, the big man brought forward the person who had been sitting next to the Witness. This was the first time the Witness saw the big man. 

According to the Witness, the big man told the soldiers to bring the plate and to lay the man’s head on the stone. He said, “Y’all see? I am about to do the same thing I did to those other bodies.” He put his knife to the man’s neck, so the Witness closed his eyes. When he opened them again, Witness 10 saw that the big man had cut the other man’s neck and he recalls that the body was still jerking. The Witness later noted that when he opened his eyes, the big man was wiping the knife on his clothes. He said he did not know what happened to the body afterward.

Witness 10 said that the big man took a girl who was beside the Witness; he later explained that she was taken to another room, but he did not know what happened to her. Witness 10 said the big man then ordered the other people to be taken below the bridge. They were kept under the bridge for a while; the Witness recalled seeing bodies along the river. The Witness also recalled hearing, “Go and bring one of those guys.” When a person was taken up, they were not seen again. 

One of the soldiers was sent under the bridge to guard the captives. The soldier who was guarding them called the big man “our chief” and said that his name was “Angel Gabriel.” Witness 10 stated that the soldier pitied the captives because they were crying and very afraid. The soldier told them, “When he says go to God, that means he is going to kill you.” They then asked the soldier what “go to God” meant, to which he responded, “Our chief says he is the angel that can send people to heaven. Because of that, when he says ‘go and carry this message to God,’ it means he is going to kill you.” They pleaded to the soldier to help them, and asked how they could leave. The soldier responded that the big man would kill soldiers if they did not agree with the orders he gave.

In that moment, Witness 10 recalled that they heard a pickup truck heading in their direction, with people saying, “Bring them over.” The group, about eight or nine people including the Witness, were thrown into the pickup truck and taken to the 12-Houses community near Elwa Junction. Because the Witness lived near Elwa A Junction, he thought for a moment that they would be freed. Instead, the group was held in a house with a guard posted at the gate; no one could leave. The boys, some of whom the Witness had already met, and girls were separated and put in different rooms. They stayed there for some time, until they heard someone knocking on the door. The man who knocked then opened the door saw them and exclaimed, “Oh, but what are you people doing here? This place is not good for y’all oh!” The man told the captives they should wait and that he would be right back. Witness 10 assumed he had gone to speak with the guard. When he returned, the man led the boys out of the gate and told them to leave. 

The Prosecution thanked the Witness for sharing his story and asked a series of questions to clarify certain events, described above. 

The Prosecution then asked about the name “Angel Gabriel.” The Witness stated that he heard the commander use that name himself while the Witness was being held inside the checkpoint. He heard from outside, “I, Angel Gabriel, can send people to God.” When asked about the way he spoke, the Witness recalled that this man did not talk like a Liberian, stating that he had a different accent and spoke a foreign language, like a Sierra Leonean. The Witness said he recognised the accent because some Sierra Leoneans live around here. 

The Prosecution moved to questions about the soldiers present during the incident, asking if the Witness was familiar with the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). The Witness responded “RUF? The President soldiers?” He clarified that he had said the President’s soldiers were fighting because of the uniform some were wearing, but he did not know at the time what the RUF was. The Witness did know of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO). Asked for more information about LURD, Witness 10 stated that they were fighters, fighting against the government. 

Witness 10 was also asked about the date of the incident, which he estimated occured in 2001. He referenced WW1, WW2, and WW3 to mark time, with WW1 occuring in 2001, WW2 in mid-2002, and WW3 in 2003. Later in the testimony, the Witness indicated that the incident happened in the middle of the dry season in 2001, around the time a holiday was approaching.

Witness 10 then testified as to how he came in contact with the Finnish police. The Witness had been in a shop and was talking with others in the shop. A man brought up the incident, which he said had occurred in 2003. The Witness was surprised and said to the man, “Oh! You were there too?” The Witness mentioned that he thought the incident was in 2001 and the two began speaking about it. This prompted a different man named [Employee 1] to approach them. According to the Witness, [Employee 1] told him that people wanted to know about the incident and asked for his number. The Witness gave [Employee 1] his number and [Employee 1] told him somebody would be in touch with him. Witness 10 confirmed that he had not spoken to any organization other than the police about his experience in Waterside and that no one had tried to influence his testimony. 

Defense questions Witness 10

The Defense began by asking how Witness 10 became involved in the investigation with the Finnish police. Counsel initially referenced a prior statement from the police that [Employee 1] had acquired the Witness’ contact information from “a middleman.” After a discussion with the Prosecution, the Defense rephrased the question, instead asking if it was a coincidence that the Witness had met [Employee 1]. Witness 10 confirmed that it had been a surprise meeting, that he had never seen [Employee 1] before, and that he could not have arranged their meeting. 

The Defense also sought to clarify inconsistencies in dates that Witness 10 gave to the Finnish police over two interviews in 2019. The Witness had given a different birth year during the interviews that he gave during the testimony. He explained the discrepancies, stating that he had been relaxed in the first interview as only two others were present, but “too many faces” in court had confused him. The Witness had also told the police that the events occurred in 2003. The Defense asked if there had been any fighting in Monrovia at that time. Witness 10 explained that there were not all-out attacks, but it was still wartime and the situation was difficult for civilians. Food was scarce and movement was limited as soldiers would “lay hands on you” if they saw people in the street or “carry you to the war front.” 

Witness 10 then clarified his testimony regarding his presence at the store in Waterside. Defense Counsel noted that the Witness had told the Finnish police that others had entered the store, but that today in court the Witness had mentioned entering the store himself. The Witness reiterated that he had been standing by the store and his friend urged him to go in. The Defense also noted that Witness 10 had told the Finnish police that he saw dead bodies when he arrived, to which the Witness clarified that he had not been referring to dead bodies at the store, but either at the checkpoint or the house in which he was held. The Witness also addressed some confusion about what he went to the store to get. The Finnish police had recorded that he was looking for a “goose,”  but the Witness explained that he had said he was not looking for anything particular, just food or general “goods.” The Witness also stated that he lived in Elwa Junction at the time of the event. He had lived there before WW1 and stayed for five to six years before moving to another county in 2005. 

The Defense returned to Witness 10’s statement to the police that the event occurred in 2003. He explained that he considered WW1, WW2, and WW3 a “one time operation” even though they occurred in different years: WW1 in 2001, WW2 in 2002, and WW3 in 2003. The Defense noted that according to the summary, the Witness told the police all three wars occurred in 2003. The Witness questioned why he would say that, as he knows when the wars occurred. Defense Counsel asked several times if the Witness still believed this and why he told the police 2003 when he meant 2001. The Witness became visibly agitated with repeated questions, believing that he had already answered the Defense’s questions. The Witness stated he had told the Finnish police 2003, assuming they understood the difference between WW1, WW2, and WW3; he was referring to a three year period, 2001-2003. 

The court then played an audio clip of the Witness’ police interview. In the first clip, the Witness explains that he went with his friend in part because his brother was a soldier. Because of this contact, he was only handcuffed and sat alone while a boy and girl were killed in front of him. In the second clip, the Witness discusses the date of the incident. He initially says it occurred in 2001 or 2002 but cannot remember. Because the speech was very fast, a section of the recording was unclear even after replaying it. In the next intelligible section, the Finnish police say that the incident happened in 2003 and the Witness notes that he cannot be certain of the month. 

After playing the recording, the Defense again questioned Witness 10 about the different years stated to police, asserting that he had told the police the incident occurred in 2003. The Witness maintained that 2003 was WW3 and that he had referenced that time period (WW1, WW2, WW3) as 2003 “just to put it together.” He confirmed that he was sure the incident happened in 2001 and did not deliberately give police the wrong date. 

The Defense next asked Witness 10 about his statement that he did not know the people that were in Waterside during the incident with him. He responded that he did not know them personally, much like “knowing” the different people in the courtroom. However, he did remember [Person M], who was at Waterside with him and gave police his name. The Defense highlighted that Witness 10 remembered this person’s name eighteen years after the incident. The Witness stated that he and [Person M] were not close and that he was not aware of [Person M] giving his information to the FP.

The Defense moved to questions regarding the war. Witness 10 stated he was aware LURD forces were coming to attack government forces, but did not see the fighting himself. He also noted it was difficult to determine which troops were fighting each other because they were made up of people from different backgrounds and who spoke different languages, including Liberians. Finally, the Witness confirmed that war was ongoing when he was arrested. He also noted that there were no-go zones in which you would be arrested. 

The Prosecution redirects 

The Prosecution questioned why Witness 10 had stated that “our own soldiers would arrest us” in earlier testimony. The Witness explained that some of the soldiers who were speaking foreign languages had power over Liberian soldiers. If given the command by the foreign commander, the Witness felt the Liberian soldiers would arrest him. 

WITNESS 11 is Heard

The Prosecution questions Witness 11 

Witness 11 recalled an incident in which she was captured in front of a store by a group of soldiers. According to the Witness, she used to go buy products at the Waterside market, but on that  occasion there was nothing to buy. Witness 11 said that while waiting around the market, she heard a “heavy noise” and that “the entire Waterside got upside down.” She heard noise coming from the biscuit store and saw people breaking in and bringing biscuits outside. When she arrived there with her business friend, they encountered two pickup trucks filled with armed soldiers. There was also a crowd of people gathered at the store who became afraid. Witness 11 stated that the soldiers put some people in the pickup and fired their guns at the store, killing some people. 

Witness 11 and her friend, [Person N], were captured barefoot and placed in the pickup. The Witness recalled how they were crying and asking the soldiers where they were being taken. The soldiers took them under the bridge at Waterside, by some dry land. She then explained that she and her friend were beaten with a gun by the soldiers for “making noise” as they cried for help. The Witness explained that at the time, a person would be lucky to be raped instead of killed. She recounted how the person doing the killing said “I am Angel Gabriel, you pass through me before going to Heaven.” An old man was beaten with the butt of a gun by the soldiers and was bleeding. People were crying and asking for help. Witness 11 described how frightening this Angel Gabriel was; she explained that they were even afraid to look at his face, because he could tell his men to rape or even kill you. Witness 11 recalled that they were under the bridge for almost an hour crying for help, when they saw a jeep coming. A man, who appeared to be above Angel Gabriel in rank, stepped out and began to question Angel Gabriel and his men as to what was going on. The man became vexed when he saw the old man bleeding, leading Angel Gabriel to apologize. Finally, Angel Gabriel and his men were commanded to release all the people. This gave the Witness and the others a chance to escape. 

The Prosecution then followed up with some questions. Witness 11 said the incident happened in 2001. The people were filled with fear and running. Witness 11 testified that she witnessed shooting at the store and people being killed at the bridge. She reaffirmed that she was under the bridge with [Person N]with whom she always bought goods, but she did not know anyone else there. She also stated that the boss who gave the orders to kill called himself “Angel Gabriel.” Witness 11 reiterated that if you looked at him too much, he would order someone to shoot you. She noted her surprise at Angel Gabriel’s Sierra Leonean accent. Witness 11 stated that she personally heard “the boss” giving the order to kill. She also confirmed that she saw him kill others for looking at his face. In a firm voice, Witness 11 repeated that she witnessed Angel Gabriel kill others. According to her, Angel Gabriel killed three people in her presence, two men and a woman; she did not know them personally. The Witness noted that “his boys” did most of the killing.

The Prosecution then asked further questions about the fighters. Witness 11 explained that while Angel Gabriel was speaking like a Sierra Leonean, the man who appeared higher in rank spoke Liberian English. The soldiers wore camouflage uniforms with green inside. She also stated that neither “LURD” nor “RUF” brought anything to mind. 

The Prosecution turned to an earlier interview Witness 11 had given about this incident. She explained that she was contacted through [Person O], her “play ma” (an older woman who serves as a guardian). The Witness said that she had not discussed her experience with any other organization. The Prosecution then questioned her with regard to [Person N]from the Waterside incident, and the Witness stated that her friend was hit with the butt of a gun on her leg and was crying because of it. 

Witness 11 noted that she remembered the year of the incident because she had received a call about her sister having labor pains and being brought to the hospital around that time. The Witness stated that her sister gave birth in early February. The Witness explained to the Prosecution that her sister lives in a rural area and getting her on the phone was difficult. However, after the first interview, she was able to confirm the year it happened because her sister stated that early in February she gave birth. Witness 11 further clarified that she could not confirm whether the incident happened before or after her sister gave birth because the child had died, so her sister did not want to discuss the story with her. After this, Witness 11 explained to the Judge that she only received a call that her sister was in pain and was not present when she was taken to the hospital. She did not remember the month the Waterside incident happened, but she confirmed that it happened in 2001. 

The Defense questions Witness 11

The Defense began by asking about when Witness 11 spoke to the Finnish police. The Witness stated that it was three to four months ago; the Defense noted that the police report stated 2019 but suggested it should be 2020, which Witness 11 confirmed. 

The Defense then asked about the man in military uniform called “Angel Gabriel,” asking whether Witness 11 could recall the name of his army. She stated that he had a uniform and a gun, and  he was not speaking Liberian English. She also confirmed that he spoke in a Sierra Leonean accent and she was afraid of him. Witness 11 stated that apart from the “boss himself,” she did not hear the name of any other fighters because she was afraid and did not listen. She specifically remembered “Angel Gabriel” because that is what he identified himself as. Even at the bridge, she was not focused on other names; she was just afraid. The Witness also stated that she had not heard about LURD.

The Judge then played the recording of Witness 11’s interview with the police. In the recording, Witness 11 said that she could not give the exact month of the incident because she had not confirmed it with her sister. The Witness was asked about her knowledge regarding WW1, WW2, and WW3. She stated that they had passed through all those wars and WW1 happened around 2002; however, her memory regarding WW2 and WW3 was not very clear. The interviewer asked whether Witness 11 heard about LURD rebels and whether they were in Monrovia when she was at Waterside in 2001. The Witness responded in the affirmative, explaining that whenever she went out to buy goods, they would hear people talk about LURD. She did not know their location.

After a break, the Defense requested that the audio recording be replayed. After, the Defense continued questioning Witness 11. Witness 11 said that she recalled being asked about LURD by the police and stated, “I might have said yes, but I was not sure about it.” She explained that she didn’t see them personally; she only heard people talking about them and she did not pay attention to it. The Defense pointed out that earlier, when he had asked if she had heard about LURD, she said no, and he repeated the question. She reiterated that she did not personally discuss LURD.

The Defense’s questions then returned to [Person O]. Witness 11 first asserted that [Person O]was not under the bridge with her and [Person N]. When the Defense noted that she had said [Person O] was under the bridge in the recording, the Witness explained that “you can say something and after sometimes you don’t remember.” The Defense continued to press her on this point, and she maintained that she could not remember [Person O] being under the bridge. The Defense, Prosecution and Judges spoke briefly in Finnish, and then the Defense again asked whether [Person O] was under the bridge with Witness 11. Witness 11 responded by saying, “Let me make a statement,” and explained how [Person O]had connected her to [Employee 1], leading to her testimony at trial.

The Defense then returned to the timing of when her sister gave birth. Witness 11 said she told the police that she did not remember the specific time that her sister gave birth. The police asked the Witness to confirm the time with her sister and her sister said it had been February.

At this point the Prosecution interjected. Noting that the Defense had asked the Witness about LURD, the Prosecution asked if it made a difference if she heard the term “LURD rebels” instead. Witness 10 answered that people discussed this name but she did not pay attention to it. The Prosecution and Judge continued asking whether it would make any difference to refer to “LURD rebels”. At this, Witness 11 became very annoyed, again explaining that she did not pay attention to what was said about the group and did not know if the two terms were the same.

The hearing concluded and will resume in Monrovia on Friday, 5 March 2021, at 09:00.

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