Week in Review – Week 4

Introduction to Week 4’s hearings and witnesses

The fourth week of the Gibril Massaquoi trial ended on 5 March 2021, after three days of hearings in Monrovia, Liberia. Hearings focused on the testimony of eight witnesses, who recounted their experiences during an attack at the Waterside market in Monrovia, Liberia. As with prior witnesses, the identities of all witnesses were concealed.

The witnesses were heard in the following order and are described as follows:

Trial Monitoring Day 10 (2 March 2021)

  • Witness 7: Female; age unknown; went with friend to buy food at the biscuit shop; was captured and observed people being killed.
  • Witness 8: Male; 18 at time of incident; went to Waterside to purchase items to sell; was captured and observed people being killed.
  • Witness 9: Witness 9 was heard in closed session, so no notes are available for the testimony.

Trial Monitoring Day 11 (4 March 2021)

  • Witness 10: Male; ~14/15 at time of incident; went down to Waterside to search for food; was captured and observed victims being killed.
  • Witness 11: Female; age unknown; went to Waterside to buy products; was captured and witnessed people being killed at the bridge.

Trial Monitoring Day 12 (5 March 2021)

  • Witness 12: Male; age unknown, soap maker who went to Waterside to purchase materials for soapmaking; saw his wife and stepfather carried away by soldiers.
  • Witness 13: Female; ~19-21 at time of incident; sold goods at Waterside; niece of victim, who was killed during the Waterside incident.
  • Witness 14: Male; age unknown; used clothes reseller who went to Waterside in search of goods; friend of [Victim 14], who was killed during the Waterside incident.

Commonalities in witness testimony

The following commonalities emerged about the Waterside incident and these particular witnesses’ interactions with the Finnish police:

The Waterside incident

  • While it was difficult to find food in Monrovia at the time, Waterside was a good place to try. People would also travel to Waterside to buy goods to sell. Some witnesses noted that on the day of the incident, “the place was quiet and lonesome.”
  • The stores were closed in Waterside, but soldiers and civilians looted a biscuit store after the soldiers broke into it. Initially, the soldiers and civilians were looting the store together. However, when the “boss” arrived—sometimes referred to as “our chief” or “Angel Gabriel”—the soldiers turned on the civilians, allegedly stating, “If we don’t shoot at [the civilians], they would know that we opened the store, so let’s shoot at them.” One witness described the soldiers as saying they would kill all the civilians for looting the store and shooting into the air.
  • The armed fighters at Waterside were “mixed” with some speaking Liberian English and some with Sierra Leonean accents. Some fighters of both accents wore Liberian Army uniforms. There were also many fighters who were still “small boys.” 
  • The soldiers shot some people and beat others. They also carried some to a checkpoint near the Old Bridge. Civilians were called spies, enemies, looters, and rebels by the soldiers and “Angel Gabriel.”
  • There were dead bodies on the ground as more civilians were brought to the checkpoint. The soldiers told Angel Gabriel the civilians had broken into the store and would be gotten rid of. Witness 10 saw one civilian forced to lay his head on a stone, at which point Angel Gabriel stated: “Y’all see? I am about to do the same thing I did to those other bodies.” He then put his knife to the man’s neck. Witness 10 closed his eyes, but when he opened them again, the man’s neck had been cut and Angel Gabriel was wiping the knife on his clothes.
  • Angel Gabriel was described as killing people under the bridge, including by one witness who claimed that he killed two men and a woman. Another witness testified that he saw Angel Gabriel take two men away from the group to show what he would do to the rest of them; he shot the two men. Some witnesses described being too frightened to look at Angel Gabriel’s face because he could order his men to rape or kill civilians.
  • Witness 12 was attempting to escape from the Old Bridge when “Angel Gabriel Massoquoi’s” men accused him of being a spy and stabbed him in the left eye, causing permanent blindness.
  • The soldiers also tied some civilians tabey and forced them to look directly at the sun.
  • Witness 13, who stated “Angel Gabriel” shot and killed her aunt during the incident, also described “Angel Gabriel” shooting a young girl, although the Defense noted that the witness had previously described Angel Gabriel as cutting the young girl’s neck.
  • Some women were taken away to the bush and left at a nearby stall. Others were described as being taken to a low-rise building, where soldiers would rape them. 
  • Some women were bound and referred to as “Angel women.” “Angel Man,” also referring to himself as “Angel Gabriel,” began picking some girls from the group, saying: “These are my women for today. Kill the others, and let them go tell God I sent them in front. I, Angel Gabriel, sent you.” The women not chosen to be “[Angel Gabriel’s] women” were then killed by the soldiers.
  • A few hours later, Liberian soldiers loyal to Charles Taylor arrived to deescalate the situation. One witness described a Liberian general arriving and asking Angel Gabriel who the prisoners were and why they were being beaten and killed. Another witness described a man, who appeared to be superior to Angel Gabriel, witnessing an old man bleeding; the man became angry, resulting in Angel Gabriel apologizing. 
  • Throughout the incident, witnesses described some Liberian soldiers explaining to the other soldiers that the civilians were not spies, helping some of them escape or bringing them to safety.

Identifying remarks that continued from last week’s testimony

  • Witnesses continued to describe similar pronouncements from “Angel Gabriel” about who he was. For example:
    • “Kill the others, and let them go tell God that I sent them in front. I, Angel Gabriel, sent you.”
    • “Go tell God I, Angel Gabriel, sent them.”
    • “I, Angel Gabriel, can send people to God.”
    • “I am Angel Gabriel, you pass through me before going to Heaven.”
    • “I, Angel Gabriel, I am going to kill you and you should tell God I sent you.”
  • Similarly, a witness had asked a soldier what “go to God” meant, to which the soldier 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.”
  • Witnesses continued to describe the way “Angel Gabriel” sounded, some describing him as sounding “not the Liberian way,” but instead in “the Sierra Leonean way of speaking.” Another witness described “Angel Gabriel” as speaking to another man in Krio (commonly spoken in Sierra Leone) rather than Liberian English, while another stated that Angel Gabriel spoke Temne (a Sierra Leonean language).

Armed groups present in the area during this period of the conflict

  • Witness 10 stated that “the President soldiers” were involved, but that he did not know what the RUF (Revolutionary United Front of Sierra Leone) was at the time.
  • Witness 12 stated that the RUF and the NPFL (National Patriotic Front of Liberia) were both present at the Old Bridge. He was able to confirm that the NPFL was present because he recognized two members of the NPFL special forces because they had purchased soap from him before.
  • Witness 13 stated that some soldiers were identified as “ATU” (Charles Taylor’s “Anti-Terrorism Unit”).

References to child soldiers

  • Witness 12 stated that at the Old Bridge, Angel Gabriel’s soldiers included “small boys,” understood to mean children.
  • Witness 13 described “small children” among the mixed group of Liberian and Sierra Leonean soldiers.

Recruitment of witnesses and prior interactions with Finnish police

  • Similar to last week’s testimony, [Employee 1] was described as a point of contact for each witness. For example, an acquaintance of Witness 8 from Waterside, [Person K], had recommended he reach out to [Employee 1]. Witness 11 had been connected with [Employee 1] through [Person O], her “play ma,” or guardian. Witness 12 described having frequently sold [Employee 1] soap and discussing the Waterside incident with him on one visit. Witness 10 described being approached by [Employee 1] when [Employee 1] heard the witness and others discussing the Waterside incident.

Emerging themes for Prosecution and Defense

As witness testimony continued this week, the Prosecution continued its attempts to corroborate both the timeline of events surrounding the Waterside incident as well as the presence of Gibril Massaquoi at the scene. To bolster the contention that the incident occurred in 2001, the Prosecution elicited testimony about when the incident occurred. While Witness 14 was unsure about whether the event occurred in 2001 or 2002, all other witnesses from this week’s open sessions testified that the incident occurred sometime in 2001.

As to the Prosecution’s assertion that Gibril Massaquoi was present at Waterside, the Prosecution elicited testimony from every witness that the man on the bridge was known as “Angel Gabriel.” Witness 12 identified the man as “Angel Gabriel Massaquoi.” Witnesses 7, 8, 10, 11, and 13 all testified that the man known as “Angel Gabriel” spoke with a Sierra Leonean accent. In addition, each witness explained that “Angel Gabriel” introduced himself as such and stated some version of the phrase that he would “send people to God.” While there was some variation in the testimony about exactly what phrase “Angel Gabriel” said to this effect, the statement was understood as killing those people or ordering them to be killed. This line of testimony largely matched witness accounts from prior weeks about this commander’s self-identification.

The Defense also continued to expand on its earlier trial themes, questioning the reliability of the witnesses’ testimony. As with earlier witnesses, the Defense raised questions about when the incident occurred and inconsistencies between when the witnesses stated the event occurred in Court and what they had previously told the Finnish police. The Defense also pointed out certain inconsistencies between what the witnesses told the Finnish police and their testimony in court about the circumstances of the event. Among the inconsistencies addressed, the Defense asked Witness 8 about forgetting the name of [Victim 9], Witness 10 about his differing accounts of whether he went into the store or not, Witness 11 about whether she was with [Person O] or [Person N] under the bridge, and Witness 13 about whether Angel Gabriel had shot a young girl or cut her throat.

In addition to questioning the accuracy of the witnesses’ testimony, the Defense sought to question the witnesses on their connections with [Employee 1] and the Finnish police. Each witness was asked about how they connected with either [Employee 1] or the Finnish police. The Defense also pointed out several inconsistencies in the Finnish police’s report. In their questioning of Witness 11, the witness confirmed she was interviewed in 2020, even though the police report indicated that she was interviewed in 2019. Further, the Defense asked Witness 13 about inconsistencies about who had shared her number with the Finnish police. In her police interview, Witness 13 had said it was [Person S], even though the witness testified this week that it was [Person R]. The witness explained that despite her earlier statement, [Person R] was her main initial contact and that the Finnish police may have misunderstood. The Defense seized upon Witness 13’s mention that she did not know others in [Employee 1]’s “program”, asking what kind of “program” she thought that might be. She did not know.

Overall, both Prosecution and Defense attempted to clarify the timing of the Waterside incident. They pushed witnesses to clarify their frequent references to the different periods of armed conflict as “WW1,” “WW2,” and “WW3.” However, there was variation among different witnesses’ explanations of these different time periods. One witness, Witness 11, associated the Waterside incident with a specific and potentially verifiable date: the birth of her sister’s baby in 2001.

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