Week in Review – Week 6
Introduction to Week 6’s hearings and witnesses
The sixth week of the Gibril Massaquoi trial ended on 19 March 2021 after three days of hearings in Monrovia, Liberia. Hearings focused on the testimony of ten witnesses, the first of whom returned to finalise his testimony about his experiences in Waterside during the Second Civil War, after first appearing during the previous week’s hearings.
With the end of Witness 17’s testimony, the focus of the proceedings shifted to events that are alleged to have occurred in Lofa County. The final witness of the week spoke of her connection to the RUF between 2000-2002 – providing information about Mr. Gibril Massaquoi’s alleged involvement in the events in Lofa County. The other eight witnesses described their experiences during the fighting between rebel groups. As with prior witnesses, their identities were concealed.
The witnesses were heard in the following order and are described as follows:
Trial Monitoring Day 16 (16 March 2021)
- Witness 17 continued from 8 March 2021 (Day 13): Defense witness; male; ~30-32 at time of the incident; worked in Monrovia as medical personnel treating individuals injured by fighting in Waterside (during 2001-2003); heard details of an incident at a biscuit shop in Waterside from patients. The continuation of his questioning was conducted by the Defense.
- Witness 22: Prosecution witness; male; age unknown; described incident in Kiatahun; was captured and observed people being killed in 2001.
- Witness 23: Prosecution witness; male; age unknown; worked as a teacher; described events that he experienced, saw, or heard about, occurring in 2001: the killing of a man; the burning of houses and kitchens; his capture, and that of others; the burning of many people in a house; and rape.
- Witness 24: Prosecution witness; female; ~15-17 at time of the incident; described: the killing of her parents by a soldier under Angel Michael’s command; her capture by a group of soldiers; and the burning of many people in a house.
Trial Monitoring Day 17 (17 March 2021)
- Witness 25: Prosecution witness; female; ~21 at time of the incident; described events occurring in 2001: soldiers looting village homes in Babahun and forcing her and other villagers to carry the goods for them; the killing of her son; her own injuries; and the shooting of villagers by soldiers on the order of “Angel Gabriel Massaquoi”.
- Witness 26: Prosecution witness; male; ~32 at time of the incident; described: the arrival of soldiers in his village, Kotohun I; the killing of his wife and sister; his capture, and that of others; being forced by soldiers to carry valuables stolen from homes which were burned; and being held in a building in Foya.
- Witness 27: Prosecution witness; male; ~56-57 at time of the incident; described: the arrival of soldiers in his hometown in early 2001; the burning of his village; being forced by the soldiers to carry goods looted from village homes to Foya; and rape.
Trial Monitoring Day 18 (19 March 2021)
- Witness 28: Prosecution witness; male; 31 at time of the incident; described: being forced to carry ammunition for different armed forces; being assaulted by Gibril Massaquoi and by soldiers under his command; the killing of civilians ordered by Gibril Massaquoi; an act of cannibalism; and hearing that people were burned inside a building.
- Witness 29: Prosecution witness; male; 31 at time of the incident; described soldiers arriving in Kpokulahun, where they captured people and subsequently beat, killed, and tortured people, and forced villagers to carry loads for the soldiers; the rape and killing of seven women near a blacksmith shop; the burning of houses; and the killing and cannibalization of a man by Angel Gabriel and Zig Zag Marzah.
- Witness 30: Prosecution witness; female; age unknown; described a guesthouse frequented by RUF leadership in Monrovia; detailed three trips she took to Lofa County with members of the RUF between 2000 and 2001 or 2002, by both road and helicopter; saw weapons at an RUF house in Voinjama; and described an incident where “Uncle Massaquoi” beat her and her friend.
Questioning Witness 17 (Continued)
The Defense resumed its questions for Witness 17 – the only witness who spoke to the events at Waterside, Monrovia, during Week 6. The Defense continued in its efforts to clarify the timing of the incident at the biscuit shop, aiming to establish that Witness 17’s patients began talking about this incident in or around June 2003. The Witness clarified other aspects of his testimony, noting the wounds he treated in relation to this incident were at least two months old, and that his patients hadn’t told him when the incident occurred. With respect to what the Witness personally saw, Witness 17 clarified that he did not see bodies at the biscuit shop, but was simply told about the incident by his patients.
Lofa County Testimony
The witnesses testified about different events occurring in Lofa County, between 2000 and 2003, relating to several charges in the indictment. There were commonalities in their testimonies, and some witnesses provided distinct and notable details, which emerged as they spoke of the events and their interactions with the Finnish police:
Description of the events in Lofa County
- The burning of houses with people inside (murder)
- Witness 23 testified that multiple people who had been captured in Kamatown were rounded up and put in a house that was set on fire. Witness 24 also saw many people in Kamatown forced into a house that soldiers then set on fire. As he was escaping, Witness 29 heard people, including his aunt, being put into houses in Kamatahun, which were subsequently lit on fire.
- Two Witnesses mentioned incidents where people were allegedly burned in houses, which they heard about but did not personally see them. Witness 22 escaped before people were burned in a house in Kiatuhun, but later heard what happened from his sister, who was there. Witness 28 saw individuals who were captured by soldiers, and later heard they were put in a house which was set on fire.
- Witnesses 22, 23, 24, and 29 stated that people were burned in houses either because of the failure of guns to fire, or based on the soldiers’ belief that villagers could not be killed by bullets. Witness 29, for example, noted that soldiers thought an old man in the village had a magical charm which made him impervious to bullets, and the Witness heard the soldiers say, “since these people say they cannot die, we are going to burn them.”
- Witness 28 stated that he heard a rumour that Zig Zag Marzah gave the order to burn the house. Witness 29 stated that both Zig Zag Marzah and Gibril Massaquoi were present when the house was burned.
- Several other witnesses testified that soldiers would burn homes after looting them, but did not specify whether individuals were inside them at the time.
- Cannibalism (infringement on the dignity of deceased persons)
- The Prosecution recalled Witness 24’s police statement, in which she had stated that “Gabriel” had a woman who cooked for him, and that one day he had called this woman over and told her that she would be eaten in his soup. In her testimony, Witness 24 denied having said that Gabriel called this woman to him.
- Witness 28 described a man who was killed for being a spy, on orders from Gibril Massaquoi. Witness 28 said that soldiers removed this man’s intestines and internal organs, and a woman was ordered to make pepper soup with the body parts, which the soldiers then ate.
- Witness 29 described Angel Gabriel ordering Zig Zag Marzah to kill a man for being a member of LURD, and stated that they removed the man’s heart and liver, and brought the organs to a woman to be cooked. Witness 29 did not stay to see who ate any of the human remains.
- Rape and sexual violence
- On the road to Kamatown, Witness 23 saw soldiers having sex with a girl. He also stated that he heard that rapes happened, but did not see them.
- While being held by the soldiers in Foya, Witness 27 heard soldiers raping two underage girls and gang-raping one woman.
- Witness 29 saw women being taken to a blacksmith area. He escaped into the bush, but heard the next morning that the women had been raped. He returned to the area and saw their dead bodies, some naked and some with torn clothing.
- Forced labor
- Witnesses 23, 25, 26, 27, and 28 testified to being captured and forced by soldiers to carry and transport ammunition or looted goods to Foya.
- Aggravated assault
- Witness 28 described being captured by the RUF and charged as a spy, and was subsequently subjected to electric shocks, the “sassy-wood” torture technique, and stated that Gibril Massaquoi urinated in his mouth.
The timing of events
- Many of the witnesses stated that the events of Lofa County took place in 2001, though there were some discrepancies between what was stated in initial police statements and at trial. Uniquely, Witness 24 could not remember when the events took place, and did not identify a year or season.
- Witness 23 mentioned two specific dates on which events occurred in Kiatahun. First, he stated that, on 7 April 2001, soldiers entered in Kiatahun and killed a man, and then returned the next day and burned some houses. He then stated that, on 13 August, the soldiers returned and captured the villagers.
- In her police interview, Witness 25 had stated that the events took place in 1997, but testified at trial that they happened in the dry season of 2001.
- Witness 26 recalled that the events happened in early 2001 as well.
- Witness 27 also placed events in the dry season of 2001, early in the year.
- Witness 29 also mentioned that the year was 2001 as the year the events occurred, but was unable to be any more specific.
- Witness 28 stated that he was captured by the RUF in 2002, and that it was dry at the time, while maintaining that, during traumatic events, it is difficult to recall precise dates. He further stated that rebel attacks in the region were ongoing from 2001-2003.
- Witness 30 stated she accompanied soldiers, including Gibril Massaquoi, to Lofa County on three occasions: twice in 2000 and once in 2001. Her police statement included a reference to the year 2002, but she stated that this was an error on the part of the police.
Connections to prominent figures
- Six of this week’s witnesses (Witnesses 22, 23, 24, 28, 29, and 30) spoke of Joseph “Zig Zag” Marzah’s possible involvement in the events. Witness 29 remembered Mr. Marzah and “Angel Gabriel” giving orders the night a house was set on fire. Relevantly, on Day 6 of this trial, the Accused, Mr. Massaquoi, testified in Tampere that he may have met Mr. Marzah, and acknowledged that his manuscript, The Secret Behind the Gun, included a reference to a discussion with Mr. Marzah.
- Note: Mr. Marzah was a member of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) and gave testimony in the Charles Taylor trial at the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
- Four witnesses (Witnesses 22, 24, 28, and 29) mentioned that they knew of someone called [Soldier 12] being among the fighters. Witness 23 referred to [Soldier 12] in his police interview, but not in his testimony.
- Two witnesses referenced Benjamin Yeaten. Witness 28 named Mr. Yeaten as part of the government resistance group. Witness 30 stated that he met Mr. Yeaten at the guest house in Monrovia, and thought that he might have been Massaquoi’s “boss man”. Witness 30 said Mr. Yeaten was present on the trips she took to Lofa County, and that she saw him shoot a boy in Voinjama. Last week, Witness 21 stated he was charged with receiving members of the RUF, including Mr. Yeaten, at a guest house in Monrovia.
- Witness 30 also stated that she met “Mosquito” (note: Mosquito was the alias of Sam Bockarie, a former RUF commander) and a short Kissi man named [Soldier 24] at the guest house in Monrovia. Last week, Witness 21 stated that weapons were delivered to the commander in charge in Lofa County, who he identified as [same name as Soldier 24], a representative of the ATU.
- Witnesses this week provided further testimony for Angel Gabriel’s self-identification.
- “I am Gabriel Massaquoi, commonly know [sic] as Angel Gabriel. You have to see me before you see God.”
- “I, Gibril Massaquoi. I am Angel Gabriel Massaquoi, I am second to God!”
- “I am Angel Gabriel, next to God.”
- Throughout her testimony, Witness 30 referred to “Gibril Massaquoi”, a name she admitted having learned during her police interview. She stated, however, that she knew him as “Uncle Massaquoi” at the time of the events, and that she did not know his fighting name.
- Witnesses used multiple and different names to refer to the accused within their testimony or their interviews with police.
- Witness 22 referred to “Gibril”, a RUF commander whose name he learned when hearing the man’s bodyguards speak.
- Witness 23 used the name “Massaquoi” in his interviews with police but referred to “Angel Gabriel” during his testimony. He said the man called himself “Angel Gabriel” and that this was a nickname. Witness 29 also stated that “Angel Gabriel” was a nickname for “Gabriel Massaquoi.”
- Witness 24 stated the man used both “Angel Gabriel” and “Angel Michael” as a fighting name.
- Witness 27 stated that he heard a soldier report to his commander, “C.O. Massaquoi”.
- The witnesses stated that they heard soldiers, including the commander, speaking Sierra Leonean Creole (Krio) and Mende. Witness 22 said that the man spoke Mende with his bodyguards. Witnesses 23 and 29 also heard soldiers speaking in Mende while threatening to kill civilians.
Interactions with Finnish police
- Unlike the individuals who spoke of events in Monrovia, the majority of witnesses heard this week came into contact with Finnish police through their town chiefs (Witnesses 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, and 27).
- Witnesses 28 and 29 were contacted by [Employee 1], either by phone or in person.
- Witness 30 met a man at the border of Liberia and Sierra Leone who overheard her speaking of Benjamin Yeaten and then put her in touch with the police.
Emerging themes for Prosecution and Defense
During Week 6, the trial shifted to a different series of events, relevant to the crimes that are alleged to have occurred in Lofa County. As in previous weeks, both the Prosecution and the Defense focused on establishing the timing of the incidents, though there appeared to be less confusion with respect to the year among these witnesses, compared to those who spoke of the events in Monrovia, and there were limited references to World Wars I, II, or III.
The Prosecution opened its questioning by asking witnesses to describe the arrival of soldiers in different villages in Lofa County. Witnesses stated that the soldiers would loot and burn village homes, and then force the villagers to carry the looted goods elsewhere, with several witnesses indicating that the soldiers directed them to travel towards Foya. In addition to the description of the acts relevant to the charge of forced labor, the witness narratives also included facts relevant to the charges of murder, rape, aggravated assault, and the infringement on the dignity of deceased persons through cannibalism.
The Prosecution attempted to establish the identity of the Accused as a commander who was involved in the events, and to provide clarity as to why there were variations in the names used to describe the commander. Five witnesses testified hearing the name “Gibril Massaquoi,” either because a person introduced himself that way or another addressed him by that name. Two other witnesses said that the commander introduced himself as “Angel Gabriel.” Other witnesses recognized the names “Gibril Massaquoi,” “Gabriel Massaquoi,” “Angel Gabriel,” “Angel Michael,” and “Angel Gabriel Massaquoi”. Witnesses explained these variations by stating that the person they were speaking of was called by multiple names, and maintaining that each of these names referred to the same person.
The Prosecution further focused on the knowledge of the Accused, particularly as it related to the charge of forced labor. Witnesses 26 and 27 both stated that the commander in Foya saw the people carrying the loads, and Witness 26 added that the people carrying loads stood out, as they did not have shoes or shirts. Witness 26 identified this commander as “Angel Gabriel”, whereas Witness 27 said the soldier who brought him to Foya reported to “C.O. Massaquoi”.
Witness 30 provided unique testimony, stating that she had been a close friend of one of Mr. Massaquoi’s former girlfriends, and thus was in contact with members of the RUF in Monrovia at the time of the alleged crimes. Through her testimony, the Prosecution sought to establish Mr. Massaquoi’s movements between Monrovia and Lofa County. Witness 30 stated that she spent time at a guest house in Monrovia with Mr. Massaquoi and other members of the RUF, and travelled with them to Lofa County on three occasions: twice in 2000 and once in 2001. She described that she and her friend were told to stay at a house in Voinjama while the men went out for three to six days, sometimes returning with injured soldiers. She further testified that she had seen weapons in this house in Lofa County.
As with the witnesses to the Waterside incident, the Defense raised inconsistencies and highlighted discrepancies in the details provided in their police statements compared to their testimony. The Defense further sought clarity as to whether witnesses personally saw or only heard of the particular events they were describing.
The Defense called into question the identity of the commander that allegedly gave the orders for the acts described.. Defense counsel appeared to suggest that other commanders had given the orders to commit the acts alleged. For example, the Defense asked Witness 23 whether Zig Zag Marzah ordered a house to be burned, and asked Witness 26 whether the commander was in fact named “Edward”, following confusion regarding the meaning of Witness 26’s police statement. To further support the proposition that the Accused was not in fact present or responsible for any of the acts alleged, the Defense raised several inconsistencies regarding the names stated by witnesses in their police interviews and at trial.
In line with prior questioning, the Defense continued suggesting that there may have been flaws in the police investigation which led some of the witnesses to mistakenly identify the accused as the person responsible for the events they described. For example, the Defense suggested that Witness 24 only used the name “Angel Gabriel” after it had been stated by the police. Likewise, Defense counsel questioned whether Witness 30 had been told prior to her police interview that she was being asked to provide information on Gibril Massaquoi, and sought to clarify at what point the police showed her photographs for the purposes of identifying the man she described.
The Defense also continued to question the way in which the witnesses became party to the Finnish investigation and this trial. Specifically, Defense counsel asked Witness 28 whether he had been promised any financial incentive to testify, as his police statement referenced some connection between his testimony and a scholarship, but the Witness denied having any financial motivation for testifying. The Defense also noted that Witness 27 was referenced in a report written by Employee 1, thereby suggesting that Witness 27 and Employee 1 knew one another, which Witness 27 denied.
With respect to the witnesses that were put in touch with the police through their town chiefs, Defense counsel sought to clarify the different groups of people who went to the villages to inquire about these events, the length of time between when the town chiefs were first approached and when the witnesses were interviewed, and whether the witnesses discussed the events they were describing with other villagers or organisations. The Defense highlighted the fact that Witnesses 26 and 27 gave the police the same specific date for one incident, seemingly suggesting that these witnesses may have spoken to one another about this date.
Consistent with previous testimony, the witnesses frequently attributed inconsistent statements between their police interviews and court testimony to nerves, the passage of time, or the chance to reflect on their experiences so that they could now recall additional details.
The trial will resume in Monrovia for its seventh week on 22 March 2020.