Week in Review – Week 2

The second week of the Gibril Massaquoi trial ended on 12 February 2021, after three days of public hearings in Tampere, Finland. The first day of this week’s hearings comprised the continued presentation of documentary evidence by the Defense. On the second and third days, Mr. Massaquoi offered his own testimony to the Court and was questioned by both the Defense and the Prosecution.

Documentary Evidence from the Defense

On Day 4, the Defense continued to present documentary evidence to assert that Mr. Massaquoi was in Sierra Leone during the commission of the charged crimes in Liberia. This evidence included news articles, UN reports, letters from Mr. Massaquoi to the United Nations, statements given by Mr. Massaquoi to the Office of the Prosecutor for the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL), Mr. Massaquoi’s witness protection agreement for the SCSL, a Finnish police report regarding the procurement of witnesses for Mr. Massaquoi’s trial, expert opinion as to the timing of events reported by witnesses, and photographs and video footage of Mr. Massaquoi. The Defense also submitted metadata of some of the material, which it asserted helped establish dates and locations of creation.

According to the Defense, the documentary evidence demonstrates that Mr. Massaquoi was present in Sierra Leone, not Liberia, during the time of the alleged acts. Additionally, the Defense presented evidence of deadly civil unrest in Monrovia in 2003, while Mr. Massaquoi was allegedly unable to leave a safehouse provided by the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL). For its part, the Prosecution questioned whether reporters had verified in person that Mr. Massaquoi was in Sierra Leone during these times, reminding that Mr. Massaquoi had previously misrepresented his location to the press.

Additionally, the Defense sought to undermine the reliability and credibility of the Prosecution’s witnesses by introducing a Finnish police report indicating the assistance of individuals associated with Civitas Maxima in locating and interviewing witnesses for the case. The Prosecution clarified that it would be calling witnesses it had found independently of Civitas Maxima and its local partner, Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP). The Defense asserted its position that, even so, many of those witnesses had likely shared information amongst themselves. Finally, the Defense presented the above-noted evidence regarding civil unrest in Monrovia, which it asserted would establish a timeframe for witness-reported events that would exclude the possibility of Mr. Massaquoi’s participation and call into question the credibility of certain witnesses.

Questioning of Mr. Massaquoi by the Defense

On day 5, the Court called Mr. Massaquoi to testify; the Defense was permitted to question him first; the Defense’s inquiry comprised the entirety of the proceedings on day 5, and continued into Day 6, on which day the Prosecution began to question him as well.

The Defense first questioned Mr. Massaquoi about his personal background and early involvement with the RUF. Mr. Massaquoi testified that he was born in Sierra Leone and worked there as a teacher until the RUF attacked in April 1991. Following the attack, he began working, unpaid, in an administrative office established by the RUF. At some point, he was sent to military training. After three weeks of training, the government attacked, and Mr. Massaquoi fought for the RUF near the Liberian border.

Mr. Massaquoi further testified that he was first a Deputy Commander in the RUF, and later promoted to Commander. He served in this capacity until 1996, when he became sick and was sent to Côte D’Ivoire for treatment following a ceasefire between the RUF and the government of Sierra Leone. In 1997, after his recovery, he was made spokesman for the RUF. Mr. Massaquoi testified that at this time he was no longer involved in armed activities for the RUF, as he lived in Côte D’Ivoire.

Mr. Massaquoi asserted that he was sent back to Sierra Leone in 1997 on the instructions of Mr. Foday Sankoh, the head of the RUF, after the RUF had joined the new Sierra Leonean government. Two months later, Mr. Massaquoi was arrested on allegations that he had acted on behalf of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC). He was imprisoned from October 1997 to 6 April 1999.

Mr. Massaquoi then testified as to the structure of the RUF and indicated that, with the exception of an RUF commander Dennis Mingo (alias Superman), he did not get along with other RUF members. Mr. Massaquoi asserted that three of these other RUF members attempted to kill him after his release from prison. Mr. Massaquoi also claimed that the structure of the RUF had changed substantially during his time in prison, and that after his release from prison, he no longer had a formal role within the organization.

Shortly thereafter, Mr. Massaquoi was assigned to a position in Makeni, Sierra Leone, under the auspices of the Commission for the Management of Mineral Resources. He also participated in peace negotiations, including a meeting in Monrovia, Liberia. He was appointed special assistant to Mr. Sankoh in October 1999, and attended disarmament meetings in this capacity in late 1999 and early 2000. He also referred to other work-related travels with Mr. Sankoh during this time, including to Côte d’Ivoire.

Mr. Massaquoi testified that in the Spring of 2000, hundreds of UN peacekeepers were kidnapped in Freetown, Sierra Leone, by RUF troops from the north. When Mr. Sankoh refused to speak to angry demonstrators, violence broke out, causing several deaths. Mr. Massaquoi asserted that he managed to escape the violence. Mr. Sankoh surrendered shortly thereafter. Subsequently, Mr. Massaquoi was appointed to an outside delegation for peace negotiations in Monrovia, Liberia, in August 2000. This delegation went briefly to Mali to meet with the President of Mali, and met several times with Charles Taylor, then the president of Liberia. Finally, the delegation went to Abuja, Nigeria, where it concluded the Abuja Ceasefire Agreement stipulating the release of UN peacekeepers and the end of hostilities in Sierra Leone.

After the conclusion of the Abuja Agreement, Mr. Massaquoi returned to Sierra Leone. On the way, as he passed through the city of Voinjama in Lofa County, Liberia, his delegation met with a man named “Colonel Eagle.” Shortly thereafter, in December 2000, Mr. Massaquoi returned to Monrovia, Liberia, where he entrusted some diamonds to a man named Ibrahim Bah, who was to bring the diamonds to Charles Taylor for safekeeping. Mr. Massaquoi returned to Sierra Leone to meet with Benjamin Yeaten, a soldier of the Sierra Leonean special forces, before once again going to Monrovia in January 2001. Later, in May 2001, negotiations for a final disarmament began in Freetown, Sierra Leone. These negotiations ended in December 2001 with the “Abuja II” agreement. Mr. Massaquoi asserted that most of the negotiations took place in Freetown, but meetings occasionally occurred around the country, including in Makeni.

Mr. Massaquoi testified that he lived in Makeni until October of 2001, and took part in the tri-party disarmament negotiations leading to Abuja II. Additionally, he was involved in the Truth and Reconciliation Committee of Sierra Leone, attended meetings for the United Nations and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and drove a taxi in Freetown. 

After the final RUF disarmament by December 2001 and the end of the civil war in January 2002, Mr. Massaquoi returned to Liberia at the end of June 2002, in order to retrieve his car and some personal possessions. Mr. Massaquoi testified that he heard about the death of “Superman” Dennis Mingo on this trip. This news was later confirmed in a meeting with General Benjamin Yeaten. Mr. Massaquoi asserted that this was the last time he had been in Liberia, and he believed it was 28 June 2002.

Mr. Massaquoi testified that he had registered to run for office in the 2002 elections in Sierra Leone, but withdrew in the weeks leading up to the election because of his poor relationship with executives in the Revolutionary United Front Party (RUFP). Around this time, Mr. Massaquoi referenced internal RUFP disagreements between August 2001 and March 2002 regarding the purchase of a house in Freetown for the party.

After the elections, Mr. Massaquoi stated that he lived a normal life with his family in Freetown, where he met with the staff of the Truth Commission for 5 days of questioning about his involvement with the RUF. He also wrote a project for the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration, and wrote about a fishing project intended to reintegrate and rehabilitate former soldiers. In June or July, Mr. Massaquoi met with a woman who told him about the formation of the Special Court for Sierra Leone and asked him to participate in the trials. 

Mr. Massaquoi asserted that on 14 August 2002, he met with Corinne Dufka, Alan White, and David Crane, employees of the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL), and that he continued to meet with them officially and unofficially every few days thereafter. In October 2002, Mr. Massaquoi signed a witness protection agreement with the SCSL in preparation for his testimony. He did this to secure protection for himself and his family, as well as immunity from prosecution for acts related to his roles as a combatant and a diamond transporter for the RUF. 

On 9 March 2003, Mr. Massaquoi was approached by Issa Sesay on the road to Freetown, who informed him that he and other RUF members needed financial assistance to escape Sierra Leone before the SCSL trials began. Mr. Massaquoi agreed to help by meeting with President Charles Taylor, but he alerted the SCSL prosecution team about these  plans to escape the country. Based on this information, the Office of the Prosecutor was able to arrest attendees of the meeting with Charles Taylor and charge them at the SCSL.

In the last lines of Defense questioning, Mr. Massaquoi explained that he was confined to a safehouse in an unfamiliar neighborhood of Freetown during the SCSL proceedings; that he only became well-known in Sierra Leone and Liberia in the 2000s, when his media profile increased; that he used satellite phones capable of hiding his location, but that he only did so on one occasion (an interview with the BBC); and he did not personally witness any violence in Liberia generally or in Lofa County specifically. Finally, Mr. Massaquoi testified that the note in his handwriting found in Vantaa Prison was not written to influence witnesses, but rather to refresh their memories with information in the public record about events that occurred twenty years ago.

Questioning of Mr. Massaquoi by the Prosecution

Questioning by the Prosecution began by inquiring as to Mr. Massaquoi’s knowledge of the actions of RUF troops in Liberia. The Prosecution began by establishing that, between 1999 and 2003, Mr. Massaquoi was aware of conflict in parts of Liberia, particularly in Lofa County near the border of Guinea, waged by soldiers under the command of RUF commander Sam Bockarie, also known as “Mosquito Spray.” The Prosecution proceeded to ask whether Mr. Massaquoi knew of connections between the RUF and attacks in Lofa County, or whether, as spokesperson for the RUF, he was responsible for asking questions about RUF troop actions. Mr. Massaquoi asserted that he had only secondhand knowledge of RUF attacks in Lofa County. Additionally, Mr. Massaquoi stated that the RUF operated only in Sierra Leone and acted to support President Charles Taylor in regaining control of Lofa County from rebels of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD). Mr. Massaquoi insisted that his role concerned the political operations of the RUF. He said he was neither informed of RUF military operations nor responsible for RUF troops.

The Prosecution then asked about Mr. Massaquoi’s testimony as to the death of “Superman” Dennis Mingo. Mr. Massaquoi testified that he learned of Mr. Mingo’s death in June 2001, and that he did not personally see Mr. Mingo’s body. The Prosecution then presented a prior investigation summary in which Mr. Massaquoi had stated that he learned of Mr. Mingo’s death between July and October 2001, and that he had seen Mr. Mingo’s dead body. The Court accepted this investigation summary into evidence.

The Prosecution next inquired about inconsistencies in Mr. Massaquoi’s reporting of his military record with the RUF. Mr. Massaquoi had testified to the Court that he fought for the RUF in 1993 and 1994, but earlier in the investigation admitted that he fought between 1992 and 1996. The Prosecution also noted that Mr. Massaquoi was called “commander” within the RUF even after his military role ceased; Mr. Massaquoi said that this was because of his rank, Lieutenant Colonel, and because of the culture within the group. Mr. Massaquoi also confirmed that he was usually the leader of the RUF delegations mentioned throughout his testimony.

Next, the Prosecution asked Mr. Massaquoi about his routes and means of travel between Liberia and Sierra Leone. Mr. Massaquoi testified that he did not recall the specific villages of Kamatahun Hassala or Yandohun or the location of the airstrip in Foya mentioned earlier in his testimony. Additionally, he testified that his trips were conducted both by car and by air, and that he would sometimes fly between Foya and Monrovia. The Prosecution referenced the pretrial record, where Mr. Massaquoi asserted that he “always” traveled by car; Mr. Massaquoi replied that this was a mistake, and that if the report said “always,” it should say “often” or “frequently” instead. Finally, Mr. Massaquoi admitted that he is aware of a village named Kailahun in Sierra Leone, but not in Liberia.

The Prosecution next addressed inconsistencies in Mr. Massaquoi’s testimony with his statements in earlier investigations regarding his relationships with General Benjamin Yeaten, Joseph “ZigZag” Marzah, and Sam “Mosquito” Bockarie. Mr. Massaquoi said that he believed he remembered meeting them. The Prosecution then presented Mr. Massaquoi’s prior comments from earlier investigations, in which he claimed never to have met Mr. Marzah. The Prosecution also noted a passage from Mr. Massaquoi’s book, The Secret Behind the Gun, where he mentions a discussion with Mr. Marzah.

Asked whether he had been compensated for the delivery of diamonds to President Charles Taylor, Mr. Massaquoi indicated that he did not remember receiving any personal remuneration, but knew that Mr. Taylor supported the RUF. The Prosecution asked why Mr. Massaquoi had a car in Monrovia, and why he was able to testify as to the exact date he retrieved it. Mr. Massaquoi said that he was given the car for his role in the RUF’s delegations, and that he did not actually own it. Further, he stated that he was only able to estimate the date, because it happened a long time ago.

The Prosecution ended the day with questions about Mr. Massaquoi’s use of the satellite phone and his admitted instances of misrepresenting his location to journalists. Mr. Massaquoi admitted that on one occasion he told a reporter he was in Makeni, Sierra Leone, when he was actually in Liberia, and that he had used the orange button on the satellite phone to obscure his location. He explained he had done this at Charles Taylor’s request because Mr. Taylor wanted to distance himself from the RUF. Mr. Massaquoi asserted that this was the only time he had misrepresented his location. However, the Prosecution displayed a passage from The Secret Behind the Gun in which Mr. Massaquoi had written that, on several occasions, he falsely claimed to journalists that he was in Makeni, Sierra Leone, when he was actually in Monrovia, Liberia.

The hearing ended at 14:30 on 12 February 2021. Proceedings will continue next week in Liberia.

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