Week in Review – Week 7
Introduction to Week 7’s hearings and witnesses
The seventh week of the Gibril Massaquoi trial ended on 26 March 2021, after three days of hearings in Monrovia, Liberia. Hearings focused on the testimony of eight witnesses. As with prior witnesses, their identities were concealed.
The witnesses were heard in the following order and are described as follows:
Trial Monitoring Day 19 (22 March 2021)
- Witness 31: Prosecution witness; male; ~9-11 at the time of the incident; described incidents in Kamatahun Hassala, including the following: soldiers burning a building with approximately thirty-five people inside and capturing seven women and taking them behind the blacksmith’s kitchen on the order of “General Gabriel”; seeing the women naked and dead with marks of beating the next morning; soldiers burning the rest of the village.
- Witness 32: Prosecution witness; male; age unknown; described incidents in Kamatahun Hassala, where he was and still is the town chief; described conflicts between government and LURD forces leading to the capture of him and many of his people in Kamatahun Hassala; also described the following: many people being burned alive in a building; soldiers carrying seven naked women toward their headquarters; returning to Kamatahun Hassala months later to find many dead bodies; interactions with an NGO and the construction of a palava hut.
- Witness 33: Prosecution witness; male; age unknown; described incidents in Kamatahun Hassala, including the following: RUF soldiers coming from Sierra Leone to support government forces; soldiers putting people in a building and setting fire to it by Angel Gabriel’s order; Angel Gabriel taking his friend as a ‘wife’ and then killing her with a knife; soldiers saying they were going to rape a group of women and then carrying the women behind a blacksmith shop where he later saw them dead; assisting with the construction of a palava hut.
Trial Monitoring Day 20 (24 March 2021)
- Witness 34: Prosecution witness; male; ~25-27 at the time of the incident; described incidents in Kamatahun Hassala, including the burning of the buildings with people inside, including children, at the order of Angel Gabriel, and soldiers carrying women into a kitchen behind the blacksmith along with Angel Gabriel; then described later clearing the overgrown vegetation around Kamahatun Hassala, and burying the dead bodies they would find there. Described the building of a palava hut, with a sacrifice and memorial plaque.
- Witness 35: Prosecution witness; male; age unknown; described being brought to Kamatahun Hassala and along the way seeing Angel Gabriel order his soldiers to: kill a person and serve him the heart to eat; burn people in buildings; carry seven women to a kitchen behind a blacksmith where they were raped and killed. Witness then described being forced to carry ammunition for the soldiers, describes palava hut built in the town.
Trial Monitoring Day 21 (26 March 2021)
- Witness 36: Defense witness; male; ~25-27 at the time of the incident; former ATU soldier during the civil war in 1999-2001; described his interactions with a person he initially referred to as “Jumbeh (sic) Massaquoi,” whom he also referred to as “Angel Michael” and then “Angel Gabriel.” Also described the death of Sam Bockarie and whether Massaquoi was present at the time.
- Witness 37: Defense witness; male; ~28-30 at the time of the incident; former ATU soldier in the second civil war; described meeting Massaquoi twice, the death of Sam Bockarie, and what he knew of Massaquoi’s contacts and movements in 2000-2001.
- Witness 38: Prosecution witness; male; age unknown; special bodyguard to [FNM-161], a high-ranking regional commander; described “Angel Gabriel” bringing gold and diamonds to [FNM-161] for delivery to Charles Taylor in exchange for guns and ammunition; also testified that “Angel Gabriel” once killed a man suspected of tampering with a package of gold and diamonds. Described “Angel Gabriel” as responsible for the burning of Kamatahun Hassala, to [FNM-161]’s disapproval.
Commonalities in Witness Testimony
The witnesses testified about different events around Lofa County in 2001. The following commonalities emerged about the events and these particular witnesses’ interactions with the Finnish police:
Events in Lofa County
- Houses burned with people inside
- Witness 33 estimated that fifty people were killed in the building; Witness 34 estimated more than thirty; Witness 35 estimated that there were more than ten.
- Witness 32 described that soldiers ordered people inside the building, lined the walls with mattresses, poured gasoline, locked and hammered shut the exits, then set the building on fire.
- Witness 34 described that many people from multiple villages were brought to the building to be burned.
- The Witnesses referred to the person who gave the order as some variant of “Angel Gabriel,” and described him giving similar instructions.
- Witness 31 testified that “General Gabriel” stated, “y’all put fire on that one leh it burn.”
- Witness 32 testified that the commander stated, “I am Angel Gabriel. These people, we will burn them. I told y’all not to shoot, we will burn them” or “I told y’all not to fire these people, bring them let’s burn them.”
- Witness 34 testified that “Angel Gabriel” stated, “you put the house on fire.”
- Witness 35 testified that “Angel Gabriel” stated “I am Angel Gabriel, I am next to god. I am going to burn these people.”
- Witness 32 testified that a large man escaped briefly before being pushed back into the fire by the soldiers.
- Witness 34 testified that older people were burned in a different building than children, perhaps twenty or twenty-five children below the age of ten, who were burned in a “cook shop.”
- Witness 38 testified that the people were burned because an old man had dreamt that bullets could not kill him.
- Infringement on the dignity of deceased persons
- Witness 35 described a man whom soldiers called a LURD rebel be killed at the order of Angel Gabriel. The Witness then testified that Angel Gabriel ordered his bodyguard to cut out the person’s heart so that Angel Gabriel could eat it; he did not see whether Angel Gabriel ate the heart.
- Violence against women
- Several witnesses described seeing seven women being taken by soldiers behind a blacksmith building at the order of Angel Gabriel. Witness 33 did not recall the exact number. Witnesses 31, 32, and 34 said there were seven women. Witness 34 testified that Gabriel Massaquoi joined the soldiers in the kitchen with the women. Witness 35 testified that the women were tied up.
- The Witnesses described a commander called some variant of “Angel Gabriel” ordering the soldiers to take the women. Witness 31 testified that “General Gabriel” said “anything y’all want to do to them, y’all do to them.” Similarly, Witness 34 testified that “Angel Gabriel” said “carry these women and do whatever you want to do to them.”
- None of these witnesses saw these women being raped in the building, but some (including Witness 35) noted that the women were naked as they were taken there. Witness 34 stated that he heard the women crying. Witness 33 stated that he heard the soldiers plan to rape the women before taking them away. Some of the witnesses also described seeing the women dead the next morning.
- Witnesses 34 and 35 stated that some appeared to be killed with a knife while others appeared to have been beaten to death.
- Forced Labor
- Like in previous weeks’ testimony, Witness 35 testified about being forced to carry ammunition.
- Timing of events in Lofa County
- Witness 34 described that people commonly refer to the incidents in Kamatahun Hassala as occurring in 2001.
- Witness 34 placed events at the beginning of the year (April to May), during planting season. Witness 35 remembered dry season.
- Witness 33 stated that the seven women were taken behind the building two days after the building was burned (above). Witness 31 stated this happened within a week of the building being burned.
- Witnesses this week provided further testimony regarding the commander referring to himself as “Angel Gabriel”:
- Several witnesses stated that he referred to himself as “Angel Gabriel.”
- “He usually says ‘I am next to God.’” (Witness 33)
- Witnesses used multiple and different names to refer to the accused within their testimony or their interviews with police.
- Witness 31 referred to “General Gabriel.”
- Most Witnesses referred to “Angel Gabriel.”
- Several Witnesses, including Witnesses 31, 32, 33, 34, and 35 described Massaquoi as speaking Krio. Some (Witnesses 36, 37, and 38) testified that Massaquoi spoke Mende, with Witness 37 testifying that he spoke as a “British man.”
- The Witnesses provided additional details about Massaquoi’s language and appearance. Witness 33 described Massaquoi as “harsh in talking,” Witness 32 and Witness 36 described Massaquoi as “a slim man” and “a slim fellow,” respectively. Witness 32 also described Massaquoi as a man who “wore a round hat” and “was not a tall person.”
- Witness 38 testified that Gibril Massaquoi was known for killing on Fridays, so he was referred to as “Black Friday master.” The Witness also testified that a man killed by Gibril Massaquoi referred to him as “Ngor Massaquoi.” He also added that ‘Ngor’ stood for “big brother”.
Connections to prominent figures
- Like in the previous week’s testimony, several other commanders were mentioned, including Benjamin Yeaten (“5050”), [FNM-161], Sam Bockarie (“Mosquito”), Zigzag Marzah, Cevelee, “No Monkey,” and Koblah.
- Witness 36 and Witness 37 testified that Benjamin Yeaten acted under Charles Taylor’s direction to kill Sam Bockarie, aiming to prevent him from testifying at Charles Taylor’s trial before the Special Court for Sierra Leone. The Witnesses described Benjamin Yeaten and [FNM-161] as being frustrated that Sam Bockarie and his fellow commanders were killing civilians. There was confusion about whether Massaquoi was present when Sam Bockarie was killed.
- Witness 38 described Massaquoi delivering packages of gold and diamonds to Charles Taylor directly or through others, in exchange for weapons and ammunition.
Interactions with the Finnish police
- Like last week’s testimony, most of this week’s witnesses from Lofa County came into contact with the Finnish police through their town chiefs.
Emerging themes for Prosecution and Defense
The first two days of testimony saw the Prosecution and Defense undertaking similar strategies to prior weeks. The Prosecution called a series of civilian witnesses who had firsthand knowledge and experience of several atrocities that occurred in Kamatahun Hassala. Witnesses 31, 32, 33, and 35 spoke to the crimes of murder and rape, while Witness 34 described murders. The Prosecution sought to elicit testimony from these civilian witnesses that Gibril Massaquoi ordered these crimes to occur, and directly perpetrated some of them himself. Witness 33 testified that “Angel Gabriel” killed a woman he had taken as his wife, and several other witnesses saw the commander follow his men as they took seven naked women to a place referred to as a “blacksmith’s kitchen”, where they were raped and ultimately murdered. The witnesses all described a “Gabriel” as having ordered the murders, and ordered, or at least allowed, the rapes. Witness 31 remembered a “General Gabriel” giving the orders, while the other witnesses referred to an “Angel Gabriel.” All civilian witnesses said that this person spoke Krio.
The Prosecution also worked to establish that the events in Kamatahun Hassala occurred in 2001. The witnesses uniformly testified as such, often relying on planting and harvesting cycles to place the time somewhere in the spring or summer of 2001. Several witnesses also described an NGO coming to Kamatahun Hassala to undertake restorative justice efforts, most notably in constructing a palava hut over the site of a mass burning. The Prosecution also established how each witness came into contact with the Finnish police.
The Defense spent much of the first two days of testimony highlighting alleged inconsistencies in the witnesses’ testimony. It used Finnish police summaries and recordings of prior interviews to show that Witnesses 31 and 32 had initially given years other than 2001 when asked by the police when the events occurred, although in court these witnesses reaffirmed their belief that 2001 was the correct year. The Defense also pointed out alleged inconsistencies regarding the level of involvement of various commanders from RUF and other groups, as well as details of RUF troop placement and other details. The civilian witnesses consistently stood by their testimony at trial, explaining the alleged inconsistencies by noting how hard it is to remember details after so many years.
The Defense also focused on the manner in which the civilian witnesses were contacted. Many of the civilian witnesses dealt with [FNM-078], whom the Defense pointed out is involved in some way with the ongoing trial. The Defense further inquired about the NGO that built the palava hut, asking about the nature of its involvement with the Finnish or other investigations. Witnesses consistently indicated that the NGO’s involvement in Kamatahun Hassala was limited to building the palava hut and organizing a few multicultural ceremonies honoring the dead.
The third day of testimony saw different strategies for both parties. The Defense called Witnesses 36 and 37, both former ATU soldiers, in an effort to show that there was another Massaquoi active in the higher ranks of the RUF. The Defense asked these two witnesses about the 2003 death of Sam Bockarie, an RUF leader, seeking to establish that a Massaquoi was present when Bockarie was killed, or alternately when his body was delivered to Charles Taylor. The Defense was ultimately unable to establish this. Witness 36 had difficulty recalling the given name of the Massaquoi he was discussing. Witness 37 said that Massaquoi was not present when Bockarie died; he incidentally stated that he had met Gibril Massaquoi in 2000 and 2001. Both witnesses recalled Massaquoi speaking Mende. Finally, both witnesses were put in touch with the Finnish police by other former soldiers.
The Prosecution questioned a different former soldier, Witness 38, who testified to some of the actions of Gibril Massaquoi during 2000 and 2001. These actions included the trading of gold and diamonds to Charles Taylor for weapons and ammunition, as well as committing violence against Liberians to the frustration of [FNM-161]. Through Witness 38, the Prosecution was able to corroborate key facts including Massaquoi’s role as RUF spokesman and his role in the burning of Kamatahun Hassala in 2001. The Defense again raised alleged discrepancies between the day’s testimony and what Witness 38 had told the Finnish police (specifically his failure to mention the burning in Kamatahun Hassala or the year 2001); the Witness again attributed weak memory to the passage of time.