Week in Review: Week 9

Introduction to Week 9’s hearings and witnesses

The ninth week of the Gibril Massaquoi trial ended on 7 April 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 25 (5 April 2021)

  • Witness 48 (Soldier 39): Defense witness; male; ~45 at the time of the events; former officer in the Special Presidential Guard, assigned to Vahun near the Sierra Leone border from December 1999-2002; testified that around 2000, in Kamatahun, Angel Gabriel ordered to shoot civilians; described the death of JP Koroma; recalled seeing Angel Gabriel in three areas in Monrovia, including Congo Town and 12-Houses, between 2002 and 2003, and said that Angel Gabriel “controlled all the boys from Sierra Leone”; stated that Angel Gabriel Massaquoi worked with Benjamin Yeaten when he was in Monrovia.
  • Witness 49 (Soldier 22) : Defense witness; male; ~24 at the time of incident; former NPFL soldier in the Small Boys Unit; said that the RUF fought alongside the NPFL, and came to Liberia in 1999;  spoke of an incident in 2001 involving Angel Gabriel in which 6 or 7 civilians were killed; said that Angel Gabriel gave the order to arrest and kill JP Koroma; said that Angel Gabriel was a spokesman, and a deputy to Sam Bockarie.

Trial Monitoring Day 26 (6 April 2021)

  • Witness 50 (Civilian 76): Prosecution witness; female; ~23 at the time of the incident; sold clothing in Waterside between 1998-2001; testified that, in 2001, she was arrested in Waterside and brought to the checkpoint at the bridge now called New Bridge.
  • Witness 51 (Civilian 72): Prosecution witness; female; ~14 at the time of the incident; sold small goods in Monrovia; described incident in Waterside; said that she was arrested, brought to the checkpoint at the bridge and later brought to a building in 12 Houses; described additional killings at the checkpoint.
  • Witness 52 (Defense Witness 14): Defense witness; male; age unknown; high-ranking RUF member; described his relationship with the RUF, when he met Gibril Massaquoi, and various delegations to peace talks in which he and/or Massaquoi participated; described a period of time around 2000 and 2001 when he and Massaquoi were in Monrovia.

Trial Monitoring Day 27 (7 April 2021)

  • Witness 53 (Soldier 12): Prosecution witness; male; ~12 at the time of the incident; soldier in the RUF who served under the command of Gibril Massaquoi, assigned to Lofa County; described the burning of houses and civilians in Kamatahun, and said that Massaquoi gave the order to burn people in a house in 2000; described fighting against LURD rebels in Monrovia in August 2003.
  • Witness 54 (GJRP 1): Prosecution witness; male; ~33 at the time of the incident; a Liberian journalist and member of the GJRP; described his arrest by Liberian National Police in 2002 and was subsequently interrogated and tortured; said that Massaquoi led some of the interrogation sessions, said that Massaquoi gave the order to torture him and that he beat him described his work as a journalist and with the GJRP.
  • Witness 55 ([Employee 1]): Prosecution witness; male; ~51 at the time of trial; GJRP staff member who independently worked with Finnish police to identify possible witnesses; described how he located witnesses and victims in Lofa County and Monrovia for the Finnish police, as well as his role and dealings with witnesses.

Monrovia Testimony 

Events in Monrovia

  • Incidents at Waterside (murder)
    • Witnesses 50  and 51 both described an outbreak of gunfire and the subsequent arrests and killing of civilians at Waterside. Both were brought to a checkpoint near a bridge. Witness 50 stated that this occurred in 2001, while Witness 51  recalled that it happened during WWI – when prompted, she also confirmed 2001 .
    • Witness 50 testified that Angel Gabriel ordered his soldiers to carry the captives to a field and then kill them, though she never saw what happened on the field. 
    • Witness 51 said that there were human intestines marking the checkpoint, as well as a head on a pole, and that she saw bodies on the way to the checkpoint. 
    • Witness 51 described Angel Gabriel cutting open a pregnant woman’s stomach and removing the fetus she carried. Both the woman and the fetus died. 
    • Witness 51 recalled that Angel Gabriel killed two of her friends at the checkpoint, putting their necks on a “chopping board”.
    • Witness 50 was released at the checkpoint because a family friend, [FNM-099], appealed to Angel Gabriel on her behalf, but heard that the captives were being brought to a field in West Point. 

Massaquoi in Monrovia

  • Witness 52 described his impression of Gibril Massaquoi’s movements through West Africa, including in Sierra Leone and Liberia, during the Second Liberian Civil War. These movements included a period of time, around 2000 and 2001, and possibly into the beginning of 2002, during which Witness 52 and Massaquoi lived in two houses in Congo Town, Monrovia.
  • Witness 53 stated that he last saw Massaquoi in Monrovia sometime in 2003, before the fighting with LURD in August of that year. Witness 48 noted that he last saw Massaquoi “on the field in Monrovia, “when LURD was around”.

Torture in Klay

  • Witness 54 described being arrested in Monrovia in June 2002 and brought to a prison in Klay. At the prison, a man who introduced himself as both Gibril and Angel Gabriel directly tortured Witness 54 by tying him tabay, as well as stepping on his back and beating him if he tried to move during interrogation. Witness 54 said he was electrocuted in Massaquoi’s presence by a woman, and that Massaquoi was higher ranking than her, so he believed that Massaquoi ordered the electrocution or could have stopped it. He stated that Massaquoi tortured him on multiple days, and that Benjamin Yeaten was also present during some of the torture. He was released from the prison in December 2002.

Lofa County Testimony

Killing of civilians

  • Witness 49 described an incident in which he was driving to the frontline with [Soldier 07] and came across Angel Gabriel, who had six to seven civilians tied up in a pickup truck. When [Soldier 07] asked Angel Gabriel why they were being held, Angel Gabriel said they were helping the enemy and that he intended to execute them. Witness 49 later saw the bodies of these civilians. 
  • Witness 48 testified that he had heard from another individual, [FNM-152], that Angel Gabriel ordered civilians, including children, to be shot in Kamatahun in 2000, because he perceived them to either be enemies or affiliated with enemies. 
  • Witness 53 said that Gibril Massaquoi gave the order to burn civilians in a house in Kamatahun, located to the right of the road entering Kamatahun from Vahun. 

Identifying Remarks and Roles

  • Many of the witnesses described Angel Gabriel as a high-ranking, educated member of the RUF, who served as the RUF’s spokesman. Some further said Angel Gabriel’s given name was “Massaquoi.” 
    • Witness 49 could not remember Angel Gabriel’s given name, guessing that it was “Dugbeh Washington,” but agreed that it was “Gibril Massaquoi” when the Prosecution noted he had given that name to the Finnish police. He also said that Angel Gabriel was “like a spokesman” for the RUF and often said he was going to speak with the BBC. 
    • Witness 48 said that Angel Gabriel was a war name, but that his given name was “Sheriff Massaquoi.” 
    • Both Witness 50 and Witness 51 said that the commander during the Waterside incident was Angel Gabriel. Witness 51 said this man spoke in a Sierra Leonean accent, while Witness 50 said he spoke English but not Liberian English. 
    • Witness 50 noted that, while speaking to his men of killing the captives, Angel Gabriel stated similar phrases to what prior witnesses recalled, including, “when her time reach, I will send her to God”, and “they should tell God I sent them”.
    • Witness 53 recalled that Issa Sesay, Superman, and Gibril Massaquoi were RUF commanders, and testified that he was a soldier under Gibril Massaquoi in both Lofa County and in Monrovia. While he could not remember whether Massaquoi had a war name, he described him as the RUF spokesman in Sierra Leone.  
    • Witness 54 said that Angel Gabriel introduced himself  as “Gibril Massaquoi,” saying that he could tell Witness 54 was Muslim and noting that “Gibril” was the Islamic translation of the angel “Gabriel.”  

Interactions with Finnish Police

  • Witness 49 was put in touch with Finnish police through [Soldier 13], and Witness 53 was put in contact with Finnish police by [Soldier 07].
  • Witness 50 was connected with [Employee 1] by her friend, [FNM-100]. [Civilian 05], who was previously mentioned on Day 14, connected Witness 51 with [Employee 1]. [Employee 1] then directed each of them to the Finnish police. 
  • Witness 52 was put in touch with the police through two people: his old friend, [FNM-176], and also [Employee 1].

Emerging themes for Prosecution and Defense

The first two Defense witnesses this week, Witness 48 and Witness 49, provided testimony regarding the death of Johnny Paul Koroma, building on testimony heard from several witnesses in Week 8 of the trial. The questions  relating to Koroma’s death appeared to be an attempt to grasp a firmer understanding of the timing of Massaquoi’s whereabouts in Liberia, and specifically Lofa County. Witness 48 believed that the RUF was responsible for Johnny Paul Koroma’s death, and stated that Angel Gabriel gave the order to arrest Koroma, though the Witness was not present at the time of the order. Witness 49 also indicated that Angel Gabriel gave the order to arrest Koroma. Following the arrest, Witness 49 heard gunshots, which led him to believe Koroma had been killed, though he admitted that he never saw the body. Both Witness 49 and Witness 48 indicated that Johnny Paul Koroma was killed in 2001, and Witness 49 believed that, after Koroma was killed, Angel Gabriel and some others were transferred to Bomi Hills. The information provided in these testimonies was similar to that offered by Soldier 13 on Day 22, who stated that “Gubeh Massaquoi” gave the order to kill Koroma, which had apparently caused tension at the time, which the Witness recalled was in 2001. On Day 22, in response to Soldier 13’s insistence that the order was given in 2001, Defense Counsel noted that Johnny Paul Koroma ran for political office in Sierra Leone in 2002. 

The identity of “Angel Gabriel” was again a particular focus in questioning. Witness 48 stated that Angel Gabriel was “General Sheriff”, and in response to a Defense question asking whether Angel Gabriel’s real name was “Massaquoi or Sheriff”, the Witness answered that it was Sheriff. Witness 49 only recalled the name “Gibril Massaquoi” when prompted by the Prosecution, first offering to the Defense that Angel Gabriel’s name was “Dugbeh Washington”. 

The Defense’s third witness, Witness 52, served to support the Defense strategy of establishing an alibi for Gibril Massaquoi. Witness 52 gave wide-ranging testimony on the whereabouts of Massaquoi throughout the Second Liberian Civil War, largely anchored in the various stages of the peace process, as well as in periods of time where they lived and worked in similar areas of Monrovia or Freetown.

The Prosecution’s first three witnesses, Witness 50, Witness 51, and Witness 53, served as an attempt to establish the details of the acts charged in the indictment and to clarify Massaquoi’s participation in the acts. Witness 50 and 51 testified about an incident in Waterside where they were captured and brought to the checkpoint at the bridge, which they said took place in either 2001 or WW1.

The Defense once again highlighted apparent inconsistencies between the witnesses’ testimonies and their interviews with the Finnish police. The Witnesses explained that inconsistencies might have occurred due to the passage of time, their nervousness in interacting with the Finnish police, or deficiencies in the translation during their initial interviews. The Defense also elicited further clarification about the manner in which these witnesses came into contact with the Finnish police, focussing in particular on Witness 51’s relationship with Witness 10, who the Defense noted was also interviewed by the Finnish police. 

 The Prosecution’s final two witnesses were affiliated with the GJRP, an NGO that documents war-related crimes in Liberia. The GJRP and Civitas Maxima were involved in the initial investigation that led to the current trial. Witness 54 testified both as a victim of torture that was allegedly perpetrated by Massaquoi in 2002, and in relation to his role with the GJRP. Witness 55 was hired by the Finnish police to assist in their investigation – to help them find victims and witnesses of Massaquoi’s alleged crimes. As a result, he was mentioned by a large number of the witnesses in this trial as their contact point with the Finnish police. [Employee 1] previously worked with the GJRP as a researcher, and intended to return to work with them at some point after the investigation, but was adamant that he did not work for the GJRP while he worked with the Finnish police, and further offered that he did not investigate Massaquoi on behalf of the GJRP. 

 The Defense sought to portray these Witnesses as partisan. In particular, Defense Counsel asked whether [Employee 1]  knew the witnesses or other relevant actors prior to the investigation, and whether he offered witnesses benefits to encourage them to testify. The Defense also noted that, based on his review of the pre-trial investigation, every witness who came in contact with the Finnish police through the Witness provided the names “Gibril Massaquoi” or “Angel Gabriel”. The Witnesses denied any impropriety, highlighting his  adherence to international standards of investigation, the strict prohibition of information sharing between the GJRP and [Employee 1] while he worked with the Finnish police, and the limited role he  had in interacting with witnesses. He stated that his role was simply locating potential witnesses, and then directing them to the Court’s venue, and was not involved in taking statements.

The trial will resume in Freetown, Sierra Leone, on Tuesday, 4th of May 2021.

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