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Thursday, July 25, 2024

War Crimes Court For Liberia Could Affect National Reconciliation

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By Nathan N. Mulbah


Of late, the debate surrounding whether or not a War Crime and Economic Crimes Court should be established for the prosecution of those who bare the greatest responsibilities for the execution of the war in Liberia come to the fore of national debate with different groups across the country proffering differentiated views for and against the establishment of either of the courts.

However, this write-up will essentially look at the debate centering on the establishment of a war crime court in Liberia.

Essentially, this is an exercise intended to give a historical analysis on reasons why a war crime should not be established in Liberia because it has the potential of derailing the peace on the one hand and undercut genuine efforts geared at ensuring and entrenching national reconciliation and a flourishing democracy in Liberia, on the other.

To accomplish this objective, we will adopt a normative intellectual framework with historical hindsight using contemporary literatures on the Liberian civil war to provide incisive views from different writers as a guide in unraveling the different lines of precursors that precipitated the various highlights of events that occurred in the lead-up to the Liberian civil war which actually occurred between December 1989 to 2004.

Historical highlights to be considered includes, the overthrow of President William R. Tolbert in 1980, the escape of Charles Taylor from a Boston prison in the United States to launch a civil war in Liberia in December 1989, Prince Y. Johnson captured and dismemberment of President Doe in 1990 and the emergence of the fashion Liberia United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD).

This journey down memory lane will shade some light on what may have led to the mutation of the various subsequent warring factions and show how those now perceived as prime perpetrators or people who bear the greatest responsibilities for crime committed in the prosecution of the Liberian civil war, are in reality, victims of the war. (They were more or less pawns in the grand scheme of things).

Before proceeding, we welcome the visit to Liberia by United States Ambassador Beth Van Schaack to commence the discussion on whether or not a war crimes court for Liberia should be set up in the first place.

It is our ardent hope that at the end of this project, it should be cleared that there were ‘big hands’ behind the orchestration of the Liberian civil war and that the so-called war lords in the Liberian civil war project were merely pawn being used in a chess game that they practically never had any clue of how it all started.

Given the discovery from hindsight, we can conjecture that our American friends seem to have had a bigger say in what unfolded in Liberia on account of the war.

The role the Netherland based CIVITAS MAXIMAS is playing by providing support to groups and individuals campaigning for the establishment of a war crime court in Liberia is not only mind boggling but certainly leaves much to be desired.

Again, these initiatives smack of another gambit and crafty subterfuge being introduced by our detractors to shift the attention of Liberia from pursuing the real issues and focus on the establishment of a war crime court which have got the proclivity of derailing the peace we currently enjoy.

Noticeably though, the call by the former Chairman of the Truth And Reconciliation

Commission (TRC), Cllr. Jerome Verdier and his likes that sanction be imposed on Liberia so as to pressure the Weah led government to push for the establishment of a war crime court for Liberia reflects an unpatriotic and unnationalistic posture that requires perceptive scrutiny and analysis for the good of the Motherland.

The call by Cllr. Verdier and other proponents of the establishment of a war crime court is not only despicable, unpatriotic and unnationalistic but is also laden with all the trappings of bringing Liberia on crippling kneels.

Campaigners for the establishment of a war crime court for Liberia including Roland Dempster, Hassan Bility, Martin Kollie, Gbanquio et al should weigh in on Verdier’s volatile recommendation.

Let us poise for a moment and avoid emotionalism as we go about debating the substantive issues underpinnings all of the arguments for and against the establishment of a war crime court for Liberia.

Eschewing Emotionalism

Admittedly, the fourteen years of civil war in Liberia was debilitating, violent and a despicable enterprise that should never be allowed to reoccurred on these shores come what may.

It is no gain said that the war injured, maimed, displaced and brought untold sufferings to many Liberians.

The horrible nature of the war is nothing to write home about and the sooner we put in vogue mechanisms to assuage the pains and sufferings of victims, the better.

It is the view of ‘Yours Truly’ that any attempt to prosecute those perceived as being people who bear the greatest responsibilities of the war, if sobriety and care is not taken, could boomerang and unleash on Liberia a bad omen that we all do not really wish for.

As a nation founded on Christian principles, our crave for the establishment of a war crime court certainly portends a negation of the

Biblical admonition for us to forgive our ‘brothers’ seventy times seven.

That aside, expressed sentiments by some Liberians that people who participated and played lead role in the Liberian civil war do not show any remorse for their role played in that disgusting project and are yet at the helm of national leadership, is legitimate.

However, one would think, it should not be the basis for taking them to the gallows so that they account for their misdeeds.

While it is truism, that the level of atrocities committed by the different categories of warring fashions are heinous and unacceptable in this civilized world, we, as resilient Liberians, should adopt a high sense of sobriety and forge on allowing by-gone to be by-gone for the sake of keeping the peace as one people, one nation going forward to one destiny.

War Crime Court Advocates’ Faux-pas

It is my considered opinion and I stand corrected, that the war crime advocacy project is threading along dangerous ground and that the advocates themselves do not seem to appreciate that they could be working on a hidden agenda unwittingly and yet believe that they are fighting for a worthy cause.

Without attempting to put on a condescending posture, it beats my imagination to see people running with a cause without the benefit of hindsight and deliberately refusing to take time off to understand the historical intricacies underpinning the real things that actually instigated the war in the first place.

Look my friends, lack of intellectual depth and looking at things on the peripheral and all sorts of radical ranting has got the trappings of robbing us of going beneath the surface thus exposing us to be used by people who have got things to hide for little or nothing.

Advocates like Hassan Bility and Roland Dempster, Jerome Verdier et al, who are seen as lead campaigners for the establishment of a war crime court for Liberia, views are welcomed but they should be mindful that our detractors will go at any length to ensure that we, as a nation, always play to their whims and caprices.

Let them be careful with the “Trojan Gift” for not all that glitters is gold.

Understandably, the Netherland based CIVITAS Maxima, has hired a cream of Liberian advocates to work in-sync in evolving a synergy to drive home reasons why the National Legislature should draft legislation for the establishment of a war crime court in Liberia.

They are leaving no stone unturned in ensuring that the George Weah led government muster the political will leading to the establishment of a war crime court for Liberia.

And they are working aggressively to achieve this agenda by effectively upgrading the debate to the front burner in spite of other very serious competing challenges confronting Liberia.

It is being rumored that unholy cash is being dished out and men of higher learning have been lured in joining the band wagon in achieving this cause, but we pray that they will lean back and have a second thought taking into consideration the geography and demography of this much interconnected society and the fragile nature of the peace we currently enjoy as a people.

Paul Redfen wrote in an article he published in 2012 titled “How Close Is An African Criminal Court?” that: “…technically, it is not a bad idea on paper. Any forum that seeks to punish perpetrators of war crime is a good idea.

But the concern is that you create this institution which may take years to formally get off the ground, but technically could nevertheless allow for ‘Forum Shopping’ by providing choice between situating the court in Liberia or elsewhere, and could delay prosecutions and frustrate efforts at accountability.” (Emphasis mind).

It will further interest you to know that the estimated average cost of an International Criminal Court (ICC) trial is about US$20 million.

As a matter fact, the ICC trial of former President Charles Taylor cost about US$50 million, while 2011 cost for the Special Court of Sierra Leone were US$16 million, while the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda had a budget of US$130 million in 2010.

My thing is what so ever amount of hard cash will be used in prosecuting so-called Liberian war criminals could be diverted to other lines that could spur growth in Liberia that is lagging far behind in terms of infrastructural development.

Let us not be too emotional about this whole war crime court project least we chase the shadow leaving the real culprits per excellence out of grip.

Better still, we could use the cash to be expended on the establishment of a war crime court and the prosecution of war criminals to make handsome reparation for victims of the war as recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia.

Scapegoat Myth

Let’s for a moment agreed that Charles Taylor, Prince Y. Johnson, Alhaji Kromah, George Dweh, George Boley, Sekou Demete Koneh, Tom Wewieyou, Milton Blayie and other warlords of different stature bear the greatest responsibilities for the prosecution of the Liberian civil war.

So what become of all the other people and institutions who worked behind the scene covertly in the prosecution of the Liberian war?

For example, what was the role of the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operatives in this whole affair since it actually unfolded during the peak period of the Cold War, when Liberia was a strategic partner to the United States of America (USA) in the prosecution of the Cold War?

Keep an eye on the exit strategy of the CIA from blame of fanning the war here.

It is often posited in the field of International Relations, that our American friends will do all they can to erase any trace of their participation in things that are despicable. It takes the utilization of an intellectual ‘Third Eye’ to uncover covert operations of the CIA in helping to realize American foreign policy which is always based on America’s interest.

As we do a cursory literature review of some materials that capture episodes of the Liberian civil war and the Angolan Post-Colonial civil war, we will get a gist of who actually instigated the Liberian civil war and how that project was abandoned after the fall of Communism in United Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) after Mikel Gorbachev introduced Glasnost and Perestroika that eventually led to the collapsed and eventual disintegration and splitting up of Eastern Europe into small-small democratic nations.

An insight of this development will inform us as to whether it is necessary to constitute a war crime court in Liberia or not.

Additionally, we as a people, upon digesting the meat of this write-up should begin to entertain the thought as to whether this whole hullabaloo calling for the establishment of a war crime court is a ploy by some people to exonerate America from the Liberian civil war debacle and squarely put the blame on innocent Liberian war actors so as to avoid any future USA implication and incrimination in the Liberian civil war.

Down Memory Lane

Contemporary Liberian history indicates that President William R. Tolbert was overthrown by 17 enlisted men of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) on April 12, 1980 under the group name and styled the People Redemption Council (PRC), a military junta headed by Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe.

But given the configuration of the peopling of that military junta, bringing together men from diverse ethnic background at that material time in Liberian history, it leaves much to be desired and smacks of some kind of conspiracy theory hatched and concocted by the CIA to topple the Tolbert regime.

This observation is made given the fact that, among the juntas were folks from most of the ethnic groups of Liberia when at that time it was virtually impossible for men from diverse ethnic groups to have hatched a sinister plan without it being leaked easily.

There were folks from most Liberian ethnic groups including Kissi, Lorma, Krahn, Kru, Sarpo, Mino, Gio among others.

Note that the ethnic group that President Tolbert identified with closely, the Kpelleh, never had any of its sons in that military junta configuration.

In hindsight, that plan was well thought of and we are talking about a time when the CIA base in Sub-Saharan Africa was based in Monrovia at the height of the cold.

Tolberts’ Demise

In the aftermath of the April 12, 1980 coup, it is reported that the wife of the late President Tolbert, Victoria Tolbert, made reference to alleged external involvement in the killing of her husband in a book she is reported to have authored.

Prior to this period in Liberian history, Liberia was a key ally of the United States of America up to the period when the Liberian government, under the leadership of former President William R. Tolbert, adopted a Non-Align political posture in the comity of nations.

This posture meant that, in spite of the global political rivalry between the communist blocs on the one hand and democratic bloc on the other at that time, Liberia, though a democratic nation, could not be depended on by the democratic bloc, especially when making major decisions at the United Nations.

Writing in his book Democracy Versus Dictatorship: The Quest For Freedom And Justice In Africa’s Oldest Republic, Liberia-1996 , Emmanuel Dolo said, “Tolbert’s downfall came when Liberia began to develop bi-lateral relationships with Soviet Bloc Nations, a possible threat to United States Cold War agenda”.

Judging from Dolo’s assertion and America’s disposition in the lead to the dethronement of Tolbert, one can conjecture that, the USA was disillusioned with Tolbert’s new found international political behavior.

For instance, Dolo observed that, “considering the opposition movements were dominated by those whom the Tolbert administration had negatively framed as socialists or sympathizers of communism and foreseeing the imminent demise of the Tolbert administration, the West, mainly the United States of America, laid the ground works for the brutal take over that occurred on April 12, 1980.”

Dolo further asserts that “an end of the Tolbert administration was likely to bring one of the many intellectuals elites who constituted the opposition movements to power, given their sky-rocketing popularity.”

The Liberian scholar also posited that “…apparently, the United States did not want to see such a change come to fruition.

This meant that Liberia would be administered by those whom the Tolbert administration had described as socialists or communists.

The most ideal choice was to nurture a coup led by the largely illiterate Armed Forces”.

These revelations by the Liberian scholar, who was trained at an Ivy League American university, shade light and point fingers to the covert operations of the USA’s operatives working to promote the American cold war agenda.

The Advent Of Doe

It will interest you to know that in the lead-up to the overthrow of the Tolbert’s regime, there were political training provided for a segment of the Liberian army under the guise of providing academic education for the largely illiterate Armed Forces of Liberia.

Dolo’s revealed in his book mentioned supra that, the late Prof.

Amos Sawyer and other members of the Political Awakening Movement (PAM) provided tutelage at the Marcus Mosiah Garvey Institute (Known as Barrack Union) located at the Barclay Training Center where the late Prof. Sawyer is said to have served as Principal.

According to Dolo, under the stewardship of President Samuel Doe, Liberia received the highest military support from the USA which was then headed by the Republican President, Ronald Reagan.

But by 1987 after Doe has been elected President of Liberia in a rather controversial election, his honey moon with the Americans then seems to be dwindling precariously.

Mind you this was a decisive point in the global ideological warfare -dubbed the Cold War- when every ideological bloc needed to have its entire support base in tight.

And here was President Doe, having been schooled in Political Science at the University of Liberia, and being made conversant of the intricacies and underpinnings of international politics, thought he was man of his own and could chart his own Foreign Policy outside the ambit of what America wanted at the time.

At this point, Liberia was a strategic partner to the USA in the prosecution of the Cold War.

The Cold War was an ideological warfare between Eastern Communist/ Socialist bloc and the Western Democratic bloc.

The USA was effectively the head of the Western bloc that was championing the cause of Western democracy.

The American propaganda news outlet, the Voice of America (VOA) relay station for Sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere was located in Liberia with duty stations in Carresyburg, Brawerville and Robert’s Field highway.

Moreover, the Omega Navigation station for monitoring vessel fleet on the high sea was located in Liberia along with other operations that were germane in the prosecution of the Cold War including the location of the CIA base for Sub Saharan Africa in Liberia.

President Doe may have been schooled in Political Science but apparently he missed out on the scale and scope of the Cold War and he made have underestimated how dear that project was to the Americans.

Doe opened flirtation with Mohammed Khadaffi who was a strong advocate of African Socialism through his (Khadaffi) Libyan Jamariya Thought, may have angered the American and triggered an intense political hate and dislike for Doe.

Doe political association with Libya, which was seen as one of the strong bastion of Anti-Americanism in Africa, led to the erection of the Pan African Plaza in Sinkor and the construction of a modern glass factory at the Gardnerville Industrial Park plus other auxiliary companies.

These developments led to Col. Khadaffi pre-eminence in Liberia.

Moreover, as though President Doe was not following the dynamics of global politics at this very crucial time, he was yet an opened good bedfellow of Romania President, Nicholas Chechekov. Romania was also a socialist state at this material time. Whether these political affiliations in any way infuriated Uncle Sam is anybody guess. But all we know, as student of politics, is that the ramifications were grieve, dire and costly for little Liberia.

Liberia was greeted one morning in 1988 by an infuriated Doe claiming that Liberia will pay America’s debt. True to his word, he rallied and mobilized Liberians including grade students to realize his cause. He drove around Monrovia collecting dollars and cents from willing Liberians to pay America’s debt.

It was now cleared that Doe had fallen out of favor with Uncle Sam but the exact reason was not cleared.

It was Doe who had said in one of his extemporaneous speeches that “…if America makes me vex I will tell the whole story…” but sadly, he never told that classified secret until his ghastly demise.

Having said that, if circumstances leading to the demise of President Tolbert and the eventual strained relationship that subsisted between the Doe administration and the American government have not signposted symptoms of contrived concocted conspiracy theory, then let’s fast-forward to unpack how Taylor was surreptitiously unleashed on the Liberian geo-political space to parade his brand of military adventurism.

Taylor Entry

Charles Taylor entry into Liberia on December 24, 1989 via way of Butuo, Nimba County, with military commandos he recruited with external support, commenced the violent civil war in Liberia that led to the killing of thousands of Liberians, the displacement of scores of Liberians and the destruction of properties and the eventual derailing of the peace across the country.

However, it is how Mr. Taylor escaped from the Boston prison in the USA and eventually landed in Liberia to launch the military upheaval that is the crux of this subtopic.

In the first place, how was it possible for Mr. Taylor to have escaped from the heavily guarded American prison, moved on to Mexico, imprisoned in Ghana temporarily and later moved on to the Mataba Military Base in Libya without the American security system tracking him down?

It all play out to the effect that there was some kind of ‘big hand’ behind the Taylor military exploit.

In his book, “Neocolonialism In Africa, Liberia: The Last Target”, Sylvester Vanii Passewe II, said “…under the cloak of pragmatism, Washington may adopt an absurd position on any global concern, befriend and pamper an unsavory dictator and supply him with a surfeit of weapons to keep him in power.

At the same stroke, Washington would isolate a “high wage” democratically elected president, ‘make friend with one evil against another’ and support a rebellion against a government, even if the rebels are sworn enemies of the United States or guilty of human rights violation”

Passewe, who once served as Press Secretary to former President Taylor, also asserted in his book that: “…US foreign policy is so inconsistent and incomprehensible that no theory can succinctly conceptualize it.

Even the all-embracing ‘good-guy-bad guy theory, by which the US chose its allies and foes in the 1980s, no longer holds.

The end of the Cold War has led to the re-definition of interests and the crafting of new approaches, maneuvers and manipulations in the conduct of international affairs.”

It became cleared later that as a result of the end of the Cold War with the eventual Balkanization of the Soviet Union, the Taylor-US connection went soured and the USA was mainly concentrated on building the new democratic project in Eastern Europe after Latvia became the first region to break away and established a democratic government follow by scores of other break-away regions in the USSR.

Moreover, Taylor alleged human right abuse across Liberia and the sub-region could not have easily wooed America rapprochement despite his cunning attempt to have established diplomatic ties with Taiwan, a renegade state of the Republic of China.

In the offing of the Liberian civil war in the 1990s, Prince Johnson, a former General in the Armed Forces of Liberia, broke away from the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), and formed the Independent National Patriotic Front (INPFL) that led the charged to capture and brutally masterminded the dismemberment of Doe at the behest of Heaven knows whose.

But at least, the last conversation Gen. Johnson had in the video recording of President Doe capture give a hint of the Field Marshall communicating with some master behind the scene. Hear him “… Tango, Tango, American embassy calling”.

Knowing that the event was being recorded, the other person on the other side of the line did not respond to the Field Marshall thus leaving President Doe’s fate in limbo.

In what Passewe later described as the ‘End Game’ he said, “…by June 29, 2002, President George W. Bush announced the appointment of John William Blaney III Ambassador to the Republic of Liberia”.

Passewe further stated that “…the man nominated for the job had to be more than just a diplomat.

In his 27 years in the Foreign Service, Blaney had distinguished himself as a dexterous negotiator, gifted in the use of rhetorical justifications of US behavior, while in most circumstances, ignoring other points of views, historical experiences and political traditions”.

In the world of international relations, where quid-pro-quo is based purely on national interest, it is always the finest diplomats that are assigned in hot spot to negotiate.

So Passewe said, “… more than any other US diplomat assigned to Liberia, Blaney seemed able to carry his country’s prestige with him and use his strength to dissuade other from their predetermined courses.

He hinted that, Blaney was an assumed achiever when it comes to using diplomatic mimeos and securing United States interest at a minimum cost to its image and national mystiques…”.

And truly Ambassador Blaney proved his diplomatic prowess and dexterity in carving up an exit strategy of the end game in Liberia which saw the penetration of the LURD rebels from the northern front of Liberia and the emergence of other fashions which eventually exerted pressure on President Taylor which led to his consent to participate in the Accra peace negotiation.

Thus the multiplication of other warring fashions was mainly to defend their kinsmen by holding tight to turf under their control.

Madam Ambassador Beth Van Schaak, may I informed you that the later mutation of the warring fashions to Grebo Defense Force, Lofa Defense, Central Coalition, MODEL, Liberia Peace Council, LURD and all that jazz were as a result of the CIA exit strategy intended to bamboozle poor unsuspecting Liberians.

And this is where I am earnestly appealing to the likes of Prince Y. Johnson, Ellen Johnson, Charles Taylor, George Boley and other senior Liberian citizens who are in the know of the covert role the USA played fermenting the Liberian civil war.

Look, President Doe promised to tell us, he did not. Prof. Sawyer died without telling us about the Marcus Mosiah Garvey School in the BTC military barracks.

So as we emotionally crave for the establishment of a war crime court for Liberia we should be circumspect, diligence and eschew employing paroxysm in this debate.

My thing is if we are not extremely careful, establishment of a war crimes court for Liberia could derail the peace and undermine efforts aimed at national reconciliation.

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