Taylor’s Trial: Is Blah’s Confession Betrayal Or Greed for Money?

Published on 3rd June 2008

Moses Blah
The war crimes trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor, first African president ever indicted before the international tribunal, took a dramatic turn over the last weeks. A rebel general of his defunct National Patriotic Front and anointed successor to the throne when he exited Liberia in 2003, Moses Blah appeared at the trial not as a friend but foe as prosecution witness.

Shocked by the striking appearance which was a striking betrayal from a buddy, who served as his last vice president, Taylor managed to evade emotion by scrawling a few indecipherable strokes on a paper. His days in detention, some observers are saying, have given him expertise in legal scribbling of key points raised by the prosecution which the court’s tradition debars him from self defense.  Taylor says that the charges levelled against him are based on continuous Western conspiracies.

The Special Court for Sierra Leone, now convening in the International Criminal Court in the Hague, Netherlands, secured the change of venue from Freetown allegedly based on advice of security analysts to his country of Liberia, but is seen as the key mastermind and supporter of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels that held sway in Sierra Leone from 1991 to 2002.

Though the charge does not go to show that Taylor ever physically participated in the war in Sierra Leone, he is accused of facilitating arms transfers to the insurgency in exchange for blood diamonds. Taylor is further indicted on eleven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for being one of those bearing the greatest responsibility of that civil campaign. Taylor has repeatedly stressed his innocence blaming his predicament on the fact that he prevents a ‘resurgence of conflict in West Africa.’

Taylor’s show of disbelief in seeing Blah in the witness box against him, must have registered to him that there is nothing impossible with the greed for money.  What a hideous deceit! - seems to have reverberated his thoughts. But he did not comment, preferring in warlord fashion to simmer underneath in disbelief of the drama transpiring before him.

It is not only Taylor who holds fast to this conspiracy theory. The impression of betrayal has saturated the local dailies in Liberia of the Blah blab, if one may call it so. Benoni Urey, former Maritime Commissioner under Taylor, who was accused of  transferring several million dollars into Taylor’s account from the maritime funds, said the testimony could only emerge from a noted criminal.  Providing justification for his assertion, Urey said that the Maritime funds are channeled through the Liberia Shipping and Corporate Registry (LISCAR), an American enterprise that acts as agent for the country. He said that revenue seldom lands in the hands of maritime commissioners as Blah had claimed.

But far from the issue of veracity of the claim, Taylor obviously faces an uphill battle. Blah’s admittance that Taylor had previous knowledge of the crossing of Liberian territory by fighters of his NPFL as far back as the commencement of the war in 1991 and that the Corporal Sankoh had expressed displeasure over atrocities of some of Taylor’s mercenaries in his own country is damning indeed. He said that Corporal Foday Sankoh of the Sierra Leone Revolutionary United Front (RUF) had remarked to him that he (Sankoh) was going to tell Taylor that the boys Taylor gave him were committing numerous atrocities and making him notorious with his people. According to Blah, Taylor had remarked that wars had to dispense with killings since the activity is unlike eating bread and butter.

The key questions given this apparent spectacle of betrayal, is why Blah and why now? Moses Blah served as one of the Special Forces, who along with Taylor received specialised guerrilla training in Libya for the sole purpose to upturn the regime of Samuel Kanyon Doe. Doe, was the first indigene, who along with seventeen non-commissioned officers under the name People’s Redemption Council (PRC) overthrew the century –and- half reign of the True Whig party under William Richard Tolbert in April 1980. From that putsch, Doe’s rule spanning a decade saw further divisions within his PRC, with intermittent purges that eliminated members perceived as opponents of his continuous stay in power.  Under local and external pressures for the restoration of democracy, he authorized the drafting of a new constitution and subsequently hesitantly conducted general and presidential elections that he rigged in 1985.

The purging of political enemies, vote rigging accentuated by ethnic discrimination combined to form a cohesive opposition to Samuel Doe.  At the same time, the army general facing an uncertain weather turned from being an ally of the West to lambast policies of Washington in Liberian affairs. As a precursor of impending chaos, Thomas Quiwonkpa, formerly commanding General of the Army, who had been sacked against his will, staged an abortive invasion precisely following the rigged elections. The short-lived invasion  was violently crushed with reprisal killings of Gios and Manos, who are also the kinsmen of Moses Blah.  Blah and other opposition figures deciphered the Quiwonkpa fiasco of November 12, 1985, as indicating that no surgical military operation could remove Doe. They sought thus to undertake full- scale civil war regardless of the social ramifications.

It was under such mutually beneficial circumstance that Blah met Taylor.  Taylor had escaped from Liberia with corruption charges on his head following two-year service as General Services Director – a position that got him procuring virtually all assets needed by the government.  Bent on vengeance with an eye on state power, Taylor sought to remove Doe, an occasion that hauled him in comradeship with Blah in a Libyan training camp.

After the training, the rebellion had barely crossed into Liberia from Ivory Coast, than splits began to emerge. The premature media pronouncement by Taylor that his bush campaign was an all out war against Doe to capture state power was not well received by some foot soldiers and commanders including Prince Johnson, who immediately formed his splinter faction -the Independent National Patriotic Front (INPFL). Incidentally, Prince Johnson, a Gio also from Nimba, as Moses Blah, insisted that the ‘gun that liberates should not rule’. This Thomas Sankara dictum championed by Johnson, found discipleship amongst a vast number of the rebellion which fueled further divisions,  clashes and the decimation of the marauding army.

The capture and elimination of Doe in September, 1990, was a feat achieved by the Prince Johnson faction but this was just the beginning of the long nightmare of Liberians. The country stood still for six more years before peace was brokered in Abuja, Nigeria. Before then, successive years saw further divisions within the NPFL with concomitant destructions of both loyalists and dissidents alike. The unscrupulous guerrilla discipline of Taylor exacted elimination of both the foot soldiers and generals of Blah's kinsmen. Even during his checkered presidency of Liberia, Taylor by Machiavellian means killed some of Blah’s allies including Moses Duopu, the first vice president of Taylor, Enoch Dogolea, a one-time Internal Affairs Minister, and Sam Dokie along with his entire family for having opposed him during the elections. To make matters worse, on June 4, 2003, while Charles Taylor attended a peace conference on  Liberia in Accra, Ghana, the Sierra Leonean Special Court unsealed his indictment for war crimes and crimes against humanity. 

Back home in Liberia, it was rumored that diplomatic maneuvers were underway for Blah to assume the presidency due to the indictment.  The failure of the Ghanaian government to honor that international instrument saw Taylor bounce back on Liberian soil the same evening. By then Blah was canned for allegedly masterminding a putsch while his master was away.  While strong appeals from within and without saw his redemption, two of his kinsmen, including assistant ministers John Yourmie and Paul Vaye were whisked off to Nimba County and brutally murdered. So while betrayal could be an appropriate word for the Blah testimony, it must be gauged against the backdrop of these developments  as well as to gain much needed bastard cash that smells with aroma of retirement benefit  coming without strings of any sort.

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