Massaquoi Lawyer Confident of Acquittal in War Crimes Trial

Kaarle Gummerus, lawyer for Gibril Massaquoi, left, speaks with New Narratives’ Anthony Stephens.  

The lawyer for accused war criminal Gibril Massaquoi says he is confident of his client will be acquitted. Speaking outside the court at the start of week two of the court’s unexpected return to Liberia, Kaarle Gummerus did not accept this reporter’s invitation to make a full-throated claim of Massaquoi’s innocence, but he insisted that the prosecution would not be able to prove his client’s guilt to the high standard required by Finnish law. 

“Gibril Massaquoi told me that he hasn’t done anything here in Liberia and, of course, because he’s my client, I have to believe him,” Gummerus said. “But that’s not the main point. It doesn’t matter what I believe. The main point is what the prosecutor can do in the court.”

Gummerus backed away from an explosive claim that he had made in Finland when the court heard testimony there in June. He had alleged that staff working with Global Justice Research Project, the Liberia-based justice organization, had paid prosecution witnesses to lie. 

But Gummerus said that he thought GJRP staff may have misled witnesses by starting the investigation potential witnesses if they knew anything about “Angel Gabriel”, Massaquoi’s alleged war name. He criticized the prosecution case that he said was built on leading testimony gathered by GJRP before Finnish police arrived to investigate.

“This person who was working with GJRP in Liberia, he’s not the police,” Gummerus said. “It’s my opinion that this kind of person cannot make an investigation in this case.”

He pointed to testimony from several witnesses who said they had spoken with GJRP about Massaquoi before they were interviewed with police investigators. Several of them have given different statements in court. Dozens of witnesses reported seeing “Angel Gabriel” commit crimes at the Waterside market during the attacks by LURD. Though most were uncertain of the dates, they were clearly referencing the LURD attacks which took place between June and August 2003. 

The court returned to Liberia for a second time when it became clear that dozens of witnesses in the first hearing here in March were referring to battles that took place in 2003, outside the dates the indictment had originally listed for Massaquoi’s alleged crimes.

Gummerus’s claims come as the court heard from three more prosecution witnesses on Monday, on top of six who appeared last week, who insisted that Massaquoi was commanding troops in defense of then-President Charles Taylor in Monrovia during the height of the battles against the LURD rebel faction from June to August in 2003. Gummerus said he had evidence in the form of a witness and a document from the Special Court for Sierra Leone that show that Massaquoi was under “24/7” guard in Freetown at the time and could not have been in Monrovia. 

51-year-old Massaquoi is standing trial in Finland where he was living under an immunity deal with the Special Court for Sierra Leone when he was charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity during Liberia’s second civil war.

The inconsistency of witness’s statements has been a major problem for the defense and prosecution cases. They continued in today’s hearing. 

The first witness, codenamed Y6 to protect him from reprisals, undermined his credibility from the outset by complaining that he had not been sufficiently paid for his appearance in the court. A judge sternly corrected him, saying the court did not pay for testimony and he had been reimbursed only for travel and food. The judge urged him to leave without testifying if he was unhappy. The witness decided to testify.  

The 42-year-old witness said he originally fought with rebels in Lofa County. When they left the county he went to Monrovia and signed up with the government’s Anti-Terrorist Unit. They sent him back to Lofa, and his assignment area was in Kolahun. 

“I saw our big man called Jimmy Massaquoi. He came with supply to us,” Y6 told the court. “This was an order given by General Mosquito [a top Taylor commander]. Massaquoi was on the scene in Popolahun but some children were burned in the mosque but I do not know who give the order. My assignment was changed to come back to Monrovia. When the war intensified on the new Bridge, I got wounded and was taken to JFK hospital.” 

Y6 said Massaquoi was a supply man between Sierra Leonean General Sam Bokari, with the Revolutionary United Front, and Taylor. Another witness, codenamed “Y8” said he joined the war in 2003 and worked as a cook and distributed food to the waterfront including the Waterside market area in June to August 2003. Gummerus pushed this witness about inconsistencies in his testimony during cross-examination. 

Y8 said he could not remember ever being interviewed by any Liberians in the lead up to the trial. But Gummerus pointed out that in the Finnish police’s investigation before the charges were announced, Y8 said both Liberians and Finns had interviewed him. Y8’s defense for his conflicting statements was that it had been so long, he did not remember clearly.

He also spoke about seeing Massaquoi at Waterside market where many of the witnesses alleged he committed murder and rape of civilians, including many who had been trying to get food from a store that had been broken open. 

“A jungle mortal fell in their midst and General Salami died on the spot along with some soldiers,” said Y8. “So when Angel Gabriel got back and found out that General Salami was dead, he got angry and ordered his men to bring the looters and kill all of them, because he said they were responsible for Salami dying. I was standing there, because usually when we finish cooking we used to come outside to watch some action.” 

The third prosecution witness, codenamed Y7, also confirmed he saw Massaquoi when the war came to Monrovia in 2003. 

“My brother told me to come to White Flower - Taylor’s house - for food and when we collected the food, so many cars came and many generals got down from their cars,” he said. Y7 said he saw all of the generals including Gibril Massaquoi, Roland Duo, Benjamin Yeaten and others, deciding how to fight the LURD rebels. 

“They already knew I was a soldier and was assigned to my brother,” he told the court. “So they said Roland and his men were going to be assigned to Stockton Creek, Massaquoi was going to Waterside. While we were at Massaquoi’s command area, Yeaten called Massaquoi to meet him at Slipway Depot and there were some civilians looting food from the store, so we went along with him in the pickup. When we got there, Yeaten gave the order to kill everybody who was looting from the store, so Massaquoi opened suppressive fire and killed over twenty civilians. After that, I ran away and went towards Broad Street on my way to Sinkor. After that time, I never went back to the war front again with my brother because I had the fear in me. When 2003 was going to the end, I stopped seeing Massaquoi.”  

During cross-examination, Gummerus told the court that in the police investigation Y7 has said on tape, that he did not see Massaquoi kill the people but he heard firing while driving that day and they told him it was Massaquoi who killed looters. When asked why he changed his statement, Y7 said his head is not a computer and could not remember everything.  The trial will continue on Tuesday.

This story was a collaboration with New Narratives as part of its West Africa Justice Reporting Project.