Jailed Mohammed Jabateh Asks for Overturn of Conviction

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Jabateh in court at the time of prosecution (Illustration by Chase Walker, for Civitas Maxima)

Mohammed Jabateh (alias Jungle Jabbah), a former Liberian rebel general convicted in the United States for lying to the US Immigration about his involvement with the Liberian civil war, is asking a Federal Appeals Court in Philadelphia to overturn his conviction.

Jabateh, who is now 53 years old was convicted in 2017 on two counts of fraud in immigration documents and two counts of perjury after prosecutors argued he failed to disclose human rights abuses on a 1998 political asylum application and his subsequent bid for permanent residency.

Fox News reported that Jabateh’s defense attorney, conceding that his client committed the atrocities he is connected to in Liberia, argued that his (Jabateh) fell short of the definition of genocide, countering further to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit that Jabateh was convicted of violating federal immigration law, a charge which, accordingly, warrants only a 15 to 21 month-sentence under federal guidelines — and was never tried for war crimes.

Arguing in a court document reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Jabateh’s attorney Peter Goldberger said, “Liberia, for all its horrors in the early 90s, was not Rwanda, not Bosnia, not Cambodia, and not the Third Reich.  Genocide is a term with a precise and narrow meaning.”

According to Fox News, Jabateh’s 30-year sentence, which took effect in 2018 is the longest term ever given to an alleged foreign war criminal convicted only on violations of U.S. Immigration Law.

In the Fox News report published on January 22, Robert A. Zauzmer, Chief of Appeals for the US Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia, is quoted in the Philadelphia Inquirer as saying: “The point that’s being made here is, if you are a war criminal like this and a leader of war criminals like this, then you face a significant sentence for abusing US Immigration Law.”

The verdict in 2017, justice advocates and many other Liberians believe was a step toward justice for victims of the civil war.  Liberians are now living under a government that has refused to form a war crimes court and is actively benefitting from the security services of those who, during the conflict, committed atrocities against civilians.  Jabateh was living in a quiet suburb in Delaware County outside of Philadelphia and operated an international shipping company at the time of his 2016 arrest.

Mohammed Jabateh commanded the United Liberation Movement for Democracy (ULIMO) that was split with one becoming ULIMO-K, which he was later left with, and the other ULIMO-J of deceased Roosevelt Johnson.

In his trial in 2017, prosecutors flew a dozen Liberian victims to the U.S. to take the stand.  In one testimony, a woman testified that Jabateh murdered her husband, a village chief, and then delivered his heart to her ordering her to cook it as a meal for his men.  Another woman alleged he made her a sex slave at age 13 and raped her every day for weeks until she escaped from him.

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