Witness Fumbles Accused’s Identity in War Crimes Trial

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Gibril Massaquoi talks with his lawyer in Tampere, Finland from where he is listening to the hearing in his war crimes trial in Liberia via videolink. (Leslie Lumeh/New Narratives)

By Lennart Dodoo, with New Narratives

MONROVIA – One of three witnesses testifying before the Finnish Court in the ongoing trial of war crimes Gibril Massaquoi stumbled in identifying the former Revolutionary United Front commander on Monday.

The witness, under cross-examination by the defense lawyer, admitted that he told Finnish police during their investigation in Monrovia that he only knew the name “Angel” as the leader of the soldiers who carried out mayhem at Waterside. In his testimony to the court he referred to Massaquoi as “Angel Gabriel”.

“’Angel Gabriel’ is in the Bible so if you tell anybody you’re Angel Gabriel they will not take you seriously, that is why I only mentioned Angel,” he said.

The defense seized on the inconsistencies in the testimony in an apparent effort to undermine the credibility of the witnesses so far who have all claimed that a man who called himself “Angel Gabriel” oversaw murder, rape and torture at Waterside Bridge.

In court yesterday the witness acknowledged that he had never heard the leader of the rebel group in the Waterside area at the time referring to himself as “Angel Gabriel”.

He said, “Anyone could use the name “Angel” but “Angel Gabriel” is the name of a particular angel working with God.”

Civilian 69 said that he could not hear any other name besides ‘Angel’ “because there was no quiet for me to listen to hear any other name except for ‘Angel’”.

Massaquoi, 51, is currently on trial in Finland for committing and inciting the murders of civilians and enemy fighters, rape and other human rights violations during the second Liberian civil war in the northern part of Liberia bordering Sierra Leone.

He denies all the allegations saying he was not in Liberia at the time the events occurred.

Massaquoi, a Sierra Leonean national, has lived in Finland since 2008 where he was relocated in exchange for devastating testimony that he gave to the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Experts say Massaquoi’s testimony was instrumental in the conviction of former Liberian President Charles Taylor and other leaders of the Sierra Leone civil war. Massquoi was arrested in Finland in March last year after Swiss victims’ advocates Civitas Maxima working with Global Justice Research Project, alerted prosecutors to Massaquoi’s alleged crimes in Liberia.

The Finnish Court moved to Liberia to hear the testimonies of witnesses – more than 45 for Liberia. The court will also hear testimonies in Sierra Leone.

Civilian 69 had also informed investigators that during the Waterside incident during which he was held captive by soldiers under the command of Angel Gabriel his friend by the name of James was killed. However, during cross-examination by the defense lawyer on Monday the man said James was the man who helped him escape through the backdoor of the building where they were being held captive.

Civilian 69 said he remembers that the incident occurred in 2001 but does not remember how old he was at the time.

“I do not know my age at the time, but I was matured enough to remember. I was matured because I was doing things for myself,” he said.

He said he assumes that he was between 10-12 years old at the time.

Civilian 69 had gone to the Waterside market sometime in 2001 to buy goods to sell. He said, at the time, Waterside was “upside down” and only soldiers could be seen in the area. He said, the soldiers were looting and the civilians were buying from the soldiers. There was sudden sporadic shooting in the area and the soldiers began capturing people including him.

The witness told the court that after he was captured, he was taken to a building near the Waterside Bridge and placed in a building along with other captives.

“The head of the soldiers was ‘Angel Gabriel’. He was the one that was responsible to give command. His English was not Liberian English. He’ll send his soldiers to take people outside. After they go out the only thing you’ll hear is gun sound. You’ll not see them again,” he said.

He said, the after the gun sound, he heard Angel Gabriel saying, “Go and tell the Papay [God] that I sent you”.

The witness told the Finish Judges that he and others were saved by one of the soldiers who knew his grandmother. He said, the soldier gave them access to the backdoor.

Intestines as Checkpoint

Meanwhile, the defense called its first witness from among those identified by prosecutors. Massaquoi’s defense will call his own witnesses to dispute the prosecution allegations at a later date, but at this stage the defense is permitted to choose from among witnesses identified by investigators.

The witness, a woman codenamed as Civilian 79, told the court that Massaquoi took out the intestines of a person and used them as a barrier at a checkpoint at the Waterside Bridge. She told the court it was impossible to cross the checkpoint without Massaquoi’s permission. She said the events occurred in 2001.

Civilian 79 insisted Massaquoi and his soldiers erected their checkpoint at the Waterside end of the bridge. The witness said she was captured by a soldier whom she remembered as John Towah and taken to “Angel Gabriel” who was the commander of the soldiers at the Waterside checkpoint.

“There was a small house under the bridge. That is where they were based. That’s where they were beating on people. There were corpses all around. When they dragged me there, there was dirty water, they started to tell me, ‘Drink! Drink!’”.

She said while she was crying the commander who was referring to himself as “Angel Gabriel” ordered his soldier “Y’all send that women to heaven.” She was beaten with the gun barrel, she said.

“I started crying in my dialect, Gio. There was a man standing in front of him. I shouted in my dialect, God here I am. The man turned around and asked me, ‘What you just said?” I told him I was speaking my dialect. He asked what dialect? I said Gio.”

She said the soldier introduced himself to her as “Devil Working-God Working” and he told Angel Gabriel that the woman had spoken his dialect so, they should let go of her, but he insisted that “let the woman go to heaven.”

She said the soldiers came back kicking her and asked her to leave and she started running.

The trial continues on Tuesday.

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

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