US Embassy Cables: ‘Best We Can do’ for Liberia – Try Taylor in America

Source: FrontPage Africa


Tuesday, 10 March 2009, 12:51



EO 12958 DECL: 03/10/2019



Classified By: Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield for reasons 1.4(b) and (d)


A US Ambassador warns that a cash shortfall could jeopardize the case against the former Sierra Leonean President, stirring up old resentments in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

1.(C) Summary: The recent remarks by Special Court for Sierra Leone prosecutor Scott Rapp suggesting Charles Taylor may go free because of budgetary reasons caused alarm within the GOL and has emboldened Taylor supporters. Communication inside the Taylor camp remains intact and those in leadership roles continue to be active and unrepentant. Should Taylor be acquitted in The Hague or given a light sentence, his return to Liberia could tip the balance in a fragile peace. The international community must consider steps should Taylor not be sent to prison for a long time. We should look at the possibility of trying Taylor in the United States. End Summary.


2.(C) Chief Prosecutor Stephen Rapp’s ill considered announcement in the press February 24, that Charles Taylor may walk free because of a supposed budget shortfall for the Special Court for Sierra Leone, where Taylor is presently on trial, made headlines in the local press and raised anxiety here about Taylor’s imminent return. The GOL was alarmed enough that President Sirleaf called Ambassador on February 28 to raise her concerns. She pointed out that Liberia’s stability remains fragile, and such remarks reverberated throughout the country as people are still traumatized by Taylor and the war.

3.(C) The press accounts of The Hague have also emboldened the pro-Taylor factions here, including his extended family members, financiers and National Patriotic Party(NPP) loyalists, raising their hopes that Taylor might be acquitted soon. Despite their rhetoric about “moving on”, they have thus far refused to appear before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission(TRC) to account for their activities, and those on the UN sanctions lists continue to request delisting on the basis they have done nothing wrong rather than demonstrating what they have done to provide restitution for their activities.

4.(C). The government itself is caught in the middle. There is quite little the GOL can do legally to arrest, prosecute or freeze assets of those who were close to Taylor, even if the political will were, there, which means an open question. The TRC has recommended a domestic war crimes court be set up, but under statute, an independent National Human Rights Commission(INHCR) would implement the recommendation, and the legislature(some of whom had close ties to Taylor) has thus far failed to establish the INCHR. The Legislature has also refused to pass any law that would allow the GOL to freeze assets of those on the UN sanctions list, and the Supreme Court has ruled that any confiscation of property can be done only after a trial.

5. (C). The Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement(CPA)of August 2003 that ended he 14-year civil war, did not require the NPP to disband and in fact permitted the NPP to participate in the transitional government and in the 2005 elections. The NPP now holds seven seats in the Legislature(which may be one reason the legislation is being blocked). As well, none of Taylor’s properties have been seized by the government and they remain in good shape and remarkably free of squatters, as no one dares to take the risk of retribution.


6.(C) The pro-Taylor forces still have the ability to organize themselves. An NPP rally in December 2008 gathered a sizeable crowd, and Taylor supporters in June 2008 succeeded in preventing FBI investigators from entering Taylor’s residence “White Flower” to obtain evidence for Chucky Taylor trial in Florida. The most recent example was their effort on March 7 to disrupt the international women’s colloquium. Taylor remains popular within many rural communities, especially in Bong, Lofa, and Nimba counties, and is seen as someone who was able to unite Liberia’s different ethnic groups. We also suspect that there is some sympathy within the Americo-Liberian population who saw him as their deliverance from their losses following the 1979 coup. While we do not suggest they would want Taylor to return, we are sure that they do not want too many rocks to be turned over.

7.(C). Although we do have any direct evidence to support the belief that pro-Taylor factions are behind much of the armed on the premise that crime will keep the government weak and the country unstable, the GOL is certainly convinced of this, and has taken steps to counteract the threat. The most recent act was to put Taylor-era head of police Paul Mulbah into the LNP as an “advisor” that some accuse (and the government denies) was in order to placate the Taylor people in advance of the March 7-8 International Women’s Colloquium. That the Taylor crowd can still motivate such a reaction in the government is a testament to their influence.

8.(C)Lines of communications within Taylor’s faction, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia(NPFL) remain in tact. To be sure, the disarmament of the factions following the CPA has been extremely successful, and we have thus far been unable to confirm the existence of any large weapons caches, despite the persistent rumors, But the reintegration of the ex-combatants is far from complete. Former NPFL commanders Roland Du(the only senior Taylor supporter to have testified before the TRC), Christopher “General Mosquito” Vambo and Melvin Dogbandi(none of whom are on the sanctions list remain in contact with the ex-combatants, and would have the capability to organize and uprising or even criminal activity.

9.(Certainly, the same is true for the other factions, the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy(LURD) and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia(MODEL). While apparently unarmed and not active in Liberia, we continue to receive reports that LURD is recruiting ex-combatants for militias in Guinea and MODEL is doing the same for Cote d’Ivoire.


The threat of a return of Taylor strengthens their hands and for now they see no need to give in at all. However, if Taylor is put away for a long time, the government may feel a bit bolder in recovering assets and bringing Taylor backers who committed war crimes to justice.

The international community has just a few tools to pressure the Taylor people into accepting the new reality. The UN sanctions appear to have the intended effect of keeping them somewhat marginalized and fearful of further attempts to strip them of their ill-gotten gains. However, we have regularly heard of travel outside Liberia of those on travel ban list without travel approval.

13. (C). However, the best we can do for Liberia is to see to it that Taylor is put away for a long time and we cannot delay for the results of the present trial to consider next steps. All legal options should be studied to ensure that Taylor cannot return to destabilize Liberia. Building a case in the United States against Taylor for financial crimes such as wire fraud would probably be the best route. There may be other options such as applying the new law criminalizing the use of child soldiers or terrorism statues.

The peace in Liberia remains fragile, and its only guarantee is the robust and adaptable UNMIL presence. The GOL does not have the ability to quell violence, monitor its borders or operate independently to fight crime. A free Taylor Could tip the balance in the wrong direction. THOMAS GREENFIELD


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