African News

"Hassan Bility was a combatant, not a journalist"—Taylor defence

17 January 2009 at 00:52 | 2434 views

Editor’s note: This is a transcript of a BBC World Service Trust report:

The legal team of Charles Taylor says Liberian journalist Hassan Bility(photo) was arrested in 2002, not as a journalist, but as an unlawful combatant whose plan to overthrow Charles Taylor was aborted by state security. Defense lawyer Courtenay Griffiths also reviewed Bility’s would-be book with the tentative title “Journalists’ Quest against a Dictator.” Joseph Cheeseman reports from The Hague:

CHEESEMAN: After constantly consulting Mr. Taylor, who sat in the dock at the back of his Defense team, Mr. Griffiths read in open court six faintly typewritten emails containing subversive communications allegedly exchanged between Hassan Bility and some members of the Mandingo ethnic group in America and Liberia. The email stated plans by Hassan and others to overthrow the then Taylor government and assassinate the president. Hassan denied any link with the subversive email and said he was shown the same emails in Monrovia when he was detained at the National Bureau of Investigation, the NBI, in 2002. Mr. Griffiths insisted that Hassan was not arrested for writing articles critical of the Taylor government, but that he was arrested for subversive activities. Mr. Griffiths asked Hassan to respond the allegation that he wanted to overthrow Mr. Taylor and assassinate him.

BILITY: That is absolutely false.

GRIFFITHS: [indistinct] What I’m suggesting is that all along, under the guise of being an impartial journalist concerned about human rights, you were effectively plotting with others to assassinate President Taylor. That’s right, isn’t it?

BILITY: Counsel, that is a complete fabrication; it’s wrong.

GRIFFITHS: What I’m putting to you is that you were party to a conspiracy to murder.

BILITY: Counsel, I was never, ever, I have never been a party, and I was never a party to any conspiracy. If the Liberian government believed this evidence, why didn’t the government take me to court? It said it would; it refused.

CHEESEMAN: Mr. Hassan Bility also said his book, still in print with the tentative title Journalists’ Quest against a Dictator, makes direct reference to the dictatorship of Mr. Charles Taylor in Liberia. The Liberian journalist told the court the content of his book would represent the collective struggle of all Liberian journalists against what he called a dictatorial and intolerant government led by former President Charles Taylor.

Defense lawyer Courtenay Griffiths held up a large white sheet paper containing a series of questions reportedly written by Mr. Taylor. The questions border on the credibility of the witness and his knowledge about treatments given Liberian politicians during the presidency of Mr. Taylor. Here is Mr. Griffiths with Taylor’s concerns.

TAYLOR: Direct instructions from Mr. Taylor, and he instructs me to call you a liar, that no leader of any political party was arrested during his presidency.

BILITY: [Indistinct], an executive of the New Deal Movement Party was indeed arrested. I believe that the president clearly [debatedly] wrong.

GRIFFITHS: Another specific question directly from Mr. Taylor: Under the Taylor regime, was any political party prevented from advocating their policies or campaigning during the Taylor presidency?

BILITY: As a matter of government policy and pronouncement, not that I’m aware of.

CHEESEMAN: At the end of Friday’s session, Defense Lawyer Courtenay Griffiths said he would end his cross-examination of the Prosecution Liberian witness, Hassan Bility, within 20 minutes on Monday. Mr. Bility told the Judges that he was scheduled to return to the United States on Sunday, but Presiding Judge Teresa Doherty ruled that Hassan return to court on Monday to complete his testimonies.

Meanwhile Judge Teresa Doherty has announced the end of her tenure as presiding Judge of Trial Chamber Two of the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Justice Doherty told her colleagues and the lawyers that her tenure would end on January 17, and that Justice Richard Lussick would take over the Court as the new Presiding Judge. The presidency of the court rotates after every year.

Here is an earlier report on the same issue from the same source:

BBC World Service Trust
Thursday, 15 January 2009-01

Liberian Journalist Hassan Bility has testified before four international courts regarding situations in Liberia during the presidency of Charles Taylor. Mr. Bility testified in the RUF case in 2004 in Sierra Leone. He also testified in a Dutch Court against a Dutch national, Gus Kouwenhoven in 2006. He testified against Chuckie Taylor in Miami in 2008, and now he is testifying against his Former President Charles Taylor. But how accurate are Bility’s accounts before the four international tribunals about events in Liberia during Taylor’s regime? The Legal Team defending Mr. Taylor says Hassan Bility is a liar and all of his testimonies in the four courts are conflicting and contradictorily. Joseph Cheeseman reports.

CHEESEMAN: According to Defense Lawyer Courtenay Griffiths, Mr. Bility told a Dutch Court in the Gus Kouwenhoven case that he was arrested in 1997 and detained by Taylor’s securities and given a number of charges. But before the Special Court for Sierra Leone Mr. Bility said he was arrested and detained without any specific charge. Defense lawyer Griffiths asked Bility why he used the phrase a number of charges.

BILITY: Arrested for an article and then taken the president, and he tells me a number of things. He raises a number of concerns. One, I’m bent on undermining his government, he tells me about me working for other people, being an agent, being this, so as I said, a wide range of issues he discusses with me. I thought that that constituted, since he was the court and he was a judge, a number of charges in that particular circumstance. So that’s why I used the phrase “a number of charges.”

CHEESEMAN: In his testimonies at the Special Court in Freetown, Sierra Leone against the RUF, Mr. Bility said he was arrested and detained for two days for writing an editorial entitled “who’s the Judas in ECOWAS?” Before the Judges of the Special Court in The Hague, Bility said he was arrested and detained at the Justice Ministry for one day and later released. Defense Lawyer Griffiths told the Court that the difference in Mr. Bility’s testimonies constituted a conscious lie. But the witness disagreed.

BILITY: If I did say this, two days, I honestly don’t remember.

GRIFFITHS: There’s no “ifs” about it. This is a transcript of your evidence. What were you doing telling that lie to the Judges after you had taken an oath on the Que’ran to tell the truth?

BILITY: Counsel, I did not tell a lie. If I did say two days then I might have made an honest mistake. It’s not a lie.

CHEESEMAN: The Prosecution Liberian witness told the Judges of the Special Court he was arrested for the fourth time by state securities in January 22, 1998. But according to transcript of the Dutch court obtained and produced in court by the Defense, Mr. Bility told the Dutch court in 2006 that he was arrested for the fourth time in March 1998. The Defense lawyer asked Bility to explain the difference.

BILITY: I do not remember an arrest in March, in either 1998, 1997 or whatever. This, I believe, must have been a mistake either in my in my [tape problem] specifically that I believed I was arrested in March 1998.

GRIFFITHS: Are you suggesting, Mr. Bility, that when you were giving evidence on oath before those judges in a Dutch court, somehow you meant to say to them “I was arrested after September 2000,” but somehow you misspoke and March 1998 came out of your mouth instead. Is that what you’re telling us?

BILITY: Counsel, I am telling this honourable court that I was not arrested in March 1998. Now if that appears in the transcript, of course I believe that could be attributed to my misspeaking.

CHEESEMAN: Bility, the Liberian journalist testifying against Charles Taylor, told the Judges that Taylor was the court and the judge during his days as president in Liberia, and whatever he said was the final. Bility said whatever Taylor told accused constituted a charge. Taylor’s lawyer disagreed and said Mr. Bility was a liar. The cross-examination of Hassan Bility by Taylor’s lawyer continues on Friday.

Photo credit: BBC.