For almost 2 months former RUF leader Issa Sesay has been testifying for the defense at Charles Taylor’s trial, but you could be forgiven for not knowing this. (Google news hits for “Issa Sesay AND Charles Taylor”: 18. Google news hits for “Naomi Campbell AND Charles Taylor”: 1,832.) Sesay, convicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone, is serving 52 years in a Rwandan prison.
At first, it seems odd that Sesay would testify for Taylor. One prosecution witness alleged that Taylor ordered Sesay killed in 2008. The prosecution says Sesay is testifying because Sesay thinks Taylor might be able to help him get out of prison if acquitted. Given the extraordinary spiritual and political power West Africans attribute to Taylor, I bet this is true. I also imagine Sesay’s family in Sierra Leone might benefit, somehow, through Taylor’s associates, in exchange for his supportive testimony. But that’s just a guess. Lapsing into a Taylor-esque habit of referring to himself in the third person, Sesay said his motivation for testifying was that: “I heard my colleagues saying a lot about Issa, things that Issa didn’t do.”
Highlights from Sesay’s testimony:
- Despite testifying for the defense, Sesay’s account of how former-former RUF leader Foday Sankoh and Taylor met differs from Taylor’s account. Taylor said he met Sankoh only after he realized he would need to collaborate with the RUF to fend off domestic attacks from Sierra Leone government-supported ULIMO. Sesay said Sankoh told him that he met Taylor when they were both training in Libya. This testimony is good for the prosecution, which wants to show that Taylor and Sankoh had a relationship before the RUF invasion of Sierra Leone.
- Prosecution witnesses had testified that Taylor told Sesay that if Sesay released UN peacekeepers Taylor would help the RUF overthrow the Sierra Leonean government. Sesay agreed that he was under pressure from Taylor to release the peacekeepers, but denied there was a quid pro quo.
- Sesay testified that his meetings with Taylor never involved exchanging diamonds for weapons, as the prosecution alleges, but rather involved discussions about how to bring peace to the region. This supports the defense portrait of Taylor as a regional peacemaker.
- So how did the RUF pay for weapons, if not buy trading in diamonds? Sesay said, among other things, that the RUF sold produce harvested from civilian farms.
- Sesay’s account of how he became leader of the RUF countered the notion that Taylor had command control of the RUF. Sesay said that when West Africa leaders decided Sesay should lead the RUF after Sankoh was imprisoned, Taylor suggested that Sankoh be consulted on this.
- Sesay admitted that the RUF committed many of the crimes Taylor is accused of committing through joint criminal enterprise (eg rape, murder) but denied that Taylor told the RUF to do these things. This is in line with previous defense arguments.
All of this is from The Trial of Charles Taylor blog.