By James Kokulo Fasuekoi & Issa Mansaray | The AfricaPaper
Philadelphia, PA – A Liberian man, charged with immigration fraud and perjury, will appear in US Federal Court this week in Philadelphia, Pa., in one of the most anticipated trials involving war crimes outside the West African nation.
Mohammed Jabateh, 50, who was arrested last year, will appear in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on Oct., 2, to answer questions regarding his role in Liberia’s civil war that left thousands dead and many displaced, and for lying to federal officials.
From all indications the United States of America seems poised to prove its case against the accused, as prosecutors have said they have over 30 witnesses, probably more than they needed. All are ready to testify against the defendant. A catalog of Jabateh’s alleged crime, can be compared to other West African war criminals such as the jailed former leader of Liberia, Charles Taylor.
The trial according to court documents obtained by The AfricaPaper, was first set for Jan. 17, 2017, with Judge Legrome D. Davis expected to preside, but was eventually postponed, and rescheduled for Oct. 2. The new judge in the case is now Paul S. Diamond according to court papers. The nature of this trial makes it first of its kind and will attract scores of local and international human rights groups, community leaders, activists, and the media.
Jabbateh aka “Gen. Jungle Jabbah,” was arrested mid April 2016 by US Federal agents who first charged him with committing immigration fraud, followed by 10 other counts associated with war crimes. They included: “the murder of civilian noncombatants,” “the sexual enslavement of women,” “the public raping of women,” “the torturing of civilian noncombatants,” “the enslavement of civilian noncombatants,” “the conscription of child soldiers,” and “the execution of prisoners of war.”
Jabbateh served as commander of Zebra Battalion for the United Liberation Movement for Democracy (ULIMO) in Liberia, a rebel movement that battled Charles Taylor’s belligerent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) in a war from 1989-1996 for political power and control of the country’s mineral wealth. ULIMO occupied western Liberia for much of the war and during that period, Jabbateh was placed in charge of the region’s key gold and diamond belt that include Lofa Bridge and Weasua.
Defense and Lies
During a brief court appearance last year, Jabbateh’s lawyer Gregory Pagano denied charges against him and said his client was “deeply religious, peaceful and intensely loyal to the United States.”
Stories of Jabbateh’s alleged torture and murder as well as instituting “forced labor” upon civilians to mine gold and diamond for him are abound in eyewitnesses’ testimonies in a pre-trial memorandum obtained by The AfricaPaper. The stories are ghastly, and sometimes sounding surreal. According to court records, some of the eyewitness-victims, were about 16 years old and in their early 20s at the time of the war and told investigators that their tasks under Jabbateh and his rebel troops, apart from mining, included transporting ammunition and farming for him.
Horrors of War
Meanwhile, a special review of Jabbateh’s alleged crimes by The AfricaPaper contained in a US “Government Pretrial Memorandum,” eerily reveals some horrors of an African tribal war where Mohammed Jabbateh is portrayed as a heartless rebel commander who doesn’t give mercy to even pregnant women and their fetuses.
In one particular incident for example, that occurred 1993, in Fasama, a once Lofa County forest town, now part of Gbarpolu, the document states: “ULIMO soldiers” executed four civilians in the town square after “Jabbateh” had earlier shot dead, Witness C’s uncle who had hidden underneath a bed. During the same episode, Witness C said, his personal friend named “Jaffo,” a “light-skinned black youth,” among those allegedly killed that day, had been ordered by “Jabbateh” to be sacrificed. “Witness C later saw Jaffo’s head on a stick at a ULIMO checkpoint.”
In yet another reported macabre episode, around “1993 or 1994,” Witness D, explained, at about 16 years old, he lived and attended school in Fasama, a ‘ULIMO’s headquarters in Lofa County.’ He told investigators the story of one of Jabbateh’s alleged victims, a 30 years old young pregnant woman who he said had been murdered by Jabbateh after he discovered the woman’s son had been a fighter for the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), a rival rebel faction that largely targeted people of Jabbateh’s Mandingo tribe as well as Krahns of late Liberian president Samuel K. Doe.
“At about noon every day Witness D, and others would walk to a village outside of Fasama to work on a farm. One day on the way back from the farm, Witness D and the other workers were stopped on the road by Jabbateh and ULIMO soldiers under Jabbateh’s command. One of the workers was a pregnant woman in her late 30s whose son was a known NPFL soldier. Jabbateh announced to the group that the pregnant woman’s son killed Mandingos and that she would have to pay his debt,” stated the document.
It further continued: “To this end, Jabbateh made the pregnant woman lie on her back while he cut her clothes off exposing her stomach. He then cut open her stomach and removed both some of her intestines and the viable fetus. Both the woman and the fetus died. Jabbateh then beheaded the woman and put her head on a stick. Her intestines were used as rope at a ULIMO checkpoint.”
According to the document, young girls kidnapped by Jabbateh and his fighters, are assigned daily chores and have to perform such tasks under the closed watch of heavily armed child soldiers who provide escort as the women fetched water, woods or go on fishing expedition. The tasks for the women also include cooking food for Jabbateh and his fighters whom it stated, used the captured women as “sexual slaves.”
From the charges, much of the alleged humiliation of civilians occurred in Lofa Bridge, Weasua, Fasama, and Bopolu, a dense forested area which is rich in gold, diamond and timber which could also be reason why that region became hotly contested zone by rival warring factions during the war.
By sheer coincidence, this vast forest region annexes Vahumn and Foya Kamala (both in Lofa) that was controlled by another ULIMO-K commander, Alieu Koshis, arrested by Swiss authorities in Bern, Switzerland November 2014 and charged with a slew of war crimes, including the murder of civilians, recruitment of child soldiers as well as terrorizing non-Mandingo local citizens in Lofa County during his movement’s nearly five years occupation of the region.
Eyewitnesses, and victims alike expected to testify against the accused are not only confined to the Vai, Gola, Kpelle, and Bella inhabitants of this war affected region but some come from other ethnic group like the Krahn that forged a coalition with Mandingo), and most of all, Jabbateh’s own Mandingo tribe. Accordingly, for example, Witness “A” and Witness “B” who are among the first group of witnesses are Mandingoes and the both had served as child soldiers, one with ULIMO’s Alligator Battalion while the other fought for Jabbateh’s Zebra Battalions during the accused’s reign of terror.
The list of eyewitnesses to “Gen. Jungle Jabbah’s” alleged murder spree against civilians is staggering-the court’s memorandum identifies its witnesses through alphabets perhaps, to conceal the person’s true identity for now. However, after counting runs and passes “Witness Z,” it re-start naming witnesses as “Witness AA”, “Witness BB,” “CC”, and so on.
The memorandum also lists a couple of expert witnesses in the pending trial whom the prosecution team noted are understand the “history of Liberia and its conflicts.” Others include former war-correspondents and press-photographers who covered much of Liberia’s bloody wars, especially from 1989-97 before leaving the country.
Liberians, and human rights organizations around the world are eagerly awaiting Jabbateh’s trial and for many, “the crimes are unspeakable!” The alleged indiscriminate gruesome murder of civilians by the accused and his fighters, as depicted by prosecution lawyers, will no doubt leave an indelible imprints in the minds of viewers worldwide and could serve as an eye-opener into ethnic conflicts in faraway Africa and could possibly change the way Americans view war in continental Africa.
The memorandum in a 40 page dossier, extensively cites alleged arbitrary “execution” and severe beating near death, carried out by Jabbateh and his men as the most common punishment for people recruited or compelled to perform compulsory labor for him Jabbateh in the event they workers are suspected by the rebels of secretly trying to hid or stack diamonds in their mouths. Fathers, sons, and daughters, are allegedly commandeered from their farms and other works such as gold and diamond mining, trucked to ULIMO’s subregional headquarters and made to perform compulsory duties per the request of their supposed new “master”, Jabbateh.
A father attempting to stop Jabbateh’s men from raping his young daughters, is also shot to death allegedly. Witness M, fearing for her life, decides to submit to the rebel’s demand and is “forced to have sex with five different soldiers” on the “first night that ULIMO-K controlled her village.” Her her sister, “Mary,” who resisted the rebels was allegedly shot and killed. This incident is reported to have occurred around 1995, in Diamond Congo, Grand Cape Mount County, another iron ore mining town decimated by a landslide in 1983. Witness M was born in Liberia’s provisional city of Kakata, Margibi County, document states, and she had moved to Congo with her aunt, father, sister and uncle who was a “diamond prospector.”
The account also showed that locals found to be sympathetic to the NPFL, or whose relatives had military tie to the faction, were punished some of the most cruel styles. It is stated that during Jabbateh’s alleged reign of terror, starting from 1992, through the movement’s breakup in 1994, and after, alleged “POWs”, of the NPFL, and later, the breakaway Krahn rival ULIMO-J faction, died by execution by ULIMO fighters reportedly under Jabbateh’s command.
From reading eyewitnesses account, one can’t help but conclude that a local didn’t have to even wink his eyes in order to incurred Jabbateh’s wrath. It said, Jabbateh and his men would invade a town or village, allegedly kill a group of people, and moments later, he would order his men to seize beautiful women of their choosing, or “gang-rape” the women and beat the men as he watched on. Witnesses claimed that during some of the raids, the ex-rebel commander would divide “captured people” into two groups and then dispatch one to “camp for military training” while others they said, were taken to mines to dig gold and diamond for Jabbateh.
Captured Women Escape
Witnessed S whose father had been allegedly captured by Jabbateh’s troops and made to work at Lofa Bridge, a diamond trade point, where he said he and his parents lived when “still relatively young,” informed investigators that “Some of the captured women, besides doing whatever domestic work that ULIMO demanded, were also turned into sex slaves.” In this state of anarchy some of the young girls are lucky to survive by escaping their captors at dawn but others aren’t so lucky as some even pregnant, experienced miscarriages, or died of bleeding following bouts of raped episodes due to complete lack of health facilities in this remote parts of Liberia.
What even perhaps made it difficult for enslaved men and women to escape to safety, is that though the region possesses abundant mineral resources like gold, diamond and timber, yet ironically, most remote parts of the newly formed Gbarpolu County, extending to the Belle forest town name Belle Yellah, the site of the country’s notorious prison, lacked a common feeder road network thereby making the areas only accessible by air about two decades ago.
Beating and Looting
Local business residents like gold and diamond dealers, the report maintained, were identified by Jabbateh’s soldiers and targeted. According to Witness N, one of Jabbateh’s alleged former “sex-slaves” (victims), who later manage to escape, [Jabbateh’s] fighters “told him that there is a woman in that town who had a lot of money, as evidenced by the fact that she was buying diamonds.” She alleged that “On Jabbateh’s orders the woman was stripped naked and beaten with gun butts.” Though she said the woman survived the beaten, the incident she noted forced her escape. Witness N named the year as 1994, at the time she was about 21 years old and worked as “goods trader” in Israel, Grand Cape Mount.
The document indicated that Jabbateh would pick a fine woman from amongst wives of his alleged “forced laborers” working in the gold and diamond field, sleep with her for a night or two and if he’s pleased, he Jabbateh would keep her for as long as he wanted in total disregard to the woman’s husband who had to live with such condition. Though the document doesn’t it such humiliation evidently tore families apart. Most of the witnesses explained that the mistreatment of people in Jabbateh’s controlled area intensified when ULIMO split in March 1994, leading to reprisal killings of Krahn civilians and fighters by Mandingo of ULIMO-K.
Fighter Escapes Death
Witness F, who is said to belong to the ethnic Krahn and had joined ULIMO in 1992, explained that he, unlike many of his fellow Krahn ULIMO fighters, heading Tubmanburg, (ULIMO’s former headquarters) narrowly escaped death at the Po River Bridge checkpoint by quickly escaping into the bush when “Jabbateh ordered ULIMO soldiers (who were Krahn) and civilians off the bus in which they were travelling,” to be killed by his Jabbateh’s Mandingo ULIMO fighters. He noted When his [Jabbateh’s] soldiers hesitated to shoot their former colleagues, Jabbateh grabbed an AK-47 from one of his bodyguards, and executed between four and six ULIMO Krahn soldiers.”
Witness F said this incident occurred during the period the inter-tribal conflict had just begun. He told investigators that while he was being treated for combat wounds at the nation’s largest hospital in the capital, JFK, Mandingo fighters at the same hospital had initially informed him of a tribal conflict brewing within the movement that would target his people, Krahns, including civilians. Armed with such information he wasted no time to escape into the bush at Po River the moment Krahn fighters and civilians were asked by Jabbateh to step down from a commercial bus.
Witness F, a former member of ULIMO’s Alligator Battalion, a rebel unit that fought alongside Jabbateh’s Zebra Battalion at certain stage to defend Monrovia to stop Taylor’s NPFL “Operation Octopus”, assisted by INPFL of Gen. Prince Johnson, from overrunning the capital, maintained that he managed and hide from a safe distance where he heard Jabbateh ordered his troop to kill the Krahns. But his story doesn’t end at the Po River. He manages to reach Tubmanburg, the epicenter of the ensuing inter-ethnic conflict that would yet lead to more killings including civilians from both sides.
UMILO Generals Arrested
In the old mining town of Tubmanburg which till the fracas, had served as the movement’s headquarters, the document stated Witness F again observed a gunbattle that erupted when Jabbateh and a group of loyal Mandingo fighters tried to disarm a Krahn ULIMO General known as “Clarko.” In the end, Jabbateh’s group is said to have prevailed over Clarko’s men as his bodyguards, ultimately, “outnumbered” Clarko’s.
The campaign to arrest Krahn Generals of the faction, according to Witness F, was extended to “Gen. Sako-see” and “Gen. T-Kahla,” (actually spelled, “T-Karler”). Gen. T-Karler was a former soldier of AFL, the country’s national army prior to the war. He headed ULIMO’s Alligator Battalion which took control of the Kakata-Bong Mines region, a strategic point NPFL once occupied. Jabbateh, Witness F, said, was joined by Gen. Abu Keita, and Gen. Pepper & Salt. (“Gen. Pepper & Salt” gained notoriety for his alleged mistreatment and murder of civilians and “POWs” during the ULIMO internal war).
Gen. T-Kahla’s Wife Tina Killed
In a separate firefight, Gen. Sako-see, Witness F says, was killed by an RPG fired by Jabbateh. Gen. T-Kahla, shot thereafter by Jabbateh after he walked out of the faction’s headquarters building, managed to escape into the nearby bush. The document said, Witness F, “then left the area to tell T-Kahla’s wife that T-Kahla had been shot and fled.”
“Upon arrival at T-Kahla wife’s house, Witness F saw Jabbateh arrive with ULIMO soldiers in three vehicles. One of the vehicles was a black Jeep. The soldiers were shouting “Operation No More Stupid, No More Jesus, Only Allah.” The soldiers pulled Tina [Gen. T-Kahla’s wife, pregnant then] out of her house. They held her with her legs and arms spread while Jabbateh shot her between the legs with an AK-47, killing her. Another woman was also taken out of the house and shot to death.”
War Crimes Court
Liberia fought an intermittent brutal civil war during the 1990s through 2003, and with a death toll estimated at 300,000 people. Most rebel commandos suspected of committing genocides in the war have never been held accountable for their crimes-that has made the healing process and the search for genuine reconciliation impossible.
To the disappointment of many Liberians and foreign residents, presidential candidates vying in the upcoming general elections haven’t done much to tackle key issue such as setting up a war crimes court in Liberia-similar to Sierra Leone’s Special Court-that would try alleged war criminals. As a result fear looms over Liberian communities that a new incoming government is likely to follow the same path as Ellen Sirleaf’s and may not seek retributive justice for Liberian war victims.
Amid all this the real irony is that many of those accused of grossly violating human rights during the war are the ones holding power in Liberia today while still being celebrated as “heroes” by diehard “loyalists.” For instance, Liberia’s Pres. Johnson Sirleaf, whose role in the war has come under serious criticism from many, along with ex-Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL) leader, Prince Johnson, served as leaders in the present government accused of engaging in massive corruption. Some Liberians view this as another way via which key ex-war players are depriving war victims not of life, but preventing them from accessing a better livelihood because of the institutionalization of corruption.
By contrast, the story is different in the case with Sierra Leone, a neighboring state that also experienced a decade of an atrocious war which left adults and even children amputees. The AFRC military junta later merged with rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) during Sierra Leone’s war and the two are reported to have launched a brutal campaign of mass murder and amputation of civilians as means to install fear and forced the nation to give into their demand for power. Unlike Liberia, Sierra Leone masses never allowed those who brought “deaths” in Sierra Leone to serve in the government for peace’s sake.
But as Liberians appear undecided over whether or not to set up a war crime court, the US and its European allies like Switzerland and Belgium, have meanwhile vowed to prosecute people suspected of involvement in human rights violations, including war criminals from Liberia and elsewhere who enter their countries.
Attempt by The AfricaPaper to contact Mohammed Jabbateh’s legal representatives proved unsuccessful.
The AfricaPaper,USA, 2016. All rights reserved. Photos and text may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, redistributed or used in any form without the written permission of The AfricaPaper, and AIIR. We take legal action for any copyright infringement.