Liberia: Presidential Aspirant Tiawan Gongloe ‘Not Remorseful’ For Role In Turning Ex-President Taylor Over To UN


MONROVIA – Presidential Aspirant Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe says he does not regret his role in turning over former Liberian President Charles Taylor to the United Nations for prosecution.

Former president Taylor, currently serving a 50-year jail term for supporting Sierra Leone’s brutal civil war in return for blood diamond, was arrested in Nigeria where he was seeking asylum as part of a truce to end Liberia’s 14-year civil conflict and turned over to the UN.

But pressure from the United States Government under then President George W. Bush on Nigeria and Liberia forced then presidents Olusegun Obasanjo (Nigeria) and Ellen Jonhson Sirleaf (Liberia) to turn over Taylor to the UN back Special Court for Sierra Leone to face prosecution for war crimes.

So, in a dramatic faction on March 29, 2006, Taylor, after he was re-captured at the Nigeria-Cameroon border by Nigerian authorities when he went missing from his seaside villa in Calabar, was sent to Liberia on a presidential plane, from where he was immediately transferred to Sierra Leone.

Back in Liberia at the Roberts International Airport, Cllr. Gongloe, as Liberia’s Solicitor General was asked by President Sirleaf to provide legal advice to the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) in the transfer of Taylor to the Liberian Government and for his onward transfer to Sierra Leone.

In his recollections more than 16 years later on the much-followed Spoon FM and TV, Cllr. Gongloe said he has no regret for his role in ensuring Taylor faced justice.

“No, I don’t regret it. I was performing a major duty and I did it perfectly well, he said when asked by Spoon Network’s CEO, Stanton Alexander Witherspoon if he regretted his role in the turnover of the former Liberian leader.

“As a lawyer, I strongly believe everyone who is accused of a crime should be given his day in court. The thing is Liberia, is part of the comity of nations and several international treaties that it has an obligation to fulfill.”

The hasty transferred of Taylor from Nigeria to Liberia and then on to Sierra Leone back in 2006 continues to spark public debate. Some pan Africanists and Liberians accused the Governments of Nigeria and Liberia of bowing to western pressure (U.S and EU) to betray Taylor, given these powers are not even signatories to the International Criminal Court.

One of those holding such view is renowned Liberian economist, Samuel P. Jackson. Appearing on the show, Mr. Jackson asked Cllr. Gongloe to further explain his role in ordering Taylor to be handcuffed and turned over to the UN. Responding, the renowned Liberian lawyer clarified that he did not order Taylor to be handcuffed.

According to him, he was instructed by President Sirleaf to go to the UNMIL headquarters, and when he arrived, he was informed by the heads of the UN Mission to accompany them to the airport to give legal advice to ensure Taylor’s turnover is done the right way.

At the airport, he admitted that Taylor was handed over to UNMIL after he was escorted from the plane by two Immigration officers. Thereafter, a Jordanian peacekeeper handcuffed him after his Miranda’s rights were read to him by a female Cameroonian peacekeeper.

The entire episode lasted for 40 minutes, he said. Responding to whether he would have turned over Taylor if he were in the hot seat, he said yes. 

“I was there with Minister Brownie Samukai (then Minister of Defense), the Immigration Commissioner at that time, Christopher Massaquoi and Charles Snetter of ELBC. It was a controlled press. So, my only role was to provide legal guidance so that there will be no legal issue in the process.”

‘Taylor Made Me a Prophet’

According to Cllr. Gongloe, prior to the arrest of Taylor in Nigeria and his turnover to the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone in 2006, he had predicted that Taylor would bear the responsibilities of the war over his actions and utterances.

The renowned lawyer has been a staunch advocate for human rights and good governance during the heat of the civil war. As a young lawyer, he served as a special assistant to Dr. Amos Claudius Sawyer [now deceased], the first Interim President of Liberia after President Samuel Doe was murdered and the country was divided into the hands of rebels; with small portion of Monrovia held by the remnants of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) that were loyal to the deposed Liberian. 

Addressing a group of people at the Bong Intellectual Center in Gbarnga earlier, Cllr. Gongloe said during a peace mediation meeting chaired by one of the regional leaders during the war and attended by his then boss, Dr. Sawyer, Taylor and other key players of the war, Taylor requested the parties at the meeting to allow him rule Liberia for two years and the war would be over.

But to the surprise of everyone at the meeting, he boldly told Taylor that he would bear the greatest responsibility of the atrocities that were taking place. He said even though Taylor was not tried and sentenced for his crimes committed in Liberia, the wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia were related.

He said: “That’s why I say Charles Taylor made me a prophet because in one of the meetings in 1991 on February 26, in [Gnassingbé] Eyadéma’s office, he said Amos [Dr. Sawyer], Baccus [Gabriel Baccus Matthew], your give me this country for two years, and then you will see what I will do. And I was standing right there in the room and said Mr. Taylor, as we are speaking right now, people are being butchered and rape, pregnant women are being disemboweled to see the sex of their child. Are you aware of that and you talking about Liberia as a property? And he (Taylor) said who is this young man? I speak and you follow, I call the shots.”

He continued: “And I said – with Dr. Sawyer stepping on my toes, Mr. Taylor, you are taking responsibilities of the deaths [innocent people] and destruction of this country, and therefore at the end of the war, you alone will be going to the war Crimes Court. And when I was a solicitor General and the President [former President Sirleaf] called me to go to UN plaza and I went there… and I saw myself at the airport representing the Government, turning Taylor over to the UN, I came from there and went straight to Ernest Eastman’s House and said Taylor just made me a prophet today.”

Fighting for a new Liberia

Cllr. Gongloe’s quest for the presidency continues to garner momentum following his tour of the United States recently. Upon his arrival, he was greeted by a large crowd at the Robert’s International Airport.

Since launching his presidential bid, he has been a staunch critic of the weah-led Government.

He is often seen with a homemade broom as a symbolic gesture of his commitment to sweeping away corruption if elected. Asked why he did not speak against the Sirleaf-led administration where he served as Solicitor General and Minister of Labor, the immediate past president of the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA) said, during his time in government, he was focused on serving the administration and not advocating. In these positions, he pointed out that he speared headed several reforms.

According to him, he is now on a mission for a new Liberia that believes in good governance and rule of law.