Philadelphia, USA - An 11th U.S. government witness in the trial of accused war criminal Mohammed Jabateh showed jurors a gruesome legacy of Liberia’s civil war in day 5 of court proceedings.
The victim, now in his 40's, showed a scar on the side of the head, where his left ear was sliced off, in an ordeal that was just one of the ordeals he endured in a remote village in the north west of the country.
Witness 11 stood up near his seat to show jurors a scar that coves the spot where his left ear once sat, as he recalled how his ear was chopped off. Witness’s names are being withheld for their security.
"Jungle Jabbah came and gave the order to amputate me," he said as he identified Mohammed Abate, aka Jungle Jabbah - the man U. S. authorities are prosecuting for lying on his immigration asylum application.
"Abate is accused of not disclosing the heinous crimes, such as the ones described in a Philadelphia federal court on Tuesday, when he claimed asylum in the U.S. in 1998.
Twenty witnesses have been flown in from Liberia by the U. S. Department of Justice to testify against Abate, a former militia battalion general in the Liberian civil war.
One witness called him "very dangerous" as he displayed a scar in his left hand allegedly sliced by ULIMO rebels in a northwestern village near the regional capital of Bopolu in 1994.
It is alleged that Abate was a commander in ULIMO and ordered crimes of rape, murder, detention and other war crimes and committed many himself.
The witness’s village lies some three hours further west of Bopolu and it's connected by a bridge infamously named "Jungle Jabbah Bridge."
Witness 10th recounted an alleged torture during the ULIMO infighting when two rival ethnic rebel soldiers from the Krahn tribe were thrown in a hole that villagers used to fetch water.
"They tied their hands behind their back, and then throw them in the hole. Then they poured gas on them and lit them up," said the witness.
A relative who would later described herself as an “ex-girlfriend” of Jabateh yelled “Liar!” at this witness as he exited the courtroom after his testimony. She was approached by federal court agents and warned against disrupting the proceedings.
S. attorney L. C. Wright pressed the witness further, asking, "And then what happened?"
"They were crying until they died," said the witness.
He alleged that during one of his many trips to Bopolu, carrying loads of looted goods for rebels, he and friends were called to join other rebel soldiers to eat.
Speaking through an interpreter he said, "I was hungry and I was going over to eat but my childhood friend who had joined ULIMO told me to not eat some of that, because he said that human being heart was in the food they were eating."
"We named the bridge so we don't forget about what we went through under him."
When a picture of the bridge named after Jabateh was shown on his monitor, Jabateh stared for a long time at the picture as the witnesses continued with their testimony.
A pair of siblings – a brother and sister - took the stand. The man said he had been carrying a bag of rice when he met Jabateh’s soldiers.
They cut the boy with a bayonet and took the rice. The boy ran to his father. He went to confront Jabateh who then sent the boy away and ordered the father stripped naked and beaten to death.
The daughter then came to confront Jabateh and he became angry and ordered her raped by four of his soldiers. She will continue her testimony tomorrow.
Monday was a public holiday in the U.S. and friends and employees of Jabateh were found working at his business, Jabateh Brothers Loan Services in South West Philadelphia. Employees’ friends appeared to dismiss the witnesses, with some questioning their truthfulness.
“I know Mohammed, he’s a good man. What my problem is why lie?” Half of these witnesses are lying,” said a woman who would not give her name but described herself as Jabbah’s ex-girlfriend. “A good man to all of us.”
Mohammed Jabateh faces up to 30 years in federal prison if found guilty on the four federal criminal charges.
He’s being prosecuted for lying on his immigration asylum application in 1998, and repeated the “lies” two years later when he filed application to upgrade his status to a permanent residence.
But his relatives and friends see a different man.
“This man is a very, very good human being."
"He’s the reason why I’m driving this van right here. He’s a very good man to all of us here, and to many people who are not here right now,” said a 42-year old former employee of the Jabateh Brothers Loading Services who would not give his name.
“Mohammed is great man."
"In fact he did a lot of goods for us. Many of us started our hustle here because he let us come and work here,” said another 37-year friend and former Jabateh employee.
Prosecutors closed the day Tuesday disclosing they will be headed to Liberia to cross examine defense witnesses who are likely to testify via live satellite feeds from the American embassy in the Liberian capital, Monrovia.
The federal judge on the trial seemed determined Tuesday to give equal access to the jury by witnesses from all sides, “even if we have to continue the case for a few more days.”
He also stated that defense witnesses will have the opportunity to testify at a suitable location in Monrovia if the American embassy does not grant access to its facilities to them.
Report by Jackson Kanneh
This story was collaboration with New Narratives with funding from Civitas Maxima. The funder had no say in its content