Harrowing testimony in Taylor trial as Court goes into recess 26 Mar 2008
Prosecution witness and former 'Death Squad' commander, Joseph "Zigzag" Marzah, has delivered gruesome testimony in the trial of Charles Taylor as the Court goes into a two-week judicial recess.

On Friday, 14 March 2008, a former commander of Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front for Liberia (NPFL) concluded his testimony before the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) in the trial of the former Liberian President.

After three days of harrowing testimony, in which Prosecution witness Joseph “Zigzag” Marzah described serving in a number of Taylor’s NPFL units throughout the 1990s, the defence concluded its cross-examination of the witness. The Court has now gone into judicial recess until 31 March.

After the initial invasion of Liberia from Côte d’Ivoire by Charles Taylor’s forces in late 1989, Marzah claimed to have sworn his loyalty to Taylor and fought under his command. The prosecution witness, whose evidence was repeatedly challenged by defence counsel Courtenay Griffiths on cross-examination as being contrived and unreliable, told the Court that under Taylor’s command the militia was encouraged to rape and loot, using stolen civilian property to “compensate” themselves as the forces received no fixed salary.  

Marzah described gruesome details in his testimony which was dismissed by the defence counsel for Charles Taylor as a figment of his imagination and asserted to be riddled with inconsistencies. Among the many harrowing details this witness also claimed that Taylor had instructed his fighters in Liberia to eat the flesh of their enemies in order to “set an example for the people to be afraid”. In alluding to the militia’s cannibalistic activities, which even targeted the ECOMOG peacekeepers, Marzah asserted that “he [Taylor] said we should eat them… Even the UN white people – he said we could use them as pork to eat.”

In the final day of testimony on Friday, Marzah disclosed that he, Taylor and Benjamin Yeaten were all part of the same “poro” society – a traditional West African secret religious sect – and that he and Taylor had eaten human hearts as part of  a spiritual ritual on several occasions.

Defence counsel put it to the witness that he had never spoken with Taylor on the phone or radio, or taken orders from him and that he was testifying in exchange for payments from the prosecution.

The day’s proceedings also included Marzah describing Taiwanese arms deliveries brought in ships by recently acquitted Guus Kouwenhoven after Taylor had been elected president. The Defence entered into evidence the Dutch Court of Appeal’s ruling of 10 March acquitting the Dutch businessman of war crimes charges and of violating a UN weapons embargo on the Charles Taylor regime. On 20 March 2008, the Dutch Public Prosecutor announced his intention to appeal the decision before the Dutch Supreme Court.

Thus far 21 prosecution witnesses have been called since the trial resumed on 7 January 2008. Proceedings in the case were suspended in July 2007 when Taylor refused to attend the court hearings, claiming that he would not receive a fair trial given the perceived disparity between the resources of the Defence in the case and those of the Prosecution.

The trial will resume on 31 March after the two-week recess.

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