Liberian Ex-Dictator & War Criminal Charles Taylor Worked With Pentagon, CIA
At his 2009 war crimes trial, former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor claimed that he’d worked with U.S. intelligence agencies. The brutal despot, who sparked a bloody decade-long civil war in his homeland that claimed 120,000 lives, told the United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone in the Hague, Netherlands that American agents even helped him bust out of a Massachusetts jail. The CIA rejected his claims as “completely absurd.”
Now it looks like Taylor was telling the truth. In response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Boston Globe, Pentagon officials have disclosed more than 48 once-secret documents detailing the U.S. relationship with Taylor, who was considered a useful asset for collecting information on regional adversaries like Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi during the Cold War. The U.S. worked hand-in-hand with Taylor as he rose to become one of the world’s most infamous dictators.
The Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon’s spy arm, is keeping many details of Washington’s cooperation with Taylor under wraps, citing national security and protection of American spies and other intelligence assets. But U.S. intelligence officials spoke with the Boston Globe about America’s four-decade ties to the United States.
Taylor attended university at Bentley College in Waltham, Massachusetts in the 1970s. There, he got involved in Liberian opposition politics, returning to his homeland after Samuel Doe seized power in a 1980 coup. He served as chief of government procurement but fled back to Boston after being accused of embezzlement. He was arrested in Somerville in 1984 and jailed while extradition proceedings began.
Then, in 1985, Taylor “escaped” from a prison in Plymouth. At his 2009 war crimes trial, he claimed that someone– presumably U.S. agents– allowed him to walk out of Plymouth.
“I am calling it my release because I didn’t break out,” he testified, claiming a guard came to his cell late one night, opened the door and led him to a window with sheets tied to the bars enabling him to shimmy down to freedom. Taylor testified that two men, presumably U.S. agents, were waiting for him in a car outside the prison. They drove him to New York where he met his wife and fled to Mexico before returning to Africa.
Taylor ended up in Libya, where he recruited and trained a small rebel army, the National Patriotic Front for Liberia. There, he may have provided Washington with valuable intelligence on Muammar Gaddafi, who was Public Enemy #1 for a period in the 1980s following the bombing of a Berlin discotheque that killed 2 U.S. soldiers and the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, an attack which killed 270 people, most of them Americans.
Taylor may have also been useful as a source for information on other important issues of the day, such as Soviet activities in Africa and illegal arms sales.
By 1989, Taylor was commanding a rebel army in Liberia. After a series of 1990s civil wars, he emerged as the country’s leader. He was elected president in 1997.
During the civil war the ravaged neighboring Sierra Leone from 1991-2002, Taylor stoked the flames of conflict. His forces raped, tortured, mutilated murdered and terrorized civilians. They recruited child soldiers. And Taylor enriched himself by funding atrocities in Sierra Leone in return for “blood diamonds.”
Taylor resigned the Liberian presidency following his 2003 war crimes indictment, but his past links to Washington made the Bush administration reluctant to push for his arrest. He lived in open exile in U.S. ally Nigeria for three years before he was finally handed over to the Special Court for Sierra Leone in 2006. He pleaded not guilty to numerous counts of murder, rape, targeting civilians and using child soldiers. The Court is currently reviewing a veritable mountain of evidence, including Taylor’s own seven-month-long testimony.
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