Philadelphia, PENNSYLVANIA – More witnesses appeared in court here today to strengthen the U.S. government case that ex-rebel General Mohammed Jabateh, AKA Jungle Jabbah, lied when he claimed asylum in the US. U.S. prosecutors edged closer to wrapping up their case.
One witnessed told jurors that his wife died two days after she was taken away by Jabbah and raped in 1994, in a remote village. Witness 21 alleged that Jungle Jabbah raped his wife while she was 4 months pregnant. The violent rape forced a miscarriage of her 4-month pregnancy and shortly after she died.
“He was very fearful,” said witness #2.
A female witnesses alleged that she was violently raped by 3 soldiers under Jungle Jabbah’s command, while 8 months pregnant. She said she bled and lost her baby as a result of the rape.
“He was very powerful,” said witness 21.
Liberia was made generally lawless throughout its 16 years of brutal civil war that displaced more than half of its population and left more than 250,000 dead. The country was divided in several fiefdoms by as many as seven warring militia factions.
The ULIMO faction which Jabbah once led as a commander, was formed by mostly Krahn and Mandingo refugees in neighboring Sierra Leone to take on the main armed group led by Charles Taylor in 1992. Taylor, himself a ruthless rebel leader, is serving a 50-year term after he was convicted by an International War Crimes Court in The Hague in 2013.
Jabbah is facing U.S. immigration fraud and perjury charges in a federal court in Philadelphia, the result of his immigration asylum application in 1998, when prosecutors say he lied about his alleged involvement in atrocities including rape, murder and using child soldiers during the Liberian war.
Witness testimonies will continue next Monday when the prosecution expects to rest its case. Defense witnesses will follow. As yet, it is not known how many witnesses the defense intends to present.
The week closed as horror stories of cannibalism, mutilations, rapes and slave labor took an extreme turn Wednesday, when an elderly widow of a western Liberian village chief testified against Jabateh. Her husband was killed and his heart removed.
“They brought his heart to me to cook. They said it is your husband’s heart, cook it,” she said through tears as she described a day of horror that plagued her small village in Grand Cape Mount County, where her late husband was Town Chief.
A stunned court watched the witness weep on the witness stand as she delivered perhaps the most detailed allegation of cannibalism by Ulimo rebels under the command of accused Zebra battalion commander, Jungle Jabbah.
“They gave his heart to me, they said cook it,” she repeated. “I was putting the fire wood together to make a fire, when one of the soldiers came in and said, ‘You have to be strong and cook it because my CO (short for commander) gave the order.’ And I’m not going to die for you, so if you don’t cook it, you will die.”
The Jabbah trial, only in its sixth full day and with 20 witnesses, is bringing to light untold stories of extreme acts of horror – some against rival combatants – and against helpless civilians allegedly forced into extreme slave labor, imprisonments and rape. The weeping woman, delivered a short testimony through a Liberian Vai dialect interpreter.
“I fell down and passed out, after a group of soldiers rushed in the house and ripped off my clothes because they were trying to rape me.”
Wednesday’s witness disclosure brought the practice of cannibalism by Ulimo rebels to levels never before heard at the trial. These latest horror stories allegedly perpetrated by ex-rebels from the Ulimo-K faction seem to indicate “a strong closing” surprise by prosecutors, said an observing legal monitor at the trial.
U.S. prosecutors disclosed today they plan to wrap up their arguments as early as next Monday, one day short of their initial estimate, adding that they also plan on returning to Liberia’s capital, to conduct in-persons cross-examination of Jabbah’s witnesses who are being gathered to testify.
His defense witnesses are not likely to make in-person appearances at the trial in Philadelphia for any number of reasons – including delays in getting their Liberian passports. One witness was denied a U.S. visa.
But in a move that puzzled court watchers here, Jabbah’s defense attorney Gregory Pagano announced he will not go to Liberia to deliver his argument, saying he plans to interview his witnesses via video link from Monrovia.
Jabbah’s wife, who will not reveal her name, seemed unruffled by Pagano’s announcement, saying “it’s his judgement to go or not to go.”
Asked about her thoughts so far on the trial, she said “I think the whole thing is unfair. How come his (Jabbah’s) witnesses are not being allowed to come?”
“In person testimony is better than anything.”
Her husband faces up to 30 years in federal prison, if found guilty on two counts of immigration fraud and two counts of perjury.
Story Reported By Jackson Kanneh
The story was a collaboration with New Narratives with funding from Civitas Maxima. The funder had no say in its content.