Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ex-warlord says CIA assisted his jailbreak

Ex-warlord says CIA assisted his jailbreak

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Charles Taylor, Liberia's former president and Africa's first head of state to stand trial in an international court, claims the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) helped his escape from a US jail.

Taylor denied all of the 11 charges of war crimes against him in his first testimony Tuesday at the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague.

One of the most intriguing mysteries of Taylor's rise to power from a rebel leader to president centers on his 1985 escape from a US penitentiary in Plymouth, Massachusetts, while waiting extradition on charges of embezzling $900,000 in Liberia.

He informed judges on Friday that he did not escape on his own and was assisted, and rather released by agents from the CIA.

The CIA had ulterior motives for getting him out of jail, Taylor said. He was to be part of a CIA-plot to overthrow then President Samuel Doe under a coup led by a Liberian military leader, Thomas Quiwonkpa.

Taylor said he was “100 percent positive” that the spy agency was providing weapons for the plot, The New York Times reported.

Before his “release,” he says, a Liberian visitor had “briefed” him of the CIA's role in the Quiwonkpa plot, the training of rebels, and the plan to invade Liberia.

He then moved on to describe the prison break, saying a guard virtually “released” him by walking him through the maximum security side to the minimum security side.

The guard handed him over two men he took for CIA agents who helped him climb out of an open window and jump over the fence to freedom.

He fled to Mexico, then to Belgium and finally returned to Africa. He, however, arrived too late for Quiwonkpa's coup.

A CIA spokesman, Paul Gimiglia, rejected the allegations as “completely absurd,” but the agency later declined to comment further on the true nature of its relations with Taylor, either before or after the escape.

“We do not, as a rule, comment on these types of allegations,'' a CIA statement said.

Taylor is accused of supporting Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels during neighboring Sierra Leone's 1991-2002 civil war, in which an estimated 500,000 people were killed while thousands more were mutilated, raped or otherwise assaulted.

Taylor's testimony is expected to last several weeks. However, the Baptist lay preacher whose six-year regime pillaged Liberia has yet to answer to allegations of atrocities committed from 1996 to 2002 by the militias he controlled in Sierra Leone.

He insists that the object of his reign of terror was to bring peace to the region, denying all of the charges as lies and rumors.

In a shocking defense speech, Taylor on Thursday defended his orders that soldiers display human skulls at roadblocks was an effective way of installing order.

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