Sunday, July 19, 2009

Ex-Leader of Liberia Cites C.I.A. in Jailbreak



July 18, 2009

Ex-Leader of Liberia Cites C.I.A. in Jailbreak


PARISCharles Taylor’s career from rebel leader to Liberian president, diamond dealer and despotic warlord, still holds many mysteries. But this week in a court in The Hague, where he is on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity, he seemed eager to lift the veil on one of them.

Part of the lore surrounding Mr. Taylor is that he broke out of jail in Plymouth, Mass., while awaiting extradition on charges of embezzling $900,000 in Liberia. He told his judges that he did not escape on his own; rather, he said, he was helped by the Central Intelligence Agency.


The plan, he said, was for him to join a Liberian military leader, Thomas Quiwonkpa, who was plotting a coup against President Samuel Doe. Mr. Taylor said he was “100 percent positive” that the C.I.A. was providing weapons for the plot.


The escape has little bearing on the charges against him at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, which is focused on allegations of atrocities committed from 1996 to 2002 by the militias he controlled in Sierra Leone. But the judges have allowed Mr. Taylor’s lawyer to lead him through the turmoil of his life and West Africa’s.


This week, hearings have covered Mr. Taylor’s time as a student activist in the Boston area, his return to Liberia and stint in the government. By September 1985, he had spent 15 months in the Plymouth County Correctional Facility awaiting extradition to Liberia.


One day, Mr. Taylor said, Harry Nyguan, a Liberian, visited “and he briefs me on what is being put together” by the C.I.A. Mr. Nyguan told him, he said, of the C.I.A.’s role in the Quiwonkpa plot, the training of rebels and the plan to invade Liberia.


Mr. Taylor said he pressed Mr. Nyguan to get him released.  Soon afterward, he said, a guard, a supervisor, came to tell him he might be freed, but asked if he would be able to leave the United States quickly. “He verified my passport,” Mr. Taylor said.


“One evening about 10, he came and opened my cell, it was during lockdown time,” Mr. Taylor went on. “Then he escorted me from the maximum security side through several gates to the minimum security side.”


Two other men were waiting. “We got to the windows,” he said. “These guys took a sheet. We tied it on the bars. We came down and got over the fence.” A car with two men was waiting outside, he went on. “They had instructions to take me as far as New York, where I wanted to go.”


His car, he said, was “a kind of secure car, a kind of government car,” he said. The drivers insisted he stay inside, rather than join his wife’s car, to avoid being stopped by state troopers, he continued. “I did not pay any money,” he said. “I did not know the guys who picked me up.”


News reports followed, saying that “I had broken out of jail,” Mr. Taylor said. “I am calling it my release.” He said he made his way to Washington, then to Atlanta and to Texas, where he drove unhindered across the border with Mexico, using his Liberian passport with his name. From Mexico City, he said he flew to Belgium and from there to West Africa.


By the time he reached Ghana, he said, the coup attempt by Mr. Quiwonkpa had failed. “He was cut into pieces and his flesh was eaten by the military at the time,” Mr. Taylor said. The tradition of eating enemy flesh in Liberia has been mentioned by other trial witnesses.


A C.I.A. spokesman, Paul Gimiglia, said that the idea that the agency would help Mr. Taylor break out of jail was “completely absurd.”


David Crane, the former prosecutor who indicted Mr. Taylor in 2003, said he was fascinated by the account.


“There is the official version that he escaped, but there was always that rumor that he was helped by the C.I.A.,” he said by telephone. “We were never able to confirm it.”


Mr. Crane, a former United States military intelligence official who now teaches law at Syracuse University, continued: “He actually now mouthed those words, I almost gasped. Fascinating possibilities are opening up.”



Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company


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