Saying No To America’s $2M Bounty

By Joe Bartuah


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

November 17, 2003


In the days of old, perhaps during the reins of Julius Caesar, the evils that men did was said to have been interred with their bones, but in this age of electronic wizardry and globalization, the evils that men do tend to robustly haunt them, even to their graves.

And so I was not surprised the other day to have learned that Charles Taylor, that monstrous dictator who butchered over 200,000 of his compatriots, slaughtered thousands of foreign residents and also masterminded murders of over 50,000 Sierra Leoneans, has become uneasy at his immaculately furnished mansion in Calabar, since the United States Congress earmarked $2M in its Iraq assistance package for the apprehension of “an indictee” of the United Nations war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone.

Nigeria’s problematic guest was not alone; his insensitive hosts were also jittery. Minutes after the major media networks, especially the Voice of America and BBC disclosed the courageous move of the U.S. Congress, the Obasanjo Government is said to have reinforced the security shield around its opulent guest’s sprawling mansion.

The law of semantics being subjective, a Nigerian government spokesman later described the United States Congress’s laudable deed as “state sponsored terrorism”.

The Nigerian propagandist said his regime would “resist” any attempt to capture the man who gleefully presided over the unwarranted perishing of hundreds of thousands of his compatriots.

Unlike the Nigerian presidential spokesman who seems to have no remorse of conscience for harboring a globally known hardened criminal, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Liberia, Mr. Jacques Klein believes that the funds appropriated by the American Congress “is a signal to the African people that your lives are worth something”.

I agree with Mr. Klein. At least it is an overdue acknowledgement by the international community that every life is precious; that no one has the right to ruin the lives of others with impunity; that African lives are as unique as other lives around the globe.

Following the end of the second World War, a mechanism was set in motion to hunt down all the vultures that had devoured millions of lives in Europe and other parts of the world. Of course, many Nazi stalwarts and their collaborators were very cunning and so they tried to camouflage themselves in all fashions to elude the judicious wrath of justice, but relentless efforts by the international community resulted in most, if not all of them being apprehended. Even now, some Nazi war criminals are still being pursued; some of them were captured in their frail and senile ages, which would have in normal cases, aroused sentiment, but the global community ensured that universal justice took its rightful course.

Unfortunately, when heinous and despicable crimes are committed against African people, there is a tendency for double standard; there is always a temptation to circumvent international law, or contemptuously ignore such horrendous situation, as if Africans are sub-human. Downplaying terror unleashed against Africans persisted with little or no global attention until the horrific Rwanda explosion of 1994, in which one million people were systematically slaughtered.

Unlike in the past, African issues are now receiving some sort of international attention, but unfortunately, a reversed apathy seems to be saturating on the continent. While other world leaders are insisting that African human rights issue be brought to the fore to form an integral part of the quest for good governance on the continent, a minute group of Africans constituting the ruling clique and their beneficiaries want to sweep this extremely indispensable issue under the carpet. This is exactly what the Nigerians and their collaborators are doing. If Olusegun Obasanjo and his cohorts don’t care about the hundreds of Nigerian nationals arrested in 1990 and cold-blooded murdered by Charles Taylor, they must not psychologically torture the Liberian people, because Liberians who were actually victimized by Taylor’s atrocities would like to see him placed under the jurisdiction of universal justice.

Having said that, let me unequivocally register my opposition to the $2M bounty for Taylor’s capture, because I believe that it will be a waste of money. Rather than putting a $2M price tag on Charles Taylor’s surrender, the U.S. Government must instead channel that money through the UN system in Liberia, so that some of the rudimentary amenities Charles Taylor had cruelly deprived the Liberian people in the past 14 years can be made available to them.

Furthermore, I oppose the fabulous Taylor’s capture fee because, I have no doubt that the United States government of George W. Bush has the diplomatic and other logistical capacities and capabilities to swiftly ensure that Charles Taylor, a fugitive from American justice and a war crimes indictee is rightfully turned over to the war crimes tribunal in Freetown.

The offer of $2M appears pretentious to me. The United States of America, the world’s only superpower at the moment cannot convince me that it has unsuccessfully exhausted all possible means to apprehend that criminal in Calabar for which it is making this $2M offer. No, I just can’t believe that the United States, which effectively dismantled the formidable Berlin Wall; which presided over the crumbling of the Soviet Union and the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact, is incapable of whisking Taylor off Calabar to Freetown.

Was it not the United States that masterminded the fall of Slobodan Milosovic from grace to grass? Why must Taylor’s be an exception? It is not a double standard, or sidestepping of African issue?

If George Bush does not know how to get the most inhumane human species currently on the face of this globe, let him ask his father, George H.W. Bush as to how he apprehended and incarcerated Manuel Antonio Noriega, the former strongman of Panama, or how Pablos Escobar, the notorious Medellin drug czar was neutralized.

As I see it, either George Bush is trying to pretend to some political constituents in the U.S. that he cares about Africa, or the administration has not made up its mind yet about the catastrophic degradation ignited by Taylor that continues to plague and pauperize the Liberian people.

Earlier this year when Bush made up his mind for Saddam Hussein, the seemingly indomitable sheik who had presided over the petrol reservoir known as Iraq for 35 years to exit, the will of the American president prevailed. Even in our case, when Bush reasoned that enough was enough and it was now time for the murderous Taylor to vacate Liberia, the hitherto inordinately obstinate man reluctantly departed in tears, despite harboring the ambition to remain in power until the year 2024.

And so what’s the big deal about Taylor being taken from Nigeria on a three-hour excursion to Freetown? Is it an impossible mission for the United States? I don’t think so, except that the political will is not there yet. Lest I am misconstrued, I am not suggesting that the U.S. mount a military pressure on Nigeria.

However, what I do know is that the U.S. is a very influential member of the UN Security Council. It was the Security Council that set up the tribunal in Sierra Leone, and all member countries of the UN were mandated to fully cooperate with the tribunal. It is therefore unthinkable to even entertain the notion that Nigeria, a respected member of the UN intends to flout the tribunal’s indictment against Taylor.

Rather than dignifying Taylor’s notorious criminality with $2M, Bush must directly engage Obasanjo and convince him that it will be in the best interest of Nigeria to be seen on the side of universal justice, instead of being perceived as a regime that is knowingly aiding and abetting a notorious criminal suspect. I am convinced that a telephone call from Bush to Obasanjo followed by a candid conversation will put both leaders in the same logical mode.

Olusegun Obasanjo is one of the few respected leaders of Africa. In 1979 as a relatively young military officer, he restored the integrity of his country by returning Nigeria to a civilian democratic governance. In this way, he carved out a favorable niche for himself within the global community for which his compatriots again summoned him in 1999 to rescue the nation when Nigeria was adrift, due to perennial military misrule. Now at the pinnacle of his career, I don’t think the 66-year-old Nigerian leader has any inclination to mercurially transform his country into a pariah state for the sake of Charles Taylor, that peculiar species of the human race who has no regard for human life other than his.

Besides, Nigeria has made tremendous efforts and sacrifices towards sanitizing the explosive situation in the sub-region, which must be not be allowed to be negated by the Taylor saga. Once again I say to President Bush, help poor Liberians with the $2M and directly engage Nigeria to ensure that Taylor has his days in court.

About the Author: Joe Bartuah is a Liberian journalist currently residing in the U.S. He is the former managing editor of The NEWS newspaper in Monrovia. Bartuah was jailed for 37 days by the erstwhile Taylor regime in February 2001 when his newspaper exposed some of the corrupt practices of the Monrovia cartel.