Anniversary of Terror: October 12 - Operation Octopus
By Abdoulaye W. Dukule
October 12, 2001
I was reminded this morning - as if anyone could ever forget - by a newsman that October 11 would mark the one-month anniversary of the terrorist attack on America. Memorial services will be held in New York and Washington for the victims.
As we Liberians join Americans in their prayer, sharing their grief and anger, we must remember our own trauma.
We too have an anniversary to remember. It was 9 years ago, on October 12, 1992, that master terrorists drugged children, some as young as 10 and 12, who had been abducted and trained over night to shoot AK-47 and launch them on the sleeping and peaceful people of Monrovia. It was October 12, 1992, that children, thousands of them, were sent by waves into Monrovia. They were told that Monrovia had fallen, that they could walk in and take everything they could find. They shot people at random in Gardnersville and Barnersville. They threw grenades in houses while people were asleep. They started to move people from their homes and sending them "behind the lines." Professor Cooper, from the University of Liberia was among them.
This anniversary reminds us also of the deception the Master of Terror is capable of. A couple months earlier, the IGNU had been informed that the NPFL was sending "sleepers" into Monrovia, especially around the Prince Johnson base. When former US President Carter came to Monrovia, Dr. Sawyer told him that there were indications that Mr. Taylor and Prince Johnson were preparing to launch an attack on the city. Mr. Carter went to Gbarnga. He was met like a king. The NPFL leader had tens of his Small Boy Units around them. For the occasion, they were dressed, cleaned and paraded during an old-fashioned Southern Baptist ceremony. Mr. Carter was told that these were all orphans rescued from villages. Of course, Mr. Carter bought the lie. When he returned to Monrovia, he said that IGNU was getting paranoid for no reason. He said Mr. Taylor was ready for peace. He sent a handwritten letter to all the heads of state of ECOWAS, saying that Mr. Taylor was ready for disarmament and prepared for elections, according to the Yamoussoukro Accords. Mr. Carter went on to ask ECOWAS in the same letter that in the spirit of peace and confidence building, ECOMOG should remove its heavy weaponry from Liberia. The former US president flew to Abidjan where he spoke to Houphouet-Boigny and then to Lagos to meet with Ibrahima Babaginda. IGNU was not satisfied and called the ECOMOG Field Commander General Ishaya Bakut and told him about the possibilities of an imminent attack. He said IGNU should stop worrying and being paranoid, adding that "Taylor" would never be that crazy. He thought he knew what was going behind the lines.
Ten days after that, the NPFL attacked. The plan concocted with Prince Johnson backfired. Prince Johnson was mad at the Interim Government for printing a new currency, which made the millions of dollars he had looted from the banks totally obsolete. The only place he could spend them was in Greater Liberia. He felt betrayed by the IGNU and therefore entered a pact with Taylor. He promised to help him take over Monrovia. When Taylor troops arrived, Prince Johnson found out that he was supposed to be the first casualty. He discovered that many of his lieutenants were working for Taylor. He too had a plan of his own: get rid of Taylor as soon as they get rid of Sawyer. This is the same scenario that was played in April 1996, where Kromah stood in the shoes of Prince Johnson and Roosevelt Johnson was in the seat of Sawyer. Interesting as a footnote, the most trusted lieutenant of Prince Johnson was Varney who was working for Taylor and the guy Kromah trusted most was Paul Mulbah, Taylor's current Chief of Police...
The attack launched on October 12, 1992, would go on for weeks. The people of Monrovia remember Mr. Taylor going on his radio and asking every one to assemble at the Sports Commission and the Antoinette Tubman stadium. Just like Pinochet did in Chile in 1973. In the meantime, he was telling the world that he was on Broad Street and that Monrovia had fallen to him, causing celebrations in some hotels in Abidjan.
On the night of the 19, Mr. Taylor said he would take Monrovia by midnight. He asked ECOMOG to raise their white flag and stay away. ECOMOG asked Dr. Sawyer to move onto one of their gunboats for safety. Dr. Sawyer refused. That night, five rockets fell into Monrovia, each missing the Ducor Hotel where Sawyer lived with thousands of displaced people just by a few yards. About fifty people got killed that night. There were no ambulances. Hospitals were closed. ECOMOG was fighting around the swamps. People who got wounded by the rockets bled to death. At one point, hundreds of people at the Ducor were rushed into the basement. We sat helplessly as gunshots raged around Monrovia and rockets dropped on people. General Bakut called in the middle of the night to say that the ECOMOG base had been attacked. The Senegalese were deployed around the swamps. The Guinean contingent fought in Gardnersville. The Ghana contingent was around Roberstfield. Thousands of people died that night, but Mr.Taylor did not make it to Monrovia.
Colonel Mountaga Diallo, the current Chief of Staff of the Senegalese Army, was head of his country's contingent in Liberia. He had to send home all his men who had taken part in the fight. He said the men were emotionally drained and traumatized because they had to shoot at children, who were coming at them, with guns like waves of killer-ants. For soldiers who had just returned from the Gulf War, it was another kind of battle. The peacekeepers had to kill thousands of children. These children were drugged and given guns to shoot. A great number of them were trapped in swamps and starved to death.
The day Mr. Gordon Somers landed in Monrovia to begin his work as Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General, a rocket dropped in Vai Town, on a family having lunch. Eight people died, including five children. We took Mr. Somers to see it. Two days later, another rocket dropped on a house near the airport, killing four people, killing another family. One of the rockets missed the Carter Center, dropping in the yard. Another one dropped on the grounds near the American Embassy.
That was 9 years ago, to the day. Those who are asking that we forget the ugliness of the war to move forward were probably safe some place else. They did not see the bodies of children swimming in blood. They did not see the thousands of people displaced, starving on sidewalks and in abandoned buildings in Monrovia. They did not hear rockets dropping on their neighbors.
Liberians may forgive or not, but they must not forget. As we talk about new peace initiatives in the MRU and fighting terrorism worldwide, we must not keep in mind that the people running our country created terror, through violence and deception. Somebody has to be held accountable for all the dead.
October 12, 1992. Someone has to pay for that act. We cannot move forward until someone come up and take responsibility for the killing that went on.
For the past twelve years, ECOWAS resources and strength have been devoted to peace issues. Every policy for regional integration and economic development in the Mano River Union as well as in ECOWAS has been put on the backburner. Millions of people have been displaced and rendered homeless. This is something to never forget. And someone has to answer to the call of Justice. We must not pretend it did not happen.
Just as victims of slavery and the Nazi Holocaust want the world to remember those crimes against humanity, Liberians should remember Octopus. Before we forgive, we must deal with that national trauma. Those who organized that killing are here. It was just 9 years ago. The orphans and widows are here to remind us. The mass graves are out there. The killers are still here. They will repeat it again, as they did in April 1996 and September 1998. It's their only way of doing politics.
If we forget, we will be subjected to the same. The killers must be brought to justice.
As a footnote, Octopus took place while there was a ECOWAS peace conference taking place in Cotonou, Benin. One of the issues to be discussed was that of the ECOMOG weapons in Liberia and the Carter letter. A delegation of the NPFL was staying at a hotel, waiting to take its seat behind the Liberian flag, had Monrovia fallen that night...