Truth and Treason
By Tarty Teh

If Liberia's association with the United States was ever worth anything, it is worth the value of the ticket for each Liberian who entered the United States. Even if academic pursuit was not one's mission for entering the United States, the tour of the country should awake any latent curiosity in even the most phlegmatic among us.

The American democracy is not static but dynamic in that there is always some crisis brewing, yet it remains in the confines of agreed-upon rules for social interaction. Just about every fringe precept for rebellion against the mainstream culture has happened in the United States. But each such group was not eliminated, but allowed to travel the pre-defined paths of self-expression sufficient to satisfy the exercise of their basic rights.

But it was not always that way. There was tyranny, and there were troubles for which there were no constitutional prescriptions. The Constitution took each tendency into consideration and made adjustments, not for denying rights but, for latitudes to exercise them. But before all this was possible, someone had to say ''Give me liberty or give me death.''

The oppressors had met enough resistance to weaken their resolve to dole out death even as a choice on their control menu. It was treasonable to defy the British throne as the Americans did. But they have since made their own laws about how they should be governed. And that, too, was not a walk in the park. They shot at one another, and they wept, before they joined hands to fashion new ways for co-existence.

My question is, where is that similar point in the history of Liberia? When will we have had enough?

On August 19, 2000, my friend Raleigh F. Seekie, former chairman of the United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO), was transferred to the Monrovia Central Prison. He was picked up about a week ago and kept at an army barracks without being charged with a crime. Now we have learned through relatives that he is being accused of, but not yet charged with, treason.

The accusation is based on the suspicion of the government of President Charles Taylor that Raleigh Seekie is a sympathizer of the dissident group Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) that now occupies the northern Liberian county of Lofa.

There are half dozen other prominent Liberians who once worked with the Taylor government who have been in prison for close to two years on the same charge of treason. Most of these people are my friends. I have always felt that the choices they made would not matter with me regarding our friendship. After all, I had treated them to what I considered a fair dose of my free advice. But I still wondered what manner of man would work for Charles Taylor.

I can understand the initial confidence that one would join the Taylor government as a way of making a change for the better. But most remain engaged with the Taylor government until it is too late. It cannot be loyalty alone either. In fact, I have spoken with some who simply say they are stuck. They cannot, however, explain it in a way that makes sense to me. But I believe them. Maybe they need a push from without if they cannot initiate action from within. They know it's bad; we know it's bad. We are only short on the action part.

My friend Madison Wion was killed in September 1998, by the Taylor government, at the gate of the U.S. embassy in Monrovia, Liberia. His body rotted in the African sun while the United States and the Taylor government traded diplomatic notes about who should claim the body of Wion. The United State capitulated. Wion was buried on the U.S. embassy ground.

After that, Raleigh Seekie remained the employee of the Taylor government, but he also remained my friend. It may be too late for Seekie because as hard as I have fought, I have not been able to free my friends Bai Gbala, David Gbala, Ammah Youlo, and James Chelly from the grips of Charles Taylor for the easily applied charge of treason.

I still have friends in the Taylor government - Tambakai Jangaba, Blamoh Nelson, Sam Jackson, and Juah Toe Wollo Gbe Nimley Mornokomana Nyandueh. I never knew Vice President Enoch Dogolea, but that did not stop him from being killed. I am still asking for an autopsy report about what the Taylor government would allow to stand as the reason he died.

What are these friends waiting for before they abandon the ship? Doing so might have the positive effect of highlighting President Taylor's uselessness perhaps to a degree that he himself might see reason to quit. Are they waiting to be caught and humiliated, or is it really that good inside?

Democracy is a practice, not a ritual. If you don't like what you see, you say something. If it does not change, you do something. So what are we waiting for? Is there anything left that Charles Taylor has not done to us? And why are we waiting for him to do it?

Taylor has managed to shut 220,000 mouths by killing those who would speak through them. After that, the next killing has got to be easier. Yet we wait.