US Trials of Two Alleged Top Liberian Warlords Delayed

Laye Sekou Camara watches his troops

The US trials of two alleged notorious Liberian warlords, scheduled for May and July, will be delayed until late this year at the earliest.

Moses Wright, a former Brigadier General of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) is currently scheduled to go on trial in the Eastern District of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in July but the trial is likely to be delayed according to prosecutors. The trial of Laye Sekou Camara, alias “K-1” or “Dragon Master”, of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), was scheduled to be in the same court in May but has now been delayed until November 27.

Following from the successful convictions of Mohammed Jabbateh and Jucontee Thomas Woewiyu for criminal immigration fraud the Pennsylvania District Attorney’s office is pursuing the same charges against Wright and Camara. Assistant U.S. Attorney L.C. Wright will again lead the prosecution team. Prosecutors alleged that in separate immigration applications the two concealed information about their roles in Liberia’s two civil wars.

Assistant District Attorney L.C. Wright(left) speaks to reporters.

In August 2016 “Defendant Moses Slander Wright knowingly made a false statement under oath in a proceeding, and matter relating to naturalization, citizenship, and registry of aliens,” according to the indictment. The indictment said Wright lied when he answered “No” to the question: “During your time as Commanding General, did you ever witness or order any troops to engage in acts of persecution or murder?” Prosecutors alleged he made that statement knowing that he had committed “murder, assault, false arrest, and false imprisonment, and aiding and abetting murder, assault, false arrest, and false imprisonment.”

Moses Wright was a top Liberian army commander during the administration of deceased President Samuel Doe. Credit: Center for Justice and Accountability.

The indictment alleged Wright held many positions in Liberia’s army, including commander, master sergeant and brigadier beneral and was among army soldiers who were loyal to Samuel Doe, the Liberian President at the time. Wright was credited with helping foil a coup by General Thomas Quiwonkpa against Doe in 1985. After the failed coup, army soldiers loyal to Doe “captured and executed General Quiwonkpa and hundreds of Gio and Mano soldiers and carried out reprisal attacks that killed hundreds of Gio and Mano civilians,” according to the indictment. Five years before that, Doe had successfully overthrown, William R. Tolbert, the elected President in a coup.

Wright, 70, faces a maximum sentence of 165 years in prison and a $US7 million fine if convicted – the largest faced by any defendant facing immigration fraud charges in the United States.

Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission found Wright, Moses Thomas, James Chelly and George Dweh, who later became Speaker of Liberia’s interim Assembly between 2003-2006, had killed “27 Gio and Mano family members in a massacre in June 1990 on Doe’s orders.” Dweh, an executive of the Movement for Peace and Democracy rebel group, died in April 2020 without being held to account for this alleged role in the killings and other human rights violations during Liberia’s second civil war. In August 2022, a Philadelphia Court ordered Thomas, a top commander of Doe’s Special Anti-terrorist Unit (SATU), to pay $US84m to victims of the 1990 St. Peter’s Lutheran Church massacre in which 600 men, women, and children were slaughtered. The Court had found Thomas liable for the killings in September 2021. Thomas fled to Liberia where the government has not pursued justice for crimes committed in the civil wars. The US-based Center for Justice and Accountability and the Liberian human rights organization, Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP) sued the government in the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice for “dereliction of duty” for not prosecuting Thomas for the killings.

Camara was a notorious general with the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) Photos from indictment

Camara, a top general for the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), was also infamously called the “More Mortar Man” by his fellow soldiers and civilians, because he was known for his ruthless use of the bomb propelling weapon. In August 2003 LURD’s assault on Monrovia helped to force Taylor to resign, ending the conflict. LURD committed 12 per cent of all civil war atrocities reported to Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The numbers are second only to Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia which committed 39 per cent of reported atrocities. The report did not mention Camara but TRC commissioners have stressed that their report did not include every crime committed during the wars.

In Camara’s 26-count indictment prosecutors say he was untruthful about his alleged role in the war in a visa interview with U.S. State Department personnel in Dakar, Senegal in 2012. The indictment quoted a US Country report from 2003 as saying that Camara “was in hiding after he allegedly killed a fellow LURD General known as Black Marine.”

Camara will be the first commander of LURD to face trial. Other defendants have been with the AFL, Ulimo and NPFL. Members of LURD and MODEL have been charged in the United Kingdom.

Liberia has not legislated a war crimes court to prosecute alleged perpetrators of its civil wars, in which an estimated 250,000 people were killed. Because of that prosecutors in the US and Europe have decided not to deport accused perpetrators there but to instead use the principle of “universal jurisdiction” which holds that crimes committed “against humanity” can be tried anywhere.

This story was produced in collaboration with FrontPage Africa as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project.