Very Distressing: Charles Taylor, Liberian Ex-president, Had CIA Ties

Charles Taylor
Former Liberian President Charles Taylor, currently on trial.

When I think of Charles Taylor, I think of “blood diamonds.”

And I am relieved that Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is currently President of Liberia, a country still recovering from the slave trade.

Still recovering from the devastation wreaked by Europe and the Americas.

So I was distressed to learn this week that Charles Taylor, currently on trial for Crimes Against Humanity, was at one point employed by the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency.

From Al Jazeera:

Liberia’s Charles Taylor, the first African head of state to be prosecuted for war crimes by an international tribunal, used to work with the CIA, according to a report in the Boston Globe from this week.

The report, based on information uncovered through a Freedom of Information Act request made six years ago, said that Taylor had a relationship with the US spy agency for years, although the details of what he actually did were unclear.

“The Pentagon’s response to the Globe states that the details of Taylor’s role on behalf of the spy agencies are contained in dozens of secret reports – at least 48 separate documents – covering several decades,” the US newspaper said.

“However, the exact duration and scope of the relationship remains hidden.”

A spokesperson for the ICC told the Globe that the Taylor-CIA relationship was unrelated to his charges at the court.

The Globe report backed up long-standing rumours of Taylor’s work with the CIA, which confirmed a relationship with Taylor beginning in the early 1980s.

Even though this happened during the Reagan administration, this still gives me no pride.

Charles Taylor?

Think “blood diamonds.”

And mass executions.

Taylor  is accused of 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity on claims that he armed Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in exchange for illegally mined, so-called blood diamonds.

I Believe Herman Cain

Herman Cain ad
Herman Cain and his Mona Lisa smile. Sincere, or creepy?

I believe Herman Cain.

I believe Herman Cain has not a single clue that groping a woman without her permission, trying to kiss her without her permission, and other bawdy actions, qualify as sexual harassment.

Herman Cain does not believe he sexually harassed anyone.

Consider Cain’s remarks regarding attorney Gloria Allred, hired by Sharon Bialek, one of the women who came forward alleging sexual harassment by Herman Cain, “Let me put it to you this way: I can’t think of anything I would hire her to do,” Cain laughed, referring to Allred. “I can’t think of a thing.”

I believe there are other men and women like Herman Cain who believe likewise.

Heard a few of them today on Chicago’s  WBBM as the station reported Cain’s suspension of his presidential campaign. “Give-em heck, Herman!” someone called to the candidate as he made his announcement.

I believe there are people who don’t get it.

It’s a question of ethics, and we don’t get to write our own rules.

Pres. Obama Comments on the BP Oil Spill Sounding Calm, Reasonable, Unclear, Weak

I did not feel reassured this evening as President Obama gave his first speech from the Oval Office. His topic, the BP oil spill, a crisis of incredible and ever-growing magnitude. His response, after 56 days of oil gushing into the Gulf and numerous flaccid responses from oil executives awash in ignorance?

Calm, cool and collected. Okay, I get that. This is “No drama Obama.” But I felt nothing from the President tonight. Worse yet, I’m unclear as to whether his administration has a plan for dealing with the oil spill. There was no call to arms, no rally cry. There were no specifics, no call to Congress, no fire in his belly at all.

It’s obvious that BP doesn’t have a clue, but it still appears that BP is in charge. Given the lack of care with which they approached the Deepwater Horizon project

Tonight, we did not hear the strong voice from the presidential campaign, full of promise and hope.

Enough. Below are some of the President’s thoughts from this evening, and some response.

Because there has never been a leak this size at this depth, stopping it has tested the limits of human technology. That’s why just after the rig sank, I assembled a team of our nation’s best scientists and engineers to tackle this challenge — a team led by Dr. Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and our nation’s Secretary of Energy. Scientists at our national labs and experts from academia and other oil companies have also provided ideas and advice.

Spare us any more chatter about Steven Chu’s Nobel Prize, Mr. President. While certainly laudable, and while I have no doubt he’s qualified for his Cabinet position, the prize was for past accomplishments. Unless the medal he won can be used to plug the leak in the Gulf, forget about it.

As a result of these efforts, we’ve directed BP to mobilize additional equipment and technology. And in the coming weeks and days, these efforts should capture up to 90 percent of the oil leaking out of the well. This is until the company finishes drilling a relief well later in the summer that’s expected to stop the leak completely.

What exactly does that mean? What exactly were your directives to BP, Mr. President? Does this mean, up to this point, BP was not doing all it could? Is it possible BP is cutting corners again?

Tonight I’d like to lay out for you what our battle plan is going forward: what we’re doing to clean up the oil, what we’re doing to help our neighbors in the Gulf, and what we’re doing to make sure that a catastrophe like this never happens again.

First, the cleanup. From the very beginning of this crisis, the federal government has been in charge of the largest environmental cleanup effort in our nation’s history — an effort led by Admiral Thad Allen, who has almost 40 years of experience responding to disasters. We now have nearly 30,000 personnel who are working across four states to contain and clean up the oil. Thousands of ships and other vessels are responding in the Gulf. And I’ve authorized the deployment of over 17,000 National Guard members along the coast. These servicemen and women are ready to help stop the oil from coming ashore, they’re ready to help clean the beaches, train response workers, or even help with processing claims — and I urge the governors in the affected states to activate these troops as soon as possible.

Because of our efforts, millions of gallons of oil have already been removed from the water through burning, skimming and other collection methods. Over five and a half million feet of boom has been laid across the water to block and absorb the approaching oil. We’ve approved the construction of new barrier islands in Louisiana to try to stop the oil before it reaches the shore, and we’re working with Alabama, Mississippi and Florida to implement creative approaches to their unique coastlines.

As the cleanup continues, we will offer whatever additional resources and assistance our coastal states may need. Now, a mobilization of this speed and magnitude will never be perfect, and new challenges will always arise. I saw and heard evidence of that during this trip. So if something isn’t working, we want to hear about it. If there are problems in the operation, we will fix them.

But we have to recognize that despite our best efforts, oil has already caused damage to our coastline and its wildlife. And sadly, no matter how effective our response is, there will be more oil and more damage before this siege is done. That’s why the second thing we’re focused on is the recovery and restoration of the Gulf Coast.

These are more specific, but they weren’t delivered with much confidence, and his later drift to talking about a new energy policy — well, we get that. That’s old news. Now is not the time to lobby. We need to clean up this mess, resisting every GOP urge (John Boehner) to give BP a pass.

Perhaps he was simply tired Tuesday night.  At any rate, I hope the President shows more spark tomorrow when he meets with BP execs. behind closed doors. If BP’s royalty don’t emerge from their meeting with POTUS looking like they just had a “Come-to-Jesus” moment, well, shame on President Obama.

Creating Jobs in Liberia with Palm Oil

From AllAfrica.com:

The Liberian government has announced that it is in the final stages of securing a U.S. $1.6 billion Indonesian investment in palm oil production which is expected to create 35,000 jobs.

Richard Tolbert, chairman of the country’s National Investment Commission, told AllAfrica in an interview that the investment, in south-eastern Liberia, will give a major boost to the country’s post-conflict economy.

“The government has about 33,000 persons on its payroll,” he said. “Here we have one company that will provide jobs for about 35,000 persons. These jobs, I believe, will create livelihoods for about 300,000 to 400,000 people.”

The investment deal is with Golden VerOleum, a company headquartered in Indonesia which is a subsidiary of Golden Agri-Resources (GAR), one of the world’s leaders in palm oil production.

Tolbert said when the agreement is concluded, Golden VerOleum will need more than 200,000 hectares for an oil palm plantation in the south-east, a region that is among the country’s poorest. He said in addition to creating jobs and helping to decentralize Liberia’s economy, the company has budgeted about $400 million for palm oil mills and eventually for refineries.

This is a promising move for a nation struggling to rebuild its economy. The key, of course, is that the industry grow in a sustainable manner.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf ‘s administration has attracted a number of big investments from multinational companies since her election in 2005, the article says. Arcelor Mittal, one of the world’s largest steel companies, began operations in Liberia in 2007 following a re-negotiation of the terms of an earlier agreement, the article says.

More on the Liberian economy:

Liberia’s economy was virtually shattered by the civil war that ended in 2003. An estimated 80 percent of Liberians were unemployed and the 2005 national budget totaled only $80 million. Taxes on the revenue generated by investments has helped the government to triple its national budget in just a few years, Tolbert said in the interview.

In her book, This Child Will Be Great, President Johnson Sirleaf leaves the door open for a second term, of course. In the aftermath of civil war, however, she says her greater goal is a peaceful, democratic transition to whoever succeeds her as president.

I hope she runs again.

Liberia: Poor Sanitation Killing Country’s Young

From AllAfrica.com:

Nineteen-year-old Beauty Phillips clutches her emaciated baby tightly to her chest. At seven months, Inga suffers from malnutrition.

On this chaotic Friday morning in the Slipway Clinic registration room, over one hundred mothers, their crying infants wrapped in traditional lappa cloth, wait on narrow wooden benches for hours to be seen.

"She is always sickly," explains Phillips about Inga’s constant vomiting and diarrhoea. "I get my water from the community hand pump, and for my toilet I’m going to the waterside or common toilet. This is why I think my daughter is getting sick."

One out of nine Liberian children die before their fifth birthday, or 110 out of every 1,000 live births, according to the Liberia Demographic Health Survey in 2007. Thirty-nine percent of children are stunted or short for their age.

Malaria, diarrhoea and respiratory illnesses like pneumonia are the leading causes of death here.

The crowded slum of Slipway lies along the polluted, marshy shoreline of the Mensurado River, near the heart of downtown Monrovia.

Although Liberia Water and Sewer are trying to reconnect pipes destroyed during the decades-long civil war, most residents cannot afford to buy or access the water.

Private septic tanks overflow regularly, and burning trash lies in heaps among the sewage surrounding the marshy pit latrines.

Liberia’s population is estimated at 3.5 million. "Over three million Liberians have no access to safe sanitation facilities," says Muyatwa Sitali, communications officer with Oxfam UK, which spearheads Liberia’s water, sanitation and hygiene consortium.

"Most people have no choice but to defecate in the open, where both their lives and dignity are at risk," Sitali explains.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has implemented a free nationwide public health care policy for children under five years old, a crucial step towards her promise to provide universal health care for all Liberians.

Read more here.

Liberia Sued in London Court for US $20M Debt

From the Liberian Daily Observer:

Two Caribbean-registered funds have launched a legal case in London, the UK, against Liberia over a debt that dates back to 1978.

Hamsah Investment and Wall Capital Limited sued Liberia at a British High Court Wednesday for a summary judgment to enforce a 2002 New York judgment for over US$20 million against Liberia.

The US$20 million represents about 5% of Liberia’s total fiscal budget for the year. The Liberian Government, led by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, is grappling with the challenges of post-war reconstruction and development amidst difficulties inherited from the civil war, and the effects of the recent global financial and economic crisis.

The New York Court rendered a default judgment against Liberia in 2002, at a time when the West African nation was embroiled in civil crisis.

The Liberian Government has swiftly reacted to the lawsuit by requesting a full trial and describing the plaintiffs as “vultures” that are after money from poor countries such as Liberia.

The troubling legal battle could pose serious setback to the country’s debt relief program under the Highly Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC), which was agreed upon during the Paris Club arrangement. Liberia’s total debt overhang last year was in the tune of US$5 billion.

Key line: "The US$20 million represents about 5% of Liberia’s total fiscal budget for the year."

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Takes Executive Mansion ‘On the Road’

I’ve decided to pay more attention to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia. I am just finishing This Child Will Be Great: Memoir of a Remarkable Life by Africa’s First Woman President. Johnson Sirleaf’s story is amazing, and her memoir offers an incredible history of Liberia.

It is not my intention now to write a review of the book. Yes, I recommend it. Johnson Sirleaf is brilliant, with a strong background in economics and finance. She appears to be keenly aware of the needs, potential and promise of Liberia, and the African continent as a whole. At this point, I want to keep up with President Johnson Sirleaf’s current work, so I’m introducing a new category on Turning Left: Liberia. Expect to read more in the days and weeks ahead.

Let me begin here: Johnson Sirleaf writes stirring and frightening accounts of the bloodbaths of former Liberian presidents Samuel K. Doe and Charles G. Taylor. Charles Taylor is currently on trial in the Hague. President Doe was captured in Monrovia, the Liberian capital, by faction leader Prince Y. Johnson on September 9, 1990. He was tortured and killed. According to Johnson Sirleaf’s memoir, Doe’s ears were sawed off before he died. No one deserves to die that way, Johnson Sirleaf comments, no matter what they’ve done.

So I’m going to start following Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. I believe she is worth of attention. For all I know, she could secretly be a scoundrel — but I don’t think so. My gut tells me she’s for real.

The latest I was able to find is a piece dated today regarding President Johnson Sirleaf taking her Executive Mansion "on the road," visiting the people where they live.

From AllAfrica.com:

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has virtually taken the Executive Mansion "on the road," as the implementation of development projects becomes more compelling, with the arrival of the dry season.

The President was, a little over a week ago, in Falie, Grand Cape Mount County, discussing with her direct representatives-the Superintendents-in the political sub-divisions of the country, their programs and challenges. A number of issues emerged at the forum which not surprisingly, included the administration of the County Development Funds (CDF).

The exercise has, understandably, come under serious criticism, owing to what critics see as a lack of transparency in its administration. The President acknowledged that some of the accusations may not be true. "Some may be rumors; some may be misunderstanding, but in several cases, funds have been misused or misallocated. Your responsibility is to take charge of the CDF in such a way that the mandates given by our Constitution to the three branches of Government are fully respected.

"We are not going to do anything in a confrontational way; we are going to do it through consultations, through dialogue, through working with colleagues with one common objective in mind, an objective that is common to all the branches and to all the leaders and to all the citizens of the County, and that objective is: to bring development to the people. I am sure that in that spirit, we will be able to find a solution, to come up with new procedures that will enable us to get more results and have more effectiveness and efficiency in the implementation of our County Development Projects," the Liberian leader reminded her officials, urging them to start a process of consultation to achieve the objective.

Too many times, she observed, leaders are removed from the people they serve. "Many times the People do not know; this is why sometimes the lack of information gives way to rumors and to wrong information. You are responsible to hold consultations with your citizens. You need to go into the districts, the communities, in the villages. Tell them what you are doing. Show them that the CDA comes out of a process in which they contributed. It’s their project. This is what has been done; these are the problems; this is our progress-so they can know. Because they are the ones that will defend you," she urged the County Superintendents.

I am completely impressed. This sounds just like the woman I read about in This Child Will Be Great. And I look forward to reading more.