Charles Taylor’s career from rebel leader to Liberian president, diamond dealer and despotic warlord, still holds many mysteries. But last week in a court in The Hague, where he is on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity, he seemed eager to lift the veil on one of them.
Part of the lore surrounding Taylor is that he broke out of jail in Plymouth, Massachusetts, while awaiting extradition on charges of embezzling US$900,000 in Liberia. He told his judges that he did not escape on his own; rather, he said, he was helped by the CIA.
The plan, he said, was for him to join a Liberian military leader, Thomas Quiwonkpa, who was plotting a coup against former Liberian president Samuel Doe. Taylor said he was “100 percent positive” that the CIA was providing weapons for the plot.
The escape has little bearing on the charges against him at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, which is focused on allegations of atrocities committed from 1996 to 2002 by the militias he controlled in Sierra Leone. But the judges have allowed Taylor’s lawyer to lead him through the turmoil of his life and West Africa’s.
This week, hearings have covered Taylor’s time as a student activist in the Boston area, his return to Liberia and stint in the government. By September 1985, he had spent 15 months in the Plymouth County Correctional Facility awaiting extradition to Liberia.
One day, Taylor said, Harry Nyguan, a Liberian, visited “and he briefs me on what is being put together” by the CIA. Nyguan told him, he said, of the CIA’s role in the Quiwonkpa plot, the training of rebels and the plan to invade Liberia.
Taylor said he pressed Nyguan to get him released.
Soon afterward, he said, a guard, a supervisor, came to tell him he might be freed, but asked if he would be able to leave the US quickly.
“He verified my passport,” Taylor said.
“One evening about 10, he came and opened my cell. It was during lockdown time,” Taylor said. “Then he escorted me from the maximum security side through several gates to the minimum security side.”
Two other men were waiting.
“A car with two men was waiting outside,” he said. “They had instructions to take me as far as New York, where I wanted to go.”
His car was “a kind of secure car, a kind of government car.”
The drivers insisted he stay inside, rather than join his wife’s car, to avoid being stopped by state troopers, he said.
He said he made his way to Washington, then to Atlanta and Texas, where he drove unhindered across the border with Mexico, using his Liberian passport with his name. From Mexico City, he said he flew to Belgium and from there to West Africa.
By the time he reached Ghana, he said, the coup attempt by Quiwonkpa had failed.
Paul Gimiglia, a CIA spokesman, said the idea that the agency would help Taylor break out of jail was “completely absurd.”