NAIROBI, Kenya —While giving evidence in his trial for war crimes, former Liberian president Charles Taylor claimed, US agents were complicit in his escape from a maximum security prison in Boston in 1985 and subsequent re-emergence as a rebel leader in his native Liberia.
At the time the CIA dismissed Taylor's claims as "completely absurd" but now the Boston Globe has uncovered evidence that Taylor's tales may be less fanciful than they first seem.
In response to a freedom of information request filed by the paper six years ago, the Defense Intelligence Agency confirmed that Pentagon and CIA agents worked with Taylor starting in the early 1980s.
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"After a quarter-century of silence, the US government has confirmed what has long been rumored," writes Brian Bender, "Taylor, who would become president of Liberia and the first African leader tried for war crimes, worked with US spy agencies during his rise as one of the world’s most notorious dictators."
From the Globe's report:
"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. However, the exact duration and scope of the relationship remains hidden. The Defense Intelligence Agency said the details are exempt from public disclosure because of the need to protect 'sources and methods' safeguard the inner workings of American spycraft, and shield the identities of government personnel."
Nor was Taylor's prison time at Plymouth his first visit to Boston as the Globe recounts:
He arrived in 1972 and attended Chamberlayne Junior College in Newton and studied economics at Bentley College in Waltham. While in Boston, he emerged as a political force as national chairman of the Union of Liberian Associations. In 1977 he returned to Liberia and joined Samuel Doe’s government after a coup in 1980. Taylor served as chief of government procurement in the Doe regime but fled Liberia for Boston in 1983 after being accused of embezzling $1 million from the government. He was arrested in Somerville in 1984 and jailed in Plymouth pending extradition.
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The revelations raise serious questions about the US intelligence agencies choice of allies, as Taylor is accused of all kinds of horrible crimes.
They also throw doubt on Taylor's own claims that his trial for war crimes is part of a grand Western conspiracy against a strong African leader.