Editor’s note: Using groundbreaking interviews by the author and documents just released by the government, Kenneth R. Timmerman, in his new book, “Shakedown,” portrays Jesse Jackson as a master manipulator of the public. WorldNetDaily today presents the first part of chapter 13. Look for the remainder of the chapter in tomorrow’s editions.
In February 1998, when Jesse Jackson made his first major African safari, Liberia and Sierra Leone were joined at the hip through war and death and devastation. Though they had featured some of the most luxurious beaches in the world just 20 years earlier, these beaches were now littered with human skulls. Jackson had a contact there, a man named Romeo Horton, who, like many educated Liberians, had gone to college in the United States and traveled between the two countries through the 1960s and 1970s. The disasters started later, in April 1980, when an illiterate Liberian army master sergeant named Samuel Doe seized power from the democratically elected President William Tolbert in a bloody coup.
Doe’s overnight rise to power was all the more shocking as the gruesome details of the coup emerged. “I remember waking up in Abijan on April 12, 1980, to hear the announcement of the coup,” a former Voice of America reporter tells me. “Along with a few other correspondents, we rented a private plane and flew into Monrovia just in time to witness the first executions on the beach. Samuel Doe cut the liver and heart out of President Tolbert and ritually mutilated them, leaving teeth marks in the flesh. I remember seeing pictures of Tolbert’s mutilated liver thumb-tacked to the walls of the John F. Kennedy Medical Center in Monrovia later on.”
The level of hatred of native-born African Liberians against the “Americos” (as the descendants of American slaves who had resettled in Liberia were called) was extraordinary and fueled the wars to come. As one Doe supporter wrote in bitter criticism of Jackson’s support for Liberian warlord Charles Taylor and the “Americos,”
We will not let Rev. Jackson P.U.S.H. us around. Despite what Jackson may think of us, we have the advantage of having lived the Liberian history on which he now preaches to us while he reads from cue cards held up to his face by his P.U.S.H. co-worker named A. Romeo Horton, who is a scion of ex-American slaves. These returned slaves kept us, African Liberians, as field slaves for well over 130 years in the land of our ancestors.
Jesse Jackson says he first met Romeo Horton in the early 1980s, during the reign of Master Sgt. Samuel Doe. “Romeo was in jail. People started reaching out for Liberians they knew, to help them,” Jackson says. “He was being kept naked in a jail cell when I and Dr. Benjamin Mays appealed for his release. When he finally came out he came here to Chicago, where we got him a job and a green card.” Horton would repay the favor to Jesse Jackson many years later.
‘War is a business’
One of Master Sgt. Doe’s henchmen, Charles Taylor, was put in charge of government purchasing after the “revolution,” but soon had a falling out with his boss. Taylor was on a trip to the United States in 1985 when Doe convinced the American authorities to put him in jail and filed extradition papers. Doe charged Taylor with embezzlement – a fancy way of saying he welched on kickbacks. Although Taylor was held in Plymouth, Mass., it was a member of the Newark, N.J., municipal council who spoke out against his extradition most effectively. One reason, sources say, was because the councilman had legitimate business dealings with the Liberian government through Taylor. Then Newark Councilman Donald Payne is today a Democratic member of Congress from New Jersey.
Taylor’s lawyer, Lester Hyman, a Democratic Party operative from Massachusetts, beat back the first set of extradition papers. Before a second set could be filed, Taylor skipped jail. Hyman would be rewarded many years later once Taylor replaced Master Sgt. Doe as Liberia’s strongman. In 1998, Taylor asked him to take over the lucrative Liberian shipping and corporate registry from an American group that refused to finance Taylor’s civil war.
After Taylor escaped from his U.S. jail he went to Libya, where Libyan intelligence put him through al-Mathabh al-Thauriya al-Alamiya (World Revolutionary Headquarters), “a sort of university for revolutionary guerrillas from all over Africa.” Among the many fellow Africans he met and befriended in Col. Gadhafi’s training camp was a former Sierra Leone army corporal named Foday Sankoh, who had recently taken an army radio communications course at Hythe in southern England. Soon, they would become partners in crime who used Jesse Jackson to further their interests.
On Christmas Eve 1989, Charles Taylor invaded Liberia from the neighboring Ivory Coast, launching a civil war that would last eight years. “One of Taylor’s first military innovations was his creation of the Small Boys Unit, a battalion of intensely loyal child soldiers who were fed crack cocaine and referred to Taylor as ‘our father.’ He and his troops were accused of unspeakable atrocities, ritual mutilations, random amputations of children and women, and even cannibalism.” Within two years, Taylor had seized 90 percent of Liberia, and a weakened central government called on Nigerian Gen. Ibrahim Babangida to send in troops to hold Taylor’s mercenaries at bay. Known as ECOMOG (Economic/Military Observer Group), the Nigerians failed to prevent the massacre by Taylor’s “boys” of five American Catholic nuns. The Nigerians would remain in the country off and on for the rest of the decade.
As Taylor the warlord grew in stature and force, so he grew in greed. His militias helped him grab control of the economy, making him master of Liberia’s timber and raw materials trade. Rumor had it he also trafficked in hashish and brought in $250 million per year through smuggling and legitimate trade. In March 1991, Taylor encouraged his old friend Foday Sankoh to take the war across the border into Sierra Leone. With help from Taylor, the troops – known as the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) – headed straight for the diamond mines. Taylor then appointed Sankoh “governor of Sierra Leone.” His soldiers jokingly referred to Sierra Leone as their Kuwait, because it assured them a regular supply of diamonds and cash.
When pressed publicly, Taylor attempted to put distance between himself and Sankoh’s RUF. But as Jesse Jackson and U.S. diplomats would report, Sankoh was Charles Taylor’s creation. Without Taylor, Sankoh and the RUF would never have existed. Indeed, Jackson says he first encountered Sankoh at a meeting with Charles Taylor.
The civil war in both countries dragged on during the early Clinton years, with incredible slaughter on all sides. In a country of 3 million, more than 200,000 Liberians were massacred during seven years of fighting, according to the State Department annual human rights report for 1997. Taylor regularly used peace agreements hammered out by the Nigerians or by the Organization of African Unity as an interval to rearm, then start fighting once again.
“He learned this from Gadhafi,” says Sierra Leone Ambassador John Ernest Leigh. “Peace agreements are stepping stones, not an end point.” After violating 13 peace agreements, Taylor felt strong enough to call for elections, making it clear that if he didn’t win he would unleash his child-soldiers for another round of mayhem. That’s when his gun-toting youngsters swarmed through the streets, chanting what became his unofficial campaign slogan: “He killed my pa. He killed my ma. I’ll vote for him.” Charles Taylor won more than 75 percent of the vote in the July 18, 1997, ballot, with his nearest opponent, Unity Party candidate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, getting just 9.6 percent. But his crushing victory fooled no one. The U.S. State Department concluded that the elections were “conducted in an atmosphere of intimidation, as most voters believed that Taylor’s forces would resume fighting if Taylor were to lose.”
At the same time, elections were organized in Sierra Leone, but under dramatically different conditions. The RUF had been severely weakened by an offensive spearheaded by the private South African security firm Executive Outcomes, which arrived in the country in May 1995 on contract to the government. By early 1996, reports David Pratt, a Canadian member of Parliament who made several fact-finding missions to the region on behalf of the Canadian government, “the RUF had been seriously damaged.” The well-planned, professional assault by the South African mercenaries forced Foday Sankoh’s guerrillas out of the diamond areas “that had helped to finance their military efforts.”
At that point, the United Nations agreed in February 1996 to send in international election monitors and to allow a longtime U.N. official, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, to break his contract (which expressly forbade him from political activities) and run for president. According to a former U.S. official, “Kabbah won key precincts with 130 percent and 180 percent of the vote. We know this from a Norwegian aid worker who compiled the vote tallies precinct by precinct.” Kabbah then cut a deal with the Nigerians, who became his protectors. Nigerian troops “set up a major heroin transport hub at the Freetown [Sierra Leone] airport to take the heat off of Lagos airport,” which had been identified by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency as the main drug center in Africa. “This was called restoring democracy,” the former official quipped.
In November 1996, “it looked as though the RUF was a spent force,” Pratt says. This prompted President Kabbah to join in yet another “peace plan” with Foday Sankoh to agree to terminate the contract with Executive Outcomes three months later. The results were quick and nearly fatal. In May 1997, disgruntled government soldiers known as “sobels” attacked the central jail in Freetown, releasing pro-RUF officers and an estimated 600 criminals, and seized control of the government. President Kabbah fled into exile in neighboring Guinea, and the coup leaders brought Foday Sankoh and the RUF into their junta. They suspended the constitution and placed artillery on the hills surrounding Freetown, threatening to bombard markets and schools if citizens rose up to protest the coup or to support Kabbah.
“The RUF quickly took control of the military junta,” the State Department reported, resulting in a total breakdown in law and order. The new regime “routinely jailed anti-regime civic leaders and students without judicial process; junta forces killed some detainees, amputated the arms of others and raped women as punishment for their opposition to the regime. After the coup, the court system ceased to function.”
The RUF also seized control of the rich diamond mines in the Kono District and the Tongo Field and shipped raw uncut diamonds across the border to Liberia in military helicopters operated by Taylor’s army. Meanwhile, a British mineral company, Commonwealth Gold, signed a 10-year contract with Charles Taylor in Liberia worth up to $7.5 billion, giving the company “exclusive access” to Liberia’s mineral resources, such as they were. The company offered to invest $700 million to set up a mining company called Liberesco, jointly owned with the Liberian government but actually controlled by Taylor himself. Liberia became a major exporter of diamonds, although it produced almost no diamonds domestically.
“The moral of this story is that war is a business,” said a former U.S. government official. “So you want to connect with whoever can make you a lot of money, no matter who they are. Everybody’s playing Africa for business opportunities – the politicians, the diamond traders, the arms dealers.”
This was the mess that Madeleine Albright and Bill Clinton handed Jesse Jackson as he was preparing his first trip to Liberia in February 1998.
A friend on the ground
“I saw him when I got off the plane. I recognized him,” Jackson says, recalling his reunion with Romeo Horton in February 1998 on the tarmac of the Monrovia airport. The presence of Jackson’s old friend Romeo Horton in the official welcoming party for the U.S. special envoy was no accident. Charles Taylor hadn’t thrived during the past eight years of war by lacking street smarts. He had called Horton back to Liberia specifically to brief him on Jesse Jackson, whom Taylor had yet to meet. Taylor was worried Jackson would hector him on human rights and asked Horton what to expect. Thanks to Horton’s intercession, the first meeting between the two, on Feb. 12, 1998, in Monrovia, went well. “Instead of meeting an adversary,” Taylor “met a friend” in Jesse Jackson, Horton told New Republic reporter Ryan Lizza.
The reasons were not hard to find. The Clinton administration, eager to avoid any serious engagement in potential trouble spots around the world, was equally eager to please the Black Caucus, a key block of support in the U.S. Congress. The administration’s only real policy concern in Liberia and Sierra Leone was to prevent a humanitarian disaster on the scale of the Rwanda massacres of 1994, which Clinton chose to ignore until it was too late. “Secretary Albright delegated Africa policy to [Congressman Donald] Payne and the Congressional Black Caucus,” says Sierra Leone’s outspoken ambassador to Washington, John Ernest Leigh.
A House International Affairs Committee staffer who followed Jackson’s meetings with Charles Taylor puts it even more bluntly. “The whole effort under Clinton was to mainstream Charles Taylor, and Jesse Jackson had a lot to do with it. Whenever Clinton was asked a question about Liberia, he turned to Jackson and to Donald Payne. Both believed Charles Taylor was the key to resolving the Western African wars, especially if they could prevail upon him to use his influence on RUF commander Foday Sankoh.
In late 1997, exiled President Kabbah of Sierra Leone took the suggestion of the British high commissioner in Sierra Leone, Mr. Peter Penfold, and turned to a private British security firm for help. Sandline International had close ties to Executive Outcomes and to companies such as Branch Energy and Diamond Works, which had earlier been granted concessions to the Sierra Leone diamond field in exchange for security assistance. With the full blessing of Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Kabbah contracted with Lt. Col. Tim Spicer, the former British special services officer who headed Sandline, to provide $28 million worth of weapons to help the Sierra Leone army stage a countercoup against Foday Sankoh and the military junta. Spicer considered himself a warrior and a gentleman, and had seen enough of the RUF rebels during earlier trips to Sierra Leone to need no convincing of the rightness of the cause. Spicer wrote an op-ed for the London Sunday Times after his involvement in the ill-fated arms deal was stopped by British customs authorities, who had not consulted the Foreign Office. In it, he paints a chilling picture of the RUF:
The rebels in Sierra Leone used to play a game with the villagers they terrorised; their own sinister version of Russian roulette. A series of grisly “punishments” would be scribbled on bits of paper: cut off hand, cut off head, kill, and the like. The papers were then screwed up and thrown on the ground. If you were one of the villagers unfortunate enough to be forced to choose one, whatever was written on it would be your fate. … Suffice it to say that when I heard President Kabbah, a decent man who had pledged to put a stop to all this kind of thing, had been overthrown, I offered to help.
Shortly after Jackson’s first official trip to Monrovia, the Nigerian ECOMOG soldiers liberated Freetown, pushing Foday Sankoh’s troops back across the border into Liberia where Taylor welcomed them quietly. In early March 1998, exiled president Kabbah returned. Two weeks later, Bill Clinton was flying overhead and rewarded Taylor with a 30-minute cheer-up call from Air Force One, which he made at Jesse Jackson’s request.
Clinton’s African safari
President Clinton’s March 22 to April 2 African safari, which cost U.S. taxpayers $42.8 million in transportation costs alone, put on display all the contradictions and competing interests of an administration that was known to its critics for its “rent-a-policy” attitude. Jesse Jackson and many of his friends were along for the ride and used their proximity to the president to enhance their own stature and, thus, their credibility as brokers and commercial partners for their African hosts. Although Clinton never stopped in Nigeria or Liberia, both countries preoccupied senior administration officials.
Shortly before the president’s departure, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Susan Rice told the House International Affairs Committee that the United States found Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha’s plans to run as the sole candidate in the August 1998 presidential elections “unacceptable.”
In Nigeria, we are holding Gen. Abacha to his promise to undertake a genuine transition to civilian rule this year. Victory by a military candidate in the forthcoming presidential elections would be unacceptable. The Nigerian people need and deserve a real transition to democracy. … The political environment, as it stands now, is not conducive to free credible elections.
Similar testimony she gave before the U.S. Senate was even stronger. The United States will “never retreat” from its “steadfast support for democratization and universal standards of human rights in Africa,” Rice said. She reiterated the administration’s refusal to credit Sani Abacha with any progress toward those goals.
But when asked the same question by reporters in South Africa, after several days on Air Force One with Jesse Jackson and members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Clinton disavowed Rice with a sweeping wave of the hand. It was enough, Clinton said, for Abacha to “stand [for election] as a civilian.” He went on: “There are many military leaders who have taken over chaotic situations in African countries, but have moved toward democracy. And that can happen in Nigeria; that is, purely and simply, what we want to happen. Sooner, rather than later, I hope.”
In most administrations, Rice would have resigned after such a stunning disavowal by her president, but she did not. After that, says former Africa Fund director Mike Fleshman, “they sent Jesse Jackson out to do damage control. He said, ‘Nobody should dictate to the Nigerian people who their leaders are.’ When I heard that, I just shook my head.”
This was also the trip when Clinton made his now famous “apology” for slavery, after touring a slave transport site in Ghana with Jackson. “It was a big emotional day,” Jackson commented. The president “simply said it was morally wrong, a source of great shame, and began to focus on remedy and repair, which is what the African leaders want to hear. They’re concerned about partnership, repair and reciprocal interest. Frankly I thought that was statement enough on that matter,” Jackson told reporters in Kampala. Jackson came just one step short of calling on the West to pay reparations to African nations who sold their own brothers, sisters and parents into slavery generations ago. Jesse made sure that good friend Ron Burkle, the supermarket and real estate magnate who was helping his sons get the inside track on the Anheuser-Busch distributorship in Chicago, joined the trip and flew in the president’s plane. It was the least one could do for a friend.
In Liberia, Charles Taylor was pushing his pawns. Just as Clinton and Jesse Jackson were leaving Africa, Taylor ordered Foday Sankoh’s RUF back into Sierra Leone, where they launched a war against the civilian population called “Operation No Living Thing.” According to State Department reports, it included “brutal killings, severe mutilations and deliberate dismemberments, in a widespread campaign of terror.” Amnesty International reported that several thousand civilians were brutally killed or mutilated, while hundreds more were abducted from their villages and forced to join their attackers. While Jesse Jackson was drumming up support for Taylor and his RUF henchmen, the United States was airlifting mutilated victims of RUF butchery to field hospitals run by international aid groups, where they received artificial limbs.
Taylor soon appointed Jesse Jackson’s old friend Romeo Horton as chairman of the Special Presidential Banking Commission, to revive the collapsed banking system, a position that reflected Taylor’s total confidence in his loyalty. It was also a position that gave Horton access to Liberian government accounts both at home and abroad. That came in handy as Taylor plotted his next step, a media extravaganza aimed at disguising the mayhem his proxies were once again bringing to African civilians. Jesse Jackson hosted the event in Chicago in order to present warlord Charles Taylor as Liberia’s savior, rather than as the bloodthirsty tyrant most Liberians knew.
Jackson called it the “reconciliation” conference, and pretends even today that it gave Liberian opposition leaders a chance to meet Charles Taylor face to face (or almost) for the first time. “Many Liberians came from around the country and saw relatives for the first time since the civil war,” Jackson says in an interview. “It was indeed a reunion. There were painful exchanges. People were upset with what happened during the war.”
But that’s not how opposition leaders remember it. “This was just a PR exercise by Charles Taylor,” says Harry A. Greaves, a Taylor opponent who helped found the Liberia Action Party with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. On the invitation Jackson sent out, not a single Liberian opposition leader was listed as a speaker or even as an invited guest. The Liberian government delegation was led by Taylor’s wife, Jewel Howard Taylor, and included several government ministers. Taylor himself appeared on a huge video screen on the PUSH stage in Chicago in a real-time satellite audio link-up to address the audience. “Taylor painted himself as a victim of international conspiracy,” recalls Harry Greaves. “He was slick. As he portrayed it, Liberia’s only problem was that the world misunderstood Charles Taylor.”
When opposition leaders in the United States learned that Jackson was planning the conference, they realized they were being played for fools. Siahyonrkon J. K. Nyanseor, chairman of Liberian Democratic Future, complained in writing to President Clinton and Congresswoman Maxine Waters, then chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. The conference, he wrote, was “nothing more than a scheme designed to promote Taylor and his repressive government,” and called the failure to invite any opposition leaders “an affront to all Liberians.” The State Department got wind of the dispute, and Deputy Assistant Secretary Howard Jeter called Jackson, who begrudgingly agreed to allow the opposition groups to send a small delegation. But no sooner had the invitations gone out than Jackson aide Yuri Tadesse bluntly told the opposition leaders that they would not be allowed to speak.
“It is disheartening to hear that you didn’t care about how African-Liberians feel regarding your so-called Conference on Reconciliation in Chicago,” shot back Bodioh Wisseh Siapoe, the chairman of the New York-based Coalition of Progressive Liberians in the Americas (COPLA). He also protested the presence of Jackson friend Romeo Horton, whom he alleged “helped finance the carnage of our people.”
“It’s morning time in Liberia. It’s morning time,” Jackson sang, while Liberian security agents videotaped the audience in the hall. “We have come to reconcile our differences. We understand there are those in this hall who label themselves the opposition, or adversaries to the Taylor administration. If there are any adversaries who are not ready to reconcile, please leave the room.” Jackson then did Taylor’s work for him, demanding that Liberians stop using the Internet to publish information on Taylor’s atrocities. “The international community frequents the Internet and takes note of whatever information is disseminated on the Information Superhighway,” he said. “So, please stay off the Net.”
Jackson then introduced 10 Liberian officials, who droned on for hours about the wonderful new country being built by Charles Taylor and invited the exiles to return home. “But when COPLA was delivering its presentation, time became a factor,” Siapoe complains. COPLA’s appeal for the creation of an international tribunal to try war criminals was greeted with “thunderous applause” from the audience, Siapoe says – until the PUSH moderator shoved them off the stage. After just five minutes, PUSH deemed they were “out of time.”
No one really knows who paid for the April 18–19, 1998, conference, called hastily by Jackson upon his return from the presidential safari on April 2. But if previous PUSH conferences are any gauge, Jackson spent a good $400,000 on the event. “The general perception in the Liberian community was that Jackson was a paid lobbyist for Charles Taylor,” says Greaves. Many sources said they believed Romeo Horton transferred money to Jackson to pay for the conference, an allegation Jackson vigorously denies.
“Rainbow/PUSH paid for that conference,” Jackson claims. “Taylor paid for his own delegation. People who came from the U.S. paid their own way. It was not a Liberian government-sponsored conference. We got absolutely no money from the government of Liberia.” Jackson does acknowledge that Taylor must have paid for the live video feed from Monrovia for the keynote event of the conference, “but it was a two-way thing. We paid the U.S. part,” he says.
Jackson was immediately sensitive to charges that Taylor had financed the conference and attacked the allegations without even being asked about them. He told the conferees: “This is no assignment from our government or consultant’s fee [from Liberia]. I do this because I want to see Liberians live again.”
But Jackson’s protests of innocence reminded Harry Greaves of an earlier incident, when a coalition of Liberian human rights groups pleaded with Jackson to support their cause by appearing at a prayer service at the Washington National Cathedral in 1990.
The group, called LICORE (Liberian Committee for Relief, Resettlement and Reconstruction) was seeking to raise money to send relief supplies to refugees from the civil war. “We weren’t taking sides; we wanted to bring Liberians together,” Greaves says. “We went to Jesse because he had just waged a prominent presidential campaign. We asked him to make a speech during the prayer service at the cathedral.” After Jackson responded favorably, Greaves recalls meeting with a Jackson aide at the Operation PUSH office in Washington, D.C., a few days before the event. “I met with a director who was handling the arrangements. Our invitations were already going out, featuring Jackson’s appearance. At the last minute, he said that Jackson required us to make an up front payment of $50,000 as a speaker’s fee.” The group could not make the payment, and Jackson cancelled his appearance without another word.
That July, as accusations began to circulate that he was getting financial assistance from Charles Taylor, Jackson appointed a Nigerian woman named Odusola Blessing Johnson to head up a new PUSH chapter in Houston, Texas, known as People United to Save Humanity in Nigeria. Why PUSH needed a chapter devoted to Nigeria, and why Jackson chose to base it in the capital of the U.S. oil industry, is a mystery. Ms. Johnson’s PUSH chapter vanished from the Texas corporate registry within months of being established, just as the Nevada-registered front company San Francisco Oil had done the previous year. When I called the Houston office of Rainbow/PUSH in November 2001, I was told that William Paul headed Jackson’s effort in Texas and that no one had ever heard of Ms. Johnson. But sources knowledgeable about the Nigerian oil ministry told me that Odusola Blessing Johnson had business ties to a man named Jackson Gaius-Obasecki, the marketing manager of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Gauis-Obasecki was responsible for doling out lucrative oil contracts to friends and cronies. On May 29, 1999, the day the newly elected Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo was inaugurated, Gaius-Obaseki was promoted to group managing director of NNPC. It was a small world.
In tomorrow’s installment, read how Jesse Jackson further used his position as ‘special envoy’ to influence politics and the diamond industry in Africa.