War crimes trial may shed light on escape

Taylor broke out of Mass. facility

By Bryan Bender
Globe Staff / July 10, 2009
  • Email|
  • Print|
  • Reprints|
  • |
Text size +

WASHINGTON - It has been a mystery for more than two decades how Charles G. Taylor, Liberia’s former president, broke out of Plymouth County Correctional Facility in 1985, starting a journey that ultimately made him one of Africa’s most notorious strongmen.

The world may finally get its answer next week when Taylor could take the stand for the first time in his war crimes trial in The Hague, in which he is accused of ordering atrocities during a bloody civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone. More than 90 witnesses have testified to his role in the conflict, in which hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed.

Stephen J. Rapp, the chief prosecutor in the trial, told the Globe yesterday that Taylor - who has been indicted on 17 counts of crimes against humanity - is expected to testify for as long as six weeks. His testimony may provide extensive detail about his past, including his time in the Boston area.

Rapp said Taylor has provided the prosecution with just a five-page summary of what he is going to talk about, but he added, “I think he has a lot more to say.’’

One incident that many observers are particularly curious to hear about is his Plymouth prison break, which has long been fodder for conspiracy theorists who believe Taylor may have been aided by elements within the US government who later used him as an informant.

Taylor, a graduate of Bentley College (now University) in Waltham, fled Liberia for the United States in 1983 in the face of charges that he embezzled money from the Liberian government. The West African nation was then headed by Samuel K. Doe, whom Taylor had supported in a bloody 1980 coup.

Taylor was arrested in 1984 in Somerville. While fighting extradition - his lawyer was Ramsey Clark, a former US attorney general - Taylor escaped from the Plymouth prison on Sept. 15, 1985, along with four other inmates.

Taylor’s wife and sister-in-law reportedly met him at nearby Jordan Hospital and drove him in a getaway car to Staten Island in New York, where he disappeared. All the other escaped inmates were eventually caught.

Taylor reportedly showed up in Moammar Khadafy’s Libya, where he received guerilla training before leading a bloody revolution in his native country at the head of an army known as the Revolutionary United Front.

His critics say that Taylor conducted a 15-year reign of terror in Liberia, including the six years he served as duly elected president.

During that time, according to the United Nations, he aided members of Al Qaeda in raising money from the trade of gemstones. Taylor was indicted by the special court for Sierra Leone in 2003. Under pressure from the Bush administration, he was handed over to the court in 2005 by the government of Nigeria, where he was in hiding.