Liberian rebels play the last hours of President Doe




Mark Huband in Monrovia sees a gruesome video of the former leader’s torture and death

The Guardian, 3 October 1990

THROUGH the French windows of the sitting room where it all happened, funky music rose from the dinner-dance, shopping-centre electronic organ. The player sang: “If you’re a white man you will be beaten, if you’re a black man you will be beaten.”

From the verandah, Stockton Creek was visible through the thick palm leaves. They took Samuel Doe there a few hours after he began to die. At that time some of them were still trying to decide whether it was possible to despise a person as much when you meet them as before, when you have only been able to imagine what you would do if you looked into the face of evil.

“Do you want to see my film?” Prince Johnson asked. He was sitting at his desk in the glare of his camera crew’s television lights. Behind him, on the wall, Christ watched as he drew long and hard from his third can of Budweiser wrapped in a paper handkerchief.

The painted Christ was kitsch and pink and carried a lamb on his shoulder. On the other side, another Christ, bearing the slogan: “Look at me and be saved,” smiled sympathetically at the rebel army tee shirts which proclaimed their mission as being in the name of Prince and God.

Prince’s wife said that she would fast forward the video so we did not have to watch the ordinary shots of rebel troops. The large colour television was wheeled across the verandah. Behind it the rain fell across the meadow. The band played on.

We were given chairs in the front row. Somebody brought beer. Behind us, the young army gathered to watch, again, the torture of Samuel Doe.

The man in the next seat kept talking. The screen burst into life. A group of children played in the meadow beyond the verandah. They yelled to their friends gathered behind us watching the film.

Doe, his face bruised, flabby and naked except for his underpants, his hands tied behind his back, looked up from the television screen, from the floor of the room next to ours. The music inside grew more passionate. The film rolled on.

Doe watches his death approaching as his captors yell orders at each other, and his underpants soak-up more blood from the gun-shot wounds received in his legs when he was captured three weeks ago.

“I want to say something, if you will listen to me,” he says, half-smiling, half sneering, totally terrified, watching the ritual of his own death as it is acted out in front of him.

Prince sits at his desk. Behind him Christ is caught in the bright television lights. Prince’s wife watched the film of her wiping the rebel leader’s brow:

“Cut off his ears,” Prince tells his men, his hands held in semi-prayer. He doesn’t say it loud. The camera swings to the victim. The rebels stand on his body, lying him flat. A knife flashes in the bright lights. The camera gets close. The knife saws through the screaming President’s ear and the ritual has begun.

Doe shakes his head to prevent them cutting off the other one. But somebody grabs his head hard. The scream pierced the air. For a second the audience around the screen was silent, then they clapped. Beyond the meadow, on the creek, a small fishing boat sent ripples across the still water.

Prince’s wife fast-forwards the video. The action resumes near the river bank. Doe is being asked how much money he stole from state coffers: “We are asking you in a polite manner now – what did you do with the Liberian people’s money?” Doe tells them he has $500 in a bank account in Monrovia, and the audience laughs.

One of Prince’s sidekicks, a Palestinian, holds a microphone to Doe’s mouth and asks him to repeat after him: “I, Samuel Kanyon Doe, declare that the government is overthrown. I am therefore asking the armed forces to surrender to Field Marshal Prince Johnson.” Doe repeats the words. His tyranny is over.

“Doe cried all that night. He died at 3.30 am:” said the man in the next seat. “Now Prince is acting president and everything is going to be alright.”



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