Video Of Torture Sold To Aid Liberian Rebels

Posted: February 13, 1991

A videotape of the torture and mutilation of former Liberian President Samuel K. Doe is being sold in the Philadelphia area, and around the nation, to raise money to buy food, medicine and clothing for victims of the 1990 civil war in Liberia.

Some of the money is also buying food, medicine and clothing for the supporters of the man who ordered Doe's death, rebel leader Prince Yormie Johnson.

In the footage, Johnson is seen drinking beer from a can, being fanned by a woman and having his perspiring brow patted with a cloth as he interrogates Doe.

Twenty-four minutes into the grisly tape, he orders Doe's ears cut off. And they are.

Francis Sehneah, of Southwest Philadelphia, and James Saye, of Yeadon, have sold 30 to 40 tapes since early January, Sehneah said.

Sehneah, 47, a hospital social worker who has been in the United States for 20 years, said he was selling the tapes for the "Prince Johnson camp. He has citizens, he has soldiers, they need medicine and food."

He added that tapes were also being sold in Atlanta, Boston and Rhode Island.

A U.S. government relief official said there were at least six different tapes being circulated in the United States, Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast with short and long versions of Doe's capture, torture and death.

Marcus Dahn, a representative of Johnson's Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia in the United States, said that those tapes being distributed by his organization were not being sold, but rather offered in exchange for donations. He said that effort was neither very well organized nor a major source of funds.

Selling the video causes Sehneah no moral qualms. "The people want to see it. . . . The man (Doe) brutalized too many people. He was a monster. . . .

People are keeping this tape as history."

He added that he would not show the tape to children.

Jeremiah Harris, a Liberian native living in Southwest Philadelphia, bought two of the tapes from Saye last month.

"A lot of people have seen the tapes," said Harris, who added that he did not support Johnson. "I saw it out of curiosity about what transpired during the capture of Doe."

More than 150 people saw the Doe tape at a fund-raiser last month at the New Third World Lounge in West Philadelphia, said lounge owner Noel Karasanyi. He said the event was sponsored by an organization of former residents of the same Liberian county where Johnson is from.

"Some people were not supportive of that kind of torture," Karasanyi said. "Others were clapping."

Sehneah and Saye have three different tapes, priced at $40 each. Collectively, the tapes run more than 5 1/2 hours, are amateurishly shot and of poor quality. The interrogation and torture of Doe lasts about 40 minutes on one tape.

During the interrogation, Johnson says at various times to Doe:

"I will kill you."

"I don't want to kill you."

"I am a humanitarian."

Doe's hands and legs are tied and he is sitting on the floor, surrounded by soldiers. He is wearing only undershorts. There is blood on his body and his face appears cut and bruised.

The remaining five hours of footage shows the devastation of the war, including Liberians fleeing the fighting, Liberians in lines for free rice and decomposing victims of a Doe army massacre inside a church. But most of the footage is of Johnson, alternately singing, praying and speaking to audiences.

In one tape, Johnson, identified as the "field marshal," tells a crowd: ''I killed Samuel Doe!"

Doe, who ruled Liberia for 10 years, was accused of numerous human rights abuses during his presidency, including ordering the torture and dismemberment of his enemies. Doe, who was 38, had been accused of stealing millions of

dollars from his country's treasury.

Liberia was settled in 1847 by American ex-slaves. The civil war in the West African country began December 24, 1989, when Liberian rebel leader Charles Taylor, a former Doe lieutenant, crossed the border from the Ivory Coast to attack Doe's forces. Johnson broke off from Taylor's rebel army 12 months ago.

Doe was captured by Johnson's forces on Sept. 9. He died either that day or on Sept. 10. The video ends with Doe alive.

Other videos do not.

Sehneah has seen another tape of Doe, apparently dead, lying on a stretcher near a hospital.

Individuals, whose interest is profit, not food or medicine, and supporters of Taylor are also selling the tape in Africa and the United States, according to a U.S. government official involved in relief efforts in Liberia.

Nyennatee Lewis, who oversees public affairs for Taylor in the United States, vehemently denied that any member of his organization, the National Patriotic Association of Liberia, was selling videotapes. "We would not promote that," he said.

Dahn, Johnson's U.S. representative, said money had to be raised, through tape donations and other means, because relief agencies were restricted from providing food and medicine to combatants.

The civil war in Liberia has displaced half the population and has left Monrovia, the capital, without electricity or running water for months, according to Catholic Relief Services, which has delivered 8,000 tons of U.S. government-donated food since October.

Liberia is run by an interim government. A three-day peace conference is to begin Feb. 20.

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