A Pennsylvania man convicted of hiding his past as the murderous Liberian warlord Jungle Jabbah when he immigrated to the U.S. twenty years ago was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison.
Mohammed Jabateh, a 51-year-old father of five who owns an international shipping business in Philadelphia, is the first person ever incarcerated for crimes connected to the numerous documented atrocities that occurred during Liberia’s first protracted, multi-faction civil war, which ravaged the West African nation between 1989 and 1997. The Philly reported.
Until Jabateh’s trial on immigration fraud charges last fall in Philadelphia, no one had been prosecuted in connection with the conflict that left 250,000 dead and a generation of survivors both in Liberia and in Philadelphia’s sizable expat community clamoring for justice.
Though ex-Liberian warlord was not specifically tried in October for any of the dozens of acts of murder, rape, enslavement, and cannibalism that Philadelphia prosecutors attributed to him. U.S. District Judge Paul S. Diamond explained that those deeds factored heavily into his decision to dramatically depart from federal sentencing guidelines on the acts of perjury and immigration fraud of which Jabateh had been convicted.
In handing down the sentence, Judge Diamond said that the sentence suggested by the federal sentencing guidelines 15 to 21 months would not only be “unreasonable but outrageously offensive, in light of the testimony presented here in court.”
“I want to be clear,” Diamond cautioned. “I am departing not based on the horror of the atrocities the defendant committed abroad. Rather, I am departing based on the egregiousness of his lies and their effect on our asylum laws and the immigration system.
For his part, ex-warlord Mohammed Jabateh said nothing throughout the hearing, staring blankly ahead as prosecutors ticked off a list of his horrific past deeds.
When it came time to address the judge Diamond, he leaned forward slightly and spoke softly into the microphone: “Your honor, sir, I have nothing to say, sir.”
None of the 17 Liberians whom the U.S. Justice Department flew in from Africa to testify against Jabateh last fall attended proceedings. But their presence was keenly felt.
Assistant U.S. Nelson Thayer ticked off the terrible experiences each testified they underwent at Jabateh’s hands, and he urged Diamond to impose the maximum sentence allowed.
“When one tries to describe the atrocities the horror and the terror and the brutality committed by Mohammed Jabateh it’s tempting to resort to phrases like indescribable,” Thayer said. “But we know that Mohammed Jabateh’s shocking atrocities can be described. We heard them because of the incredible courage of those witnesses.”
When asked at trial to identify the man responsible for their torment, each of those witnesses offered the same answer, identifying Mohammed Jabateh by his nom de guerre, – Jungle Jabbah.
One of the victim’s a woman testified she had been captured and turned into a sex slave at the age of 13, only to be raped daily for weeks until she managed to escape. A farmer from Liberia’s northwest mining country detailed how he had been forced into slavery and ordered to dig for diamonds on a threat of death, to fund Jabateh’s war effort.
And in perhaps the most wrenching testimony of the trial, the wife of a village chieftain alleged that Jungle Jabbah’s soldiers killed her husband and then delivered his heart to her on a platter with orders to cook it for Jabateh and his soldiers.
That sense of unanswered grievance hung over the case from the day in March 2016 when federal agents arrested Jungle Jabbah at his East Lansdowne home. Coverage in Liberian newspapers described the case in totemic terms that extended far beyond Jabateh and the crimes he committed, wondering if it might signal an end to the impunity the nation’s war criminals had enjoyed for many years.
The nation’s former president, Charles Taylor, was convicted of war crimes by an international court in 2012, but for actions tied to a civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone. It took a United States court to sentence his son known as “Chuckie” Taylor to prison in 2009 for his barbaric behavior in a second civil war that roiled Liberia between 1999 and 2004.
Some former rebel leaders now hold positions of power within the government in Monrovia, and the ethnic divisions that fueled the wars still divide Liberians, even among the estimated 15,000 now living in the Philadelphia area.
Jungle Jabateh maintained that he, too, was a victim of Taylor’s autocratic regime. After fleeing to the U.S. in 1997, he obtained political asylum, stated that he had been jailed and tortured by the president’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia.
But in a series of recent cases including two others against Philadelphia residents the U.S. Justice Department has trumpeted its commitment to tracking down and expelling West African war criminals now living in this country.
In addition to his prison term, ex-Liberian warlord was ordered to serve three years probation upon his release. He almost certainly would be deported after finishing his prison sentence.