Ex-Liberian Child Soldiers Say ‘Chief Tom Woewiyu’ Turned Them Into Killers

By Jeremy Roebuck, Staff Writer @jeremyrroebuck | jroebuck@phillynews.com |

A teenage fighter with the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) charges forward in downtown Monrovia, Liberia, on May 10, 1996.

He stared off into the distance as he spoke, his rheumy eyes nearly blind from a combat injury sustained when he was 12.

He raised what remained of his right hand – a twisted, fingerless stump of flesh – and swore to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

And as he unbuttoned his shirt to show a jury the war wounds that still plague him, the former Liberian child soldier named Iven identified the man whose forces he said put a gun in his small hands 25 years ago, hoping to turn him into a killer.

“They called his name,” Iven said, nodding toward the man at the defendant’s table. “Chief Tom Woewiyu.”

Of all the crimes that federal prosecutors have sought to lay at the feet of Woewiyu – the 72-year-old Delaware County man on trial in Philadelphia for purportedly hiding his past as a top lieutenant to Liberian warlord Charles Taylor – his alleged involvement with the conscription of children during that country’s first civil war in the ’90s most closely ties him to the worst excesses of that protracted and brutal conflict.

Since the trial began last week, Woewiyu has sought to distance himself from many of the documented atrocities committed by Taylor’s regime during a war that left more than 200,000 of the West African nation’s civilians dead and misplaced millions more.

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