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The Torture of Samuel Doe

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Even by the standards of time and other atrocities committed during the Liberian Civil War, it was a gruesome incident. One of many US supported tyrants in Africa, Samuel Doe, who ruled Liberia from 1980 to 1990. Finally his regime was toppled by Charles Taylor (who proved to be worse than Doe). During the war, a rebel leader Prince Yormie Johnson split from Taylor’s NPFL and formed the INPFL; then he and his forces captured, tortured, and executed President Doe in Monrovia on September 9, 1990. Johnson was furious when he heard Doe was dead from bleeding profusely. He had previously ordered Doe be locked in a bathroom but Doe knocked himself out against the bathroom window causing a cerebral hemorrhage that finally killed him.

The gruesome incident was recorded by the INPFL on video tape. Journalists Stephen Smith of Liberation, Mark Huband and Patrick Robert of French photoagency Sygma (who took the above image of Liberian soldiers posing with the body of Doe)–who were present at the INPFL camp–were given the videotape. It was seen on news reports around the world and was a best selling film in West Africa. Now even two decades later, it is still doing the rounds in the markets of Monrovia; Johnson sipping a Budweiser as Doe’s ear is cut off became almost an image transplanted from a Shakespearean play or from mediaeval times.

Samuel Doe who staged a televised execution of the Tolbert government on a sunny beach became the first world leader to be tortured on camera before being executed and his body desecrated. It should have brought the nation full circle, but it did not. More violence under Taylor would kill more Liberians. It was a sad decline for Africa’s first republic.

See a short clip from the video here and Corbis archives have still shots courtesy of Robert.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

July 3, 2009 at 9:15 pm

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