How soon we and our government forget such things as the murder of U.S. citizens, mass killings, use of children as soldiers and espionage against the United States -- particularly when well-paid American representatives in Washington work hard to create institutional amnesia in Congress and at the State Department.
Following the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York later this month, it appears our government will allow Charles Taylor, president of Liberia, to visit Washington and travel freely around the United States. Before undertaking his trip to this country, Taylor, long a fugitive from justice here, had to make sure he would not face the possibility of criminal prosecution in Massachusetts. He and his representatives have successfully cleared that hurdle.
Because of our government's amnesia, we now appear ready to forget Taylor's abysmal record during and after the Liberian civil war, which he initiated in December 1989. It includes the following:
Taylor appears to have been involved in espionage against the United States in 1992 that allegedly resulted in his receiving unauthorized stolen classified documents. In this case, two individuals were found guilty in U.S. courts and were imprisoned for purloining the documents that were passed to Mr. Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL).
His NPFL was directly responsible for more than 100,000 civilian deaths in Liberia and displacement of more than one-half the population of the country.
Members of the NPFL murdered five nuns who were U.S. citizens in October 1992.
Taylor's NPFl recruited, trained and used in combat "child soldiers," some as young as 8 years old.
Taylor directly supported forces of Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front, which committed widespread atrocities in that neighbor country.
His followers have reaped fortunes from raping the natural resources of Liberia.
As the elected president of Liberia, Charles Taylor should not be barred from representing his country at the U.N. General Assembly in New York. But he should not be allowed to travel elsewhere in the United States. There is virtually no difference between Liberia's Taylor and Serbia's Milosevic.
Taylor's representatives have worked hard to ensure the U.S. government's amnesia and to clear the way for his free travel in the United States. But to allow Taylor to visit Washington and travel widely in this country may well be interpreted in West Africa as U.S. support for Taylor and his regime. Certainly this action is not in our best interest.
I write this as a private citizen. I represent no parties in Africa, in the United States or elsewhere. But while others in and out of our government have forgotten Taylor's actions, I have not.
I helped to load the bodies of the five American nuns onto the U.S. Air Force C-130s that returned their remains home for burial. I experienced Liberian "boy soldiers" thrusting AK-47s in my face. I know firsthand of the reports of Taylor's NPFL espionage against the United States. I know that the United States has had to pour about a half-billion dollars worth of assistance into Liberia because of Taylor's excesses.
While Liberia is not a nation of significant U.S. national interest, we have long historical ties to that little country, and we benefit from African stability. If we allow Charles Taylor to travel in the United States, our actions may result in unfortunate repercussions in Africa and could contribute to instability in the already potentially unstable West African region.
Taylor is a brilliant politician. He is intelligent, charming, cunning and ruthless. If allowed to visit Washington and travel around the United States, he will use the visit to further his personal ends, and in no way will U.S. interests be served.
The writer, a retired Foreign Service officer, was U.S. deputy chief of mission in Liberia from 1991 to 1993.