Philadelphia — Sentencing has been delayed at the last minute for Mohammed Jabateh, the Liberian former rebel commander convicted last October on federal immigration fraud.
A U.S. District judge will reset the date for the sentencing hearing one week from today.
Mohammed Jabateh, known during the war as Jungle Jabbah, was convicted last October by a 12-member U.S. jury on four counts of immigration fraud and perjury charges.
Even though the case centered on immigration fraud and not war crimes, the prosecution needed to prove the war crimes in order to prove the immigration fraud. Jabateh was the first Liberian to face trial over crimes committed during the war.
Twenty victims were flown in from Liberia to testify about atrocities committed under Jabateh's command.
This is the second sentencing postponement. The first sentencing date was in January.
This delay came after Judge Paul S. Diamond requested Jabateh's lawyer and U.S. prosecutors "answer 21 specific questions within one week."
After that the judge will announce a new date for the sentencing. No further details were available.
Jabateh faces up to 30 years in prison if found guilty Legal analysts said no one has ever received the maximum 30 year sentence for immigration fraud and the judge's delay may indicate that he is seriously considering the maximum.
The conviction marks closure for many Liberian villagers, mostly from the northwestern former stronghold of ULIMO-K, the rebel faction Jabbah led as a commander whom he terrorized through an early period of the first war.
Jabateh's trial is the first case in a new legal push for the prosecution of Liberians who are known to have committed war crimes during the country's plunge into bloody civil conflicts that intermittently ran for nearly 20 years.
The push has been led by the Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP), the Liberia-based non-profit that documents war crimes and seeks justice for victims in collaboration with the international lawyers and investigators of Swiss-based Civitas Maxima. The campaign is running under the banner #Quest4Liberia.
Liberians had mixed reactions but most were euphoric over last year's guilty verdict of the ex-warlord. People from the Mandingo tribe were angry because of a feeling that their tribe had been singled out. But leaders from many factions will face trial in the coming two years.
Former NPFL Defense Minister Tom Woewiyu, will go on trial later this month for immigration crimes in the U.S.; former NPFL artillery commander Martina Johnson is facing charges in Belgium for war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated in Liberia; ULIMO Commander Alieu Kosiah was arrested in Switzerland and faces charges of war crimes; and Agnes Reeves Taylor, Charles Taylor's ex-wife, faces charges of torture in the UK for her alleged involvement in atrocities committed by the NPFL.
Jabateh, the ex-general of the ULIMO rebel force operated in several counties in northwestern Liberia from 1992 through most of the country's 16-year civil wars.
He led the force as a commander of the Zebra Battalion - the role the federal indictment says he intentionally omitted in his application and from U.S. immigration asylum officers.
Widespread atrocities, rapes, ritual cannibalism and slave labor committed by former rebel commanders and their fighters have been ignored for nearly 14-years after the last ceasefire that led to two successive democratic elections.
Years of stop and go civil wars left an estimated 250,000 people killed and untold stories of summary executions, rapes, torture, massacres and forced labor throughout the country.
While thousands of survivors had remained silent for nearly two decades, many of the perpetrators continued to be shielded by their allies within the Liberian government.