Charles Taylor shaking hands with France's former president, Jacques Chirac.
In July 2010, I took an Air Brussels flight via Paris to Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. I was meeting Myles Estey, a Canadian surfer who was teaching young people and ex-child soldiers to be journalists.
Myles put me in contact with one Joshua Milton Blahyi, who went by the name General Butt Naked in the first Liberian civil war of 1989.
Joshua was raised in a sect of the Krahn tribe called the Kaw and from birth was encouraged to worship a Satanic deity called nya-na-o-weh. It was a primitive community where brutal murder and cannibalism were an inevitable part of life.
As General Butt Naked, Joshua claimed to have killed more than 20,000 people. He claimed that he would partake in daily sacrifices of young babies to prepare himself for battle, detailing in his autobiography Trading Priesthood for Royalty: “The women then ran to my door with their usual cry for help. I asked them to bring me a young baby; they hearkened, and complied by bringing the baby, who was less than a year. I held the two legs of the baby and burst his head against the wall. The brain and everything in the baby was used to speedily prepare me.”
His “Butt Naked Army” employed child soldiers as young as ten, and he used them to fight for then-president Samuel Doe against Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia, which was attempting to overthrow the government.
And when the American-educated Taylor found out about the hideous practices that people like Joshua employed, he started to employ them as weapons of war—cannibalism, rape, and torture became part of his arsenal against Doe.
Charles Taylor hanging with Minister Louis Farrakhan and former South African President Nelson Mandela.
And this is why Taylor was more evil than a thousand Konys, because while Joshua had been brainwashed and brought up to believe such practices were an acceptable form of warfare, Taylor was an educated man who took on those practices as a way of obtaining power and personal wealth.
Taylor was the originator of channelling primitive murder rituals into organized military tactics; Kony's a copycat artist, a tribute act. I met Taylor’s son, Charles Jr, at a Liberian house and he told me he was convinced of his father’s innocence, claming that shadowy American forces had somehow made his dad a scapegoat. He was a nice kid but his talk was hard to swallow.
Why did I want to meet Joshua? He had admitted his crimes before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia and they had let him walk free on the basis that he had given up his past life and converted to Christianity—an insane scenario.
I wanted to find out if he had actually changed as a person, and to meet and understand how somebody had committed such sickening acts and was still able to live and walk and breathe and sleep and eat. (He seemed pretty cool about it but had become a vegetarian because eating meat freaked him out and brought back bad memories).
The experience was documented in our film The VICE Guide to Liberia, so you can see and decide for yourself about Joshua. It’s always hard to say this, but despite what he did, we became friends during our time there, and we keep in touch (I even added him on Facebook).
And so when it was announced that Taylor had finally been found guilty, I called him up and asked him what he thought about it all and this is the conversation we had.
Joshua Milton Blahyi, ex-General Butt Naked.
VICE: Hello Joshua, how are you doing? I wanted to ask you what you thought about Charles Taylor going to jail today.
Joshua Milton Blahyi: What I thought is we are in a different world. I’m in Africa and where he was tried is a totally different culture.
How do you mean?
My main feelings on the trial was being upset at the amount of money that was spent on it all. And how when I see all the people who are STILL suffering from the actions of Mr. Taylor, I think they could have benefited from that money.
Maybe they didn’t need to fly Naomi Campbell in to the trial first class to give a pretty worthless testimony about a party with Quincey Jones at Nelson Mandela’s house.
I would say that this trial is totally irrelevant to our community and society. We already knew that Charles Taylor was wrong and guilty, the whole world does, so all that money that was spent on him? We should use it on the people who were affected by his acts.
All these trials and formalities are part of the sad system of a world that is very far removed from the life we are living here in Liberia.