A Planeful of . . . Bounty Hunters?

Well, this is interesting.

The latest tidbit in the tale of the captured mercenaries is the claim, made by several of their family members and some news outlets, that they weren’t going to Equatorial Guinea to stage a coup, but to use that country as a staging area in order to capture Charles Taylor.

Wacky as it may seem, it’s actually quite plausible. EG borders Nigeria, and Calabar, where Taylor lives in exile, is only 200 miles away. And, as I’ve discussed before, a bounty for Taylor’s head is not a new concept. But current sources (the above-cited and this one are good; the news hasn’t been picked up by AP or BBC yet) mistakenly state that the U.S. has a $2 million bounty on Taylor’s head. The reality is more complicated, again as has been discussed here—check out the links in the highlights for all the info. The short version is that some enthusiastic Congresspeople put the money into the big $87 billion spending package for this purpose, but the State Department has distanced itself from the notion. And the wording is ambiguous enough that, coupled with State’s position, you can’t really say that there’s an official bounty out there.

Northbridge Services has been excited about cashing in on that “bounty” money. There’s even some indication that they’re the ones who put the group together, though they deny it. (Of course they would, at this point.) Again, it’s plausible: Northbridge is basically the old Executive Outcomes with a bunch of cosmetic changes, and a bunch of the captured mercenaries are known former employees of EO.

I’ll come back to all this when there’s a bit more news out and when I have more time to sift through it all—I’m tossing this off in a jiff before Ella wakes up from her nap. Oh, and go back and read Josh Marshall’s notes on Dodson Aviation, the American company that sold the captured plane to Logo Ltd. He found a connection between Dodson and the Sierre Leone Special Court—yet another tidbit that makes the “bounty hunt, not coup” notion quite plausible. In fact, I’m even leaning toward “likely” now. And kicking myself for not prophetically speculating in this direction a few days ago . . .

UPDATE: Thinking about it a little more, I’m downgrading the likelihood of the Taylor hunt, though it’s still very much on the table. But: if you were in a Zim prison looking at life incarceration, maybe even death, wouldn’t you scramble for any defense you could? And since you’d been caught with all sorts of equipment for a military operation, it has to be plausible. “We were going after Taylor” is the perfect alibi for these guys, since Calabar is nearby, Taylor has been in the news, and there’s even a kind of U.S. imprimatur thanks to the $2 million in the budget. This would also explain why one source for this info is the families speaking out. Why hadn’t they said anything before? And how likely is it that they’d be informed about their husbands’ operation beforehand? But, having those husbands facing a gruesome fate, wouldn’t they readily lie to protect them?

What’s remarkable is how much circumstantial evidence there is for both theories. But they can’t both be true. Anyway—more in a few days.

UPDATE: Something else I forgot to mention: Nick du Toit, the leader of the mercenaries held in EG, confessed on TV that he was there to start a coup. Now, he clearly could have been forced to make such a claim, so that President Obiang could carry out the reprisals and clamping-down that he’s doing even now. But the Zimbabwean government claims that the mercs there made the same confession.

On the one hand, if they really were going after Taylor, I can’t imagine why they would confess to a completely different plan—especially since it’s one that carries possibly deadly consequences for them. On the other hand, we can’t fully trust anything they say while they’re speaking from their respective prisons.

Still a muddle . . .