12/05/2002

Lil Was' from Sierra Leone

Writing about the the taking of Man in Cote made me remember an incident that happened in Sierra Leone many years ago. I was in Sierra Leone, but as a psychologist, not as a soldier. I don't know however a degree in criminal psychology made the Agency think I would be the perfect interrogator, but it somehow turned out that way.

Anyways, Government troops captured a rebel boy, and asked me to find out from him where Mosquito was hiding. Mosquito was some kind of never-seen, but always talked about leader. So I get this 12 year old boy sitting in the chair opposite mine, and he is supposed to be some key figure.

"What is your name", I asked quitely.

"Lil' Was'", he replied, nodding his head wierdly.

"Little Wasp", I wrote on my block. "So 'Wasp' is your family name". He smiled that child soldier smile. When they smile, their face somehow seems to not have moved at all, and their smile is not an expression of joy, but of contempt. Child soldiers want to be men. Every man who does not carry a gun is not a man to them. He is an object of contempt.

"OK, Little Wasp, do you know where General Mosquito is?".

"Yessa"

"Where is he staying?"

"I don't know, sah"

The officer standing beside me slapped the boy. Tears welled in his eyes, and he squeezed his mouth tight. He was angry, but seemed used to that emotion. He did nothing, and showed no tension in his body.

I told them to take the Wasp away. I knew he at most knew vaguely where Mosquito was, and what he knew he would not tell. He hated us in the uncomplicated way only a child can hate. The rebels had probably killed his family, raped the womenfolk, and burnt down his home, but they where somehow his allies, and we where his enemies.

The next day, I called Wasp back. I explained to him that he didn't need to go back to the rebels. I told him that we would use the UN provided refugee funds to find him shelter in one of the shelter villages, and we would give him an education.

But Wasp didn't want those things. The Sierra Leonan child soldiers never wanted to go back to school. They never stayed in the camps for long either. So I decided to simply give him money and send him back to the village he told us he came from. I gave him the UN amount ( ~$20), and offered him a further $50 from my pocket. He collected it, then said that he wanted to buy something from me. On my questioning look, he pointed at one of my green army t-shirts. He gave me the $50s back, and took the shirt. I offered it to him for free, but he insisted.

Wasp left that evening, walking off into the town.

3 days later, I was walking with the company into town. On the outskirts of the town, I saw a familiar piece of cloth on the floor. I looked, and it was my green t-shirt. Beside it was a blacked heap of coal and the metal rings from the inside of tires. A cross was stuck in the ground, and "rebel" was written on the cross.

The townsfolk had killed Lil Wasp for being a rebel.