The overthrow of Liberia’s 21st president, Samuel K. Doe, was an especially violent time in the African nation. On this day in 1990, Doe retreated to his fortress only to be later captured and violently executed after enduring torture.
Doe, a member of the Krahn tribe, and was the first indigenous head of state in the history of Liberia. Born May 6, 1951, in the village of Tuzon, Doe entered the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFK) while attempting to finish school and was elevated to the role of Master Sargent in 1979. Doe’s prowess as a military leader came of use when he led a coup against President William R. Tolbert, Jr., killing him and more than two dozen of his supporters in the Executive Mansion.
Doe’s early time as president was rife with swift commands to undo Tolbert’s former regime, with Doe’s rise to power effectively ending the Americo-Liberian political and social influence over the nation.
Doe embraced relationships with the West, most especially America, and supported Cold War policies. His support of such ideals ended all relationships between Liberia and the Soviet Union. Doe was reportedly said to be ill-equipped to lead the country, and one of his own generals who helped him in his coup, Thomas Quiwonkpa, attempted a failed overthrow and was killed.
The country was increasingly corrupt and certain tribes were mistreated by the government. The public opinion of Doe’s leadership was low, and he continued to flounder in the eyes of his own staff. Toward the end of Doe’s rule, much of Liberia was overran by various rebel leaders.
Charles Taylor, once an ally of Doe’s, escaped from jail in the United States where he awaiting extradition for embezzlement. Taylor led a group of guerrilla soldiers in to Liberia on December 24, 1989, to take down Doe’s regime. With his National Patriotic Front forces behind him, Taylor began to lay waste to anyone standing in defense of Doe.
As reported then by the Los Angeles Times, the rebels cut off access to the capital city of Monrovia, which led to Doe retreating to his massive fortress and hiding behind his armed elite guards.
The Times wrote:
Doe was believed holed up in his fortified Israeli-built mansion facing the Atlantic Ocean with 500 troops of his elite presidential guard. Vice President Harry Moniba and three other senior legislators held consultations with officials at the U.S. Embassy.
About 500 other government troops were believed to be in the capital of the West African nation.
Doe, in an apparent last-ditch move, repeated his offer on state-run radio to form a national unity government, which would include the rebel front and all political parties. Taylor already has rejected the proposal.
Rebels were reported within a few hundred yards of the main state radio transmitter, which still was broadcasting music interspersed with repeated broadcasts of the government offer.
Doe was eventually captured by faction leader Prince Y. Johnson on September 9, 1990. Doe was in Monrovia to hold peacekeeping talks when Johnson ambushed the president in a bloody gun battle. Doe was tortured at Johnson’s military base, which was videotaped.
As Doe’s ear was being cut off in the torture, Johnson was seen on the video drinking a can of beer.
Watch footage of Doe’s last moments here [WARNING: VIDEO IS GRAPHIC].
Doe was later killed, and his naked and mutilated body was put on display in Monrovia. Johnson briefly held the title of president before yielding to Taylor in a consolidation of power by the rebels.
Taylor was sentenced to 50 years for his crimes against humanity in 2012.