Is Taylor Guilty as Charged?

Article excerpt

After a trial lasting three years and 10 months, the former Liberian president, Charles Taylor (pictured right), was found guilty by the Special Court for Sierra Leone on 11 counts of "aiding and abetting" crimes committed in Sierra Leone by rebel forces between 1996 and 2002. But as the Court acquitted him of the most serious charges of "joint criminal enterprise", "command and control" "instigating" and "ordering" the crimes, how is it possible that he was found guilty on all 11 counts in the indictment, and not only on some of them? Did superpower politics have a say in the verdict?

THE DILEMMA IN WHICH THE former Liberian president, Charles Taylor, finds himself now is akin to a man who decides to eat with the devil and forgets to use a long spoon. His love-hate relationship with the USA since the 1980s appears to have caught up with him; and now the Americans can smugly sit back and watch him swim in his "own" stew--at least that is what they want the world to believe.

That Taylor was not tried for the "crimes" committed in Liberia where for 14 years he commanded all he surveyed, but he is likely to rot in jail for "aiding and abetting" crimes committed in Sierra Leone, should tell the depth of the machinations behind his trial. For many years to come, legal experts will pore over the guilty verdict handed down by Trial Chamber II of the Special Court of Sierra Leone in The Hague on 26 April, and wonder how one could be acquitted of the most serious charges in a case and yet be found guilty on all ii counts in the indictment. It makes the law look really like an ass indeed. And not only that, it lends credence to an assertion by George Monbiot of The Guardian (UK) that "international law remains an imperial project in which only the crimes committed by vassal states are punished."

In an article published four days after Taylor's verdict, Monbiot said: "The conviction of Charles Taylor ... is said to have sent an unequivocal message to current leaders: that great office confers no immunity. In fact it sent two messages: if you run a small, weak nation, you may be subject to the full force of international law; if you run a powerful nation, you have nothing to fear."

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Which rhymes with what Taylor himself said in an interview with New African published in July/Aug 2002: "If your master is your enemy, you are doomed."

But knowing that his and Liberia's master, the USA, was his enemy (even though at some point they were friends), Taylor should have refrained from the sort of activities that have now landed him firmly in the grip of the "aiding and abetting" charge that the Special Court has found him guilty of, and which is likely to send him to prison for a very long time. To see the menacing shadow of superpower politics that dangled over the case, one only needs to ponder how Taylor could be acquitted of the four most serious charges in the indictment, and yet on the basis of being found guilty of two (some would say) lesser charges--"aiding and abetting", and "planning" one war strategy (the Court cited just one such plan) for the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in Sierra Leone in a conflict that took II years to finish, he was found guilty on all II counts in the indictment.

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This is most curious as it is tantamount to finding an accused man guilty of manslaughter, but not of murder, and yet giving him a sentence prescribed for murder. Already the Prosecution has asked for an 80-year jail term for Taylor in its presentence brief. Although the Court will announce its definitive sentence on 30 May, the mind game being played by the Prosecution, staffed at the top by ex-American intelligence officers, cannot be lost on anybody.

You start by asking for 80 years, the Court disagrees and cuts it by half. You get 40, which is what you really wanted in the first place, knowing that the accused, who is now 64 years old, will be 104 before he comes out. …