Drama at Taylor's Trial

Article excerpt

As Charles Taylor's trial at the Special Court for Sierra Leone draws to a close, an epic drama has erupted thanks to the contents of two leaked US embassy cables published by the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks. The two cables appear to suggest that Washington is driving the Court towards "putting Taylor away for a long time". This has forced Taylor's defence team to file an urgent motion asking the Court to clear the air about its independence and impartiality, before the trial comes to a close. Osei Boateng reports.

When your master is your enemy, you are doomed, said Charles Taylor, the former Liberian president currently standing trial at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, in June 2002. Since his arrest in March 2006, Taylor has maintained that his troubles have been driven by America, supported by Britain. But not many people believed him. Now, two US embassy cables leaked by the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks, appear to support Taylor's assertion. This has compelled his defence team to file a last-minute "urgent" motion seeking clarification from the Court that it has not been influenced by outside forces, particularly the American government, to convict Taylor by all means, fair or foul; and that the Court's impartiality and independence have not been compromised.

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The cables, one from the US embassy in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, and the other from the US embassy in The Hague, appear to suggest that the American government is interfering and driving the Court towards "putting Taylor away for a long time".

Because the motion and five other outstanding ones had not been decided upon by the Trial and Appeal Chambers of the Court, by 14 January, Taylor refused to file his "final trial brief" to wrap up his defence, as ordered by the Court on 22 October last year.

But by a majority decision of 2-1 (one of the three judges on the case, the Ugandan Justice Julia Sebutinde, dissented), the Court ruled that Taylor would not be allowed to run the trial as he pleased, and that by failing to meet the 14 January deadline, he had effectively forfeited his chance to file his "final trial brief", a critical document that encapsulates a party's strongest argument, based on the facts and evidence before the Court. The final trial brief is intended to assist the judges in writing their judgements.

When both the Trial and Appeals Chambers finally handed down their decisions on the outstanding motions on 3 February (some of which went in Taylor's favour), Taylor filed his "final trial brief", but again, by a majority decision of 2-1 (with Justice Sebutinde again dissenting), the Court refused to accept the brief as filed even though Rule 86(B) of the Statute establishing the Court allowed the filing of the brief "not later than five days prior to the date set for the presentation of that party's final argument."

The refusal really annoyed Taylor's lead defence counsel, Courtenay Griffiths, so much so that he walked out of the Court in protest, despite being told to sit down by the presiding judge, Justice Teresa Doherty (from Northern Ireland). He was later followed out by his client, Taylor.

On 9 February, the Court ruled (again by majority decision, with Justice Sebutinde again dissenting), that Griffiths should attend court on 11 February to apologise for his behaviour on 8 February or the Court would impose sanctions against him.

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When the Court sat on 11 February to hear the apology, the Defence offered none but managed to get an adjournment for two weeks (until 25 February) to get an experienced lawyer to defend Griffiths on the disciplinary case.

On top of that, the Defence got a favourable majority decision (this time with Justice Richard Lussick of Samoa dissenting) for leave to appeal against the Trial Chamber's decision to refuse Taylor's final trial brief. The Court therefore adjourned the substantive Taylor case until the Appeals Chamber decides on the Defence's appeal to be allowed to file the "final trial brief". …

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