Monrovia - Making his final stand in his war crimes trial at The Hague Wednesday, former Liberian President Charles Taylor declared that his trial was marred by bribes and prosecution threatening witnesses to testify against him or face trials themselves. Says ‘Reconciliation and healing, not Retribution, is the way forward for Liberia.
Taylor’s rants received mixed reviews in Monrovia where many said the statement made by the convicted former president was a last-ditch effort meant to sway the judges to reduce the number of years he will be given for his crimes.
“Taylor has always been good at rhetoric; I vividly recall during the hay-days of the civil war, we advised him on radio, we spoke on lot of issues that were wrong for Liberia. For him going on radio and saying it is being politically motivated; that’s part and parcel of the whole rhetoric,” says Nathaniel Toe Jr., a former legislative aspirant.
Dressed in a gray coat and a seemingly blue Tie, former Liberian President seized the moment given him to address Judges who convicted him on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity to vent out what he has apparently been keeping inside for a long time.
Points finger at Uncle Sam
"Money played a corrupting, influential, significant and dominant role in this trial," he said. "Money, in this case, prejudiced my rights and interests in a irrevocable way."
Not only did the Liberian Leader accuse the prosecution of having an unbeatable advantage over lawyers pleading in his defense, he also pointed accusing fingers at the United States government for doing everything financially possible to bring him down.
"Families were rewarded with thousands of dollars to cover costs of children's school fees, transportation, food, clothing, medical bills and given cash allowances for protected and non-protected witnesses in a country where income is less than a dollar a day," said Taylor.
Continued Taylor: "Witnesses were paid, coerced and, in many cases, threatened with prosecution if they did not give statements.”
Contrary to the pronouncements by the judges that he was guilty of aiding and abetting the rebels of the Revolutionary United Front of Sierra Leone which was then headed by the late Foday Sankor, who died during his trial, Taylor said he was instrumental in restoring peace to the war torn country.
"What I did to bring peace to Sierra Leone was done with honour," he said. "I was convinced that unless there was peace in Sierra Leone, Liberia would not be able to move forward."
‘Sympathy and Sadness’
Despite being careful not to take any responsibilities upon himself for human rights violations in the war in Sierra Leone, Taylor expressed sorrow for the victims of the war: "I express my sadness and sympathy for crimes suffered by individuals and families in Sierra Leone," he said.
Delivering its closing arguments on the April 26th, 2012 prosecutors said given the extreme nature of the crimes that were committed, there was no reason for leniency in sentencing.
"The purposely cruel and savage crimes committed included public executions and amputations of civilians, the display of decapitated heads at checkpoints, the killing and public disembowelment of a civilian whose intestines were then stretched across the road to make a checkpoint, public rapes of women and girls, and people burned alive in their homes," said prosecutor Brenda Hollis said at a pre-hearing brief.
Judges are scheduled to sentence Taylor on May 30, after which both sides are likely to lodge appeals. Taylor is due to serve any sentence in a maximum security prison in Britain.
Speaking on the issue of reconciliation in Liberia, the former Liberian leader said he apologized to the people of the country in which he led a fourteen-year civil war which left over 250,000 people dead and believes that the only way forward was for the country to seek the path of healing. “I believe in reconciliation and healing and not retribution,” said Taylor.
Taylor also noted that he was of no threat to anyone as he was growing old and tired adding. “I am 64 now and I am the father of many children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.”
The former Liberian Head of State is the the first head of state to be found guilty by an international tribunal since the Nazi trials at Nuremberg. Taylor's trial made international headlines, partly because of the grisly accounts of murders and mutilations, many committed by child soldiers, and partly because of Taylor's alleged gift of 'blood diamonds' - gems plundered from Sierra Leone to fund the war - to supermodel Naomi Campbell who was called as a witness for the prosecution.
He is also the first African leader to stand trial for war crimes, Taylor was convicted of aiding and abetting on 11 counts of murder, rape, conscripting child soldiers and sexual slavery during intertwined wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone in which more than 50,000 people were killed.
Taylor said the United States and other powers involved in military actions in Africa and the Middle East were using the court to pursue colonial aims against smaller countries. "Regime change in Liberia became a policy of the U.S. government," he said.
"I never stood a chance." "Only time will tell how many other African leaders of states will be destroyed," he added and questioned the way his trial had been funded.
"The prosecution received millions of dollars from the United States government outside of the official funding process to the court administration. The prosecution has never fully accounted for how those monies were spent ... who received how much and for what purpose or purposes," he said.
On the streets of Monrovia, the consensus from many was Taylor’s chances of getting a lame sentence was slim. Jacob Wannah II another Liberian said he does not think what Taylor said can make a big difference in reducing the number of years he is supposed to stay in jail for.
“Mr. Taylor is fighting a losing battle; Taylor was at The Hague, he had almost three months to give his testimony and if he knew according to what he is saying now that the prosecutors or prosecution bribed throughout to get him guilty, I think he should have said that. Right now Taylor is going and you expect him to say anything, he will not out rightly tell you that he was involved in the Sierra Leonean war,” he said.
Sierra Leone ‘Pleased with Trial
Sierra Leoneans have expressed satisfaction over the trial and conviction of the former warlord whom they believe bears some of the greatest responsibilities for atrocities against them. Sierra Leonean President Koroma during a visit to Liberia last week said his government was pleased with the trial.
“As a country that was the subject of the issue we are happy that the process itself has been a transparent process, it has worked within the framework of the laws that obtained and I believe that the outcome has been welcomed by us and we hope that it will serve the purpose for which it is meant,” says President Koroma.
The Sierra Leonean leader noted that the guilty verdict pronounced on Former President Taylor will also ensure that the relationship between both countries is pursued in a positive manner rather than what had been experienced.
“I believe that Liberia and Sierra Leone cannot have any better moment. The relationship between the two heads of states is very cordial, we are working harmoniously and this is a great opportunity for both countries to put into practice the issues of cooperation, collaboration and transforming the lives of our people,” he says.