On April 26 the Special Court for Sierra Leone found former President of Liberia Charles Taylor guilty of international war crimes committed on the territory of a neighboring state – Sierra Leone during the civil war of 1991-1997. He was the first former head of state to be convicted by an international court since the Nuremberg.
It had been clear he would be found guilty long before the sentence. It’s not thanks to the evidence provided but because of the Court’s stance. The reason is its tolerant attitude towards the prosecutor’s office and its false witnesses who changed their testimony a few times receiving money from the prosecutors and finding refuge in the Netherlands and other European countries. It’s also because of strictness towards defense whose arguments were taken lightly and dismissed in a too hasty manner, or even left without being taken into consideration at all.
There was a surprise though. Right after the «guilty» verdict was handed down there was somebody’s voice heard. Everybody thought it was Taylor trying to say something. The microphone was swiftly disabled and the spectator’s aisle benches curtained off. Later it became known it was the voice of the fourth judge Sow who tried to express his disagreement over the decision of majority. But as soon as Sow started to speak the other three judges quickly got up and left the room. The Sow’s microphone was switched off immediately but he went on speaking: «The only moment where a Judge can express his opinion is during the deliberations or in the courtroom, and, pursuant to the Rules, when there are no serious deliberations, the only place left for me is the courtroom» He added: «For me under any mode of liability, under any accepted standard of proof, the guilt of the accused from the evidence provided in this trial is not proved beyond reasonable doubt by the Prosecution. And my only worry is that the whole system is not consistent with all the principles we know and love, and the system is not consistent with all the values of international criminal justice» (my extra bolds – A.M).
The trial went on for five years but the evidence was surprisingly flimsy from the very start to the final end. Taylor was the main defendant of the Special Court (1) they could have tried to do better. «Supermodel» Naomi Campbell was called by the prosecutors to prove former President of Liberia Charles Taylor used illegal gems trade to finance the war in the neighboring Sierra Leone. She said Taylor tried to give her a diamond as a present. Then she had to change testimony and say it was not Taylor himself who did it but some other man, but she was «sure» it came from Taylor. A strong evidence, isn’t it? Actually there is nothing to be surprised at. International law has never been executed on the basis of solid evidence, from the very start it has been conceived as a show or a subsequent «consecration» of «demonization» process that that already taken place in relation to the leaders of some countries.
The Taylor’s process has proved the Sierra Leone civil war was not an internal affair of the country. And Liberia was not the only state to be involved. It became known during trial deliberations that the USA and Nigeria (Olusegun Obasanjo) jointly conducted an operation to remove Taylor from political scene. He was promised asylum and immunity from prosecution in case he voluntarily resigned. He was arrested afterwards… President of Nigeria Obasanjo, who arrested him, had rendered help to Liberian insurgents who tried to overthrow Taylor.
It also came to light at the trial deliberations that the Tribunal’s staff «leaked» information to the US embassy. The Court refused to conduct investigation concerning the matter.
In the secret dispatches published by Wikileaks the US ambassador to Monrovia wrote: «The best we can do for Liberia is to see to it that Taylor is put away for a long time». She added: «All legal options should be studied to ensure that Taylor cannot return to destabilize Liberia.» It’s not an occasion that three out of four Sierra-Leone Special Court judges are Americans, the chief prosecutor in the Charles Taylor trial was an American, the presiding justice – British. The proceedings took place in Hague. Taylor will serve the sentence in the UK. That’s the kind of «Sierra Leone» Court we have!
They even tried to taint Russia during illegal arms sales deliberations. For instance, the witness for the prosecution called «Zigzag» mentioned Russian aircraft landing in Monrovia. The testimony given by this witness is really outstanding. First, he said the plane delivered 100 containers with arms, and then he said the number was 10. At cross-examination he said that by saying a hundred he meant «there were very many of them». At the same time, no matter the plane was Russian, the cargo was coming from the USA and…Libya. The Taylor’s lawyer paid attention to the fact that previously he had also mentioned Europe and Taiwan. The witness was quick on the draw and said – to his understanding Europe was part of America, «the land of whites», and he had never known the difference till the proceedings started. (2)
There was no proof found of any Russia’s, or at least, its pilots’ involvement in illegal gems sales that were the main sources of funds for the Sierra Leone war. Here’s an example of how the witness TFI-539 was cross-examined (a secret witness, his face was closed, voice changed):
«Def: Did you ever tell them that Bami had an office in Kono, Kenema and was dealing in diamonds with Russians?
Wit: Even right now, he is dealing in diamonds
Def: was he dealing with Russians?
Wit: Even right now, he is dealing in diamonds
Judge: Was he dealing with Russians?
Wit: That was after the war had come to an end.»
And further it goes:
«Def: And you said it was flown by two Russian pilots right?
Wit: Yes, they were the crew
Def: Are they the two who flew the plane?
Def: And they were Russians right?
Def: In what language did they speak to you?
Wit: The one I told you about who had beards, he spoke English a little bit. He was the one who asked me about Fonte kanu.
Def: Did you tell the investigators that the plane was flown by Ukrainians?
Wit: No, I told them they were Russians» (3)
It’s a pity the lawyer didn’t lead the cross-examination to the logical end, he probably found the testimony to be discredited enough. Evidently the final stage of the cross-examination was not reached – that is no question asked about how the witness found out the men in question were Russian. It would be interesting to check the witness’s knowledge of Russian language, oral (a number of witnesses said the heard «Russian spoken») and in writing (other witnesses, in particular former Liberian vice president Moses Blah also testified about arms … «the boxes of ammunition and RPGs were covered in Russian lettering.» (4)). Otherwise we would be surprised to know Mr. Blah and other witnesses know Russian as well as Martin Pnishi, a witness in the Milosevic case. I remember this Albanian «peaceful civilian» affirm Russian soldiers were involved in killing Albanians in Kosovo. He said they said something that sounds strange to a Russian ear «Unisti Ga!» Judge Kwan questioned his knowledge of Russian language but the witness told him with cocksureness he knew it perfectly!». (5)
The date of sentence – April 27 is special, it’s the day of Sierra Leone’s Independence. Since a long time it has become an open secret that the international crime tribunals are not established to find the truth but to «make legal» the political decisions taken before. The condemnation of one party of the Sierra Leone conflict leaves unanswered the questions for those who held power those days and who, in a lot of cases, hold it today. The main culprits have happened to be persons of low prominence. Now they have found somebody of adequate standing. And his head is a holiday sacrifice. The only thing to know is will the Sierra Leone’s gods receive such an offering?
(1) Before that the Special Sierra Leone Court had conducted three trials and convicted nine men. Sierra Leone’s former minister of internal affairs Hinga Norman was not found guilty, he «suddenly» died in jail. The other potential major culprit Former Sierra Leone junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma never faced the Court for this leader of the military coup in 1997 «has disappeared without a trace». Besides two major defendants – former vice-president F. Sankoh and S. Bokari – ‘suddenly» passed away at the trial.
(2) Ref. Charles Taylor’s trial transcripts, March 13, 2008.
(3) Ref. Charles Taylor’s trial transcripts, June 12, 2008.
(4) Ref. Charles Taylor’s trial transcripts, May 14, 2008.
(5) «Unisti Ga!» means «Kill him!» in Serbian. That’s how the witness presents Serbian words as the Russian ones. Ref. The International Crime Court against Milosevic, trial transcripts, August 30, 2002. Ref. the commentary on the witness’s testimony, the book The Hague Tribunal tries Milosevic, The Trial Transcripts by A.Mezyaev, 2006, p.139-144.