On 16 May, the Special Court of Sierra Leone (SCSL) gave Charles Taylor the opportunity to speak in court before sentencing was imposed on 30 May. Here is an abridged version of what he said:
DESPITE OBSTACLES TO ascertaining the truth, what was clear beyond a shadow of a doubt as I understood the summary of the judgement, was that Your Honours critically determined in fact, that I could not be held responsible for the substantial charges of ‘joint criminal enterprise’ and ‘superior criminal responsibility’ as had been pleaded by the Prosecution…
Following the verdict of 26 April, the prosecutor [Brenda Hollis] in a press release said the following: ‘Today’s historic judgement reinforces the new reality, that heads of state will be held to account for war crimes and other international crimes. This judgement affirms that with leadership comes not just power and authority, but also responsibility and accountability; no person, no matter how powerful, is above the law.”
I could not agree more. President George W. Bush not too long ago ordered torture and admitted to doing so. Torture is a crime against humanity. The United States has refused to prosecute him.
Is he above the law? Where is the fairness?
Terrible things happened in Sierra Leone and there can be no justification for the terrible crimes. During the war in Liberia, I punished people responsible for crimes against others. Factual evidence presented before this Court proved that several NPFL soldiers were put on trial for various crimes. Some were executed for rape, murder and other serious crimes. Witnesses from both sides testified to that fact. Let me be very, very clear about one thing: I do not condone impunity in any shape or form. Let me say in the strongest terms: I, DahKpannah Dr Charles Ghankay Taylor, did not, could not have ever, and would never have knowingly, and, with responsibility and/or authority to prevent, stop or punish someone for carrying out acts of atrocities, fail to do so…
I say with respect that though I disagree with your findings of guilt, it is easy for me to see how the absence of the ‘contextual framework’ in which this case was put together by the Prosecution seemingly contributed to your findings. Sadly I am saddled with those findings today as you consider what sentence to impose.
A starting point for the ‘contextual framework’ to which I am referring is the issue of money – the purchasing of witnesses’ evidence with money. Money played a corrupting, influential, significant and dominant role in this trial. Money in this case, cumulatively prejudiced my rights and interests in an irreparable way. The Prosecution received millions of dollars from the US 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. Witnesses were paid, coerced, and in many cases threatened with prosecution if they did not cooperate, only to extract statements and/or confessions.
Families were rewarded with thousands of dollars to cover costs of children, 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. The question then is, what was the prosecution buying?…
A more important point for the ‘contextual framework’ to which I am referring is the role politics played. When regime change in Liberia became a policy of the US government, George W. Bush in May 2001 signed a second of two Executive Orders, #13213 (Defence Exhibit D-310) in which it was stated:
‘The government of Liberia’s complicity in the RUF’s illicit trade in diamonds and its other forms of support for the RUF are direct challenges to United States foreign policy objectives in the region as well as to the rule-based international order that is critical to the peace and prosperity of the United States. Therefore I find these actions by the government of Liberia contribute to the unusual and extraordinary threat to the foreign policy of the United States described in Executive Order 13194 with respect to which the president declared a national emergency.’
This Executive Order did not say ‘the alleged complicity’. It concluded, ‘the complicity’. The conspiracy was born, all systems put into motion and here I stand today. I never stood a chance! This is the broader contextual matrix that regrettably did not, and still has not, seen the light of day in these proceedings, despite the gallant effort by the Defence to unearth and reveal the contextual framework behind the charges against me.
With the two executive orders, the dogs were let out (so to speak). What followed was the dispatch of the attack pack led by: (1) Lt-Col David Crane, [ex-US] Defence Intelligence, 30 years [who became the Court’s] prosecutor. He, Crane, unlawfully unsealed the Court’s sealed indictment to his handlers – senior US government officials at the US embassy in Freetown [Sierra Leone] and was never held to account.
The rest of the operational team are: Colonel Brenda Hollis, Defence Intelligence, CIA, US Air Force [who became the Court’s] senior trial counsel and now chief prosecutor.
James J. Johnson, 20 years [in the] US Army, expert on conventional and special operations [became] chief of prosecutions for the SCSL.
Allen White, 30 years [in US] Defence Intelligence, recalled from retirement to head up investigations in the SCSL.
Stephen J. Rapp came on board as chief prosecutor for a short time with experience from Capitol Hill where he served with a US Senate Judiciary Subcommittee. It came as no surprise to me that as a reward of sorts for Stephen Rapp’s diligence in the execution of US foreign policy objectives through these ad hoc tribunals, he was appointed US ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues [by President Barack Obama].
In support of the ‘contextual framework’ of politics, on 8 February 2006, Lt-Col David Crane appeared before a US Congress Subcommittee on Africa (Defence Exhibit D-404) and spelled out in clear terms the decision taken in support of ‘regime change’ in Liberia, and what needed to happen to solidify that process. There was little mention, if any, in his testimony about Sierra Leone.
His principal focus was, as he stated, and I quote: ‘I posit that five years from now when the international community is challenged by other crises, Taylor, in Calabar, under the protection of Nigeria, will make his move. We will wake up one morning and watch on CNN as Taylor rides triumphantly down the main street in Monrovia to the Executive Mansion, daring all of us to come and get him. Unless he is handed over to the Special Court for Sierra Leone, this scenario is not out of the realm of possibility…’
He then asked: ‘How do we assure Liberia’s future? … Ultimately, what we do about Taylor in the next several weeks will determine the fate of Liberia and the new administration of its president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf …’
Crane then sets out several plans of action: ‘First, hand Charles Taylor to the Special Court of Sierra Leone for a fair trial. This takes him out of the local and regional dynamic that is West Africa… Second, tie any financial and political support to good governance in Liberia…’
Not even the Nigerian nation was spared from threats and intimidation as explained by Femi Fani-Kayode, press secretary to President Obasanjo, the Nigerian head of state, who was with him in Washington when George W. Bush promised to ‘bring Nigeria to its knees’ if Taylor was not turned over to the Special Court. So Obasanjo buckled and capitulated.
This demonstrates the significant pressure that was brought to bear on President Obasanjo, irrespective of his personal and leadership obligations to the West African sub-region. And therein lies the dilemma for current African heads of state and governments – how to enter into binding commitments and obligations with their African peers and remain steadfast, resolute, and unyielding in their fidelity to those agreements in the face of such unrelenting and punishing pressure from powerful Western leaders…
What I did to help bring peace to Sierra Leone was done with honour. Foremost on my mind at all times was to help solve the problem because I was convinced that unless peace came to Sierra Leone, Liberia would not be able to move forward. I pushed the peace process hard and used known mediating methods in trying to draw the parties close and gain their confidence and trust. This is a strategy used universally in mediation efforts. Indeed, my approach to peace in Sierra Leone was neither unique nor new.
All major activities leading to peace in Sierra Leone, except for the final signing of the Lome Peace Accord, were done in Monrovia. Following that historic signing, we brought Foday Sankoh and Johnny Paul Koroma to Monrovia…
I say without stupor that my actions were genuine and done with one thing in mind: helping to bring peace to Sierra Leone, thus providing an enabling environment for progress in both countries; Liberia being my constitutional responsibility as president.
In Liberia, I commenced the process of healing by putting into place a peace and reconciliation commission modelled after that of South Africa. I say with respect, reconciliation and healing, not retribution, should be the guiding principle in Your Honours task.