Stephen Rapp, Special Court Chief Prosecutor, Answers Your Questions – Part II

Dear Readers,

Here’s Part II of our three-part series of answers to your questions from Stephen Rapp, chief Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone.


Jose Rodriguez asked: “Could you expand on the reason why hosting the trial in the sub-region will create instability especially in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the sub-region especially when Liberia has about 15,000.00 UN troops and arm embargo is placed on the country?”

MR. RAPP’S ANSWER: The decision to move the trial happened prior to when I became Prosecutor.  Moving the trial is not something that the prosecution sought, though we had expressed a willingness to consider any venue if it meant that Charles Taylor could be brought to justice.  The trial was moved from Freetown because of the request of regional leaders who thought that the conduct of this trial in the region, judging from the situation existing in 2006, would have been potentially destabilizing, particularly after the long and bitter civil wars in Liberia and in Sierra Leone, which spilled over into Guinea and Cote D’Ivoire.   

Because of this request, I understand that court officials looked at other potential venues – not only in The Hague.  At the time, I myself was at the Rwanda tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania, and I remember approaches being made to us about whether we had an empty courtroom and sufficient facilities to try the Taylor case in Arusha, which is actually further away from Monrovia or Freetown than is The Hague.  But we did not have a courtroom available because the Rwanda tribunal was fully occupied in concluding its work and needed all of its courtrooms.

Eventually the only facility available that had the open court room, the security, the translation services, the access to the necessary detention and witness protection facilities, and the airline connections, to allow this trial to take place outside the region was at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands.

Moving the trial there has not been easy for the prosecution because we had to move staff and open a second office thousands of miles away from our base in Freetown.  In a way, it may have been easier for the defense team because its leading lawyers have their homes and professional offices just across the channel in the UK.   However, it was difficult for our witnesses, and it will be difficult for defense witnesses as well to travel such long distances to such an unfamiliar place. Additionally, it has required the court to make extra efforts to make sure that the people of the region were adequately informed of the progress of the trial.  But in the end, I am pleased that we have able to overcome the obstacles, and put on a trial that is very much a model of international justice, and that means are available, such as, to allow it to be followed closely by the victims and by others in the region affected by the crimes that are the subject of the proceeding.


Shelby Grossman asked: “During their cross examination of prosecution witnesses, defense lawyers used several lines of inquiry to discredit witnesses. They argued witnesses said what they thought the prosecution wanted to hear because of the compensation they received for testifying. They pointed to inconsistencies in witness testimony. They argued that witnesses testified against Taylor to avoid prosecution for crimes they themselves committed. Of these (and other) lines of inquiry, which do you think was the strongest (i.e. most persuasive)?”

MR. RAPP’S ANSWER: Obviously the defense was doing its job in making those kinds of arguments, or pursuing those kinds of things on cross examination. One always has to consider these things in perspective when you consider the inconsistencies in testimony. When people describe events that occurred many years ago, and sometimes when they describe attacks at places where there were multiple attacks, it is quite common for them to be incorrect on dates and times and places. There are also cultural factors where people don’t relate to the world in terms of directions like north or south, or east or west, or wear wrist watches to tell the time of day.  So because people are not relating to those particular directions or those particular times, they may not always be very precise and so an attorney can say that the witness said it was 9 o’clock in one interview, and 10 o’clock in the next interview, and this will look inconsistent.   That kind of inconsistency is immaterial – but it is the job of the defense to do everything in its power to discredit witnesses and you’ll expect those lines of attack.  If you look at what’s happened in other cases, you will see that almost always judges have said no I don’t see the problem with these kind of inconsistencies – that these events happened and the witness is confused about certain aspects of it, but the basic testimony is correct. 

There’s this issue about witnesses having received expense reimbursements in certain situations and that’s something that the defense loves to talk about. Sometimes they will make a great deal about a payment of 10,000 or 15,000 Leones for a witness for transportation to come to and from an interview, but it is only a matter of a few US dollars.  They will try to make it look like the witness has sold his credibility for the compensation of expenses that barely covered what the participation in the judicial process has cost the witness and his family.  We have made it clear that witnesses are not paid for testimony but are merely reimbursed for what they have lost because of their willingness to testify.

[On people who defense claimed testified against Taylor to avoid prosecution themselves]:  That is certainly an argument that’s been made, and there have been individuals who have testified that have admitted to acts that were criminal – but it needs to be borne in mind that the Special Court had a very limited mandate, that it could only go after the people who bore the greatest responsibility and that was essentially defined as people who were in national leadership positions, and since the initial decision on who to indict back in 2003, no additional individuals have been indicted.  When most of the individuals who were witnesses in these cases were spoken to, the decision on who to prosecute had been made before they agreed to participate in any kind of interview. Sometimes they asked “Are you going to prosecute me?” and the prosecution always said “no, you are not on the list” and they said “well, can you assure me of that?” and so letters were given to the individuals saying that you are not on the list to be prosecuted. But those letters weren’t given as the result of a bargain.  I know that happens in national systems, where people make those kinds of agreements, but this did not happen in regard to any of the witnesses that have testified in the Charles Taylor case or in any other trial before the Special Court, because the decision had been made not to prosecute those witnesses before those individuals were spoken to.


Noko5 asked: “Was the present position you are going to occupy advertise and was there a bidding process? How did you get this job? what did you do? how did you qualify? TELL US!!!”

MR. RAPP’S ANSWER: For this particular position, I was approached by the office of Secretary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, and after discussing it with the Secretary herself, I was later was contacted to ask if I would accept the position.  After I said that I would accept, Secretary Clinton recommended me to President Obama. It is a position subject to appointment by the President and confirmation by the Senate, one of the many policy-level jobs where it expected that a new person will be appointed when a new Administration is elected and takes office.

As for the reason for my appointment, I can only point to the public record.  In an interview with Secretary Clinton published in the New York Times magazine on 23 August, she mentioned my work in prosecuting gender violence at the international level.  Those who have followed my career know of my work at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda where I drafted the indictment of the Tharcisse Renzaho, Prefect of Kigali, the governor of the capital region, including charges for rape as a crime against humanity and war crime that recently resulted in the first conviction of highly-ranked individual for gender violence. While at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, I have been involved in achieving conviction of leaders for rape as a crime against humanity and a war crime, for sexual slavery as a crime against humanity and a war crime, and for the first time in history the crime of forced marriage as a crime against humanity.   Before more international service, I was a United States attorney from 1993 to 2001 in my home state where I prosecuted some of the first cases under the American Violence Against Women Act. 

As she said on her recent mission in Africa, Secretary Clinton has placed a high priority on efforts to protect women from the massive gender violence that has been committed in several civil conflicts.   As she has noted, in many conflict zones a civilian woman is at greater risk than is a soldier.  We saw it in Sierra Leone with more than 200,000 women and girls raped, many of whom were also sexually enslaved and or forced into becoming bush wives.  Now in Darfur and the eastern DRC, we see the widespread commission of these crimes against women, which are devastating in their effect on individual victims and their communities and are very much part of the strategy of the leadership of armed groups in weakening and destroying a targeted population.

In this position I will be involved in the diplomatic efforts of the US to achieve accountability and deterrence of these crimes, while at the same time I will be working on behalf of my government with international courts such as the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the Rwanda and Yugoslavia tribunals to ensure the expeditious completion of their mandates in a way that leaves a legacy that prevents atrocities from being committed again.


Harris K Johnson asked: “As an Ambassador-at Large for War Crimes issues, what is you option on a Special Court for Liberia to prosecute war lords as recommanded by the TRC?”

MR. RAPP’S ANSWER:  I was asked that question when I was in Monrovia and I quoted from what Ambassador Thomas Greenfield has said about two weeks ago, and what Secretary Clinton said when she passed through Monrovia a little more than a week ago. That was: the decision on how to achieve accountability for the crimes that were committed during the civil wars in Liberia is first and foremost a decision for the people of Liberia through their elected representatives and we really want them to make a decision on how they want to approach this issue and then if they come to us and seek assistance we’ll be prepared to provide that assistance. There are many approaches to achieving accountability but we think it important that the people who experienced this horrendous violence and who were victims of these crimes make that determination themselves. It is not for other countries to say you should do this or you should do that – let’s hear from them first.


Harris K Johnson also asked: “What has happened to the remains of Johnny Paul Kormah that you once told us were found in Foyah, Lofa County, where those remains that of the real JPK?”

MR. RAPP’S ANSWER: As I’ve indicated publicly, we had certainly received information that Johnny Paul Koroma was killed in Foya in Lofa county in early 2003 and we’ve sought out as much information as we could about where his remains may be. We had some reports that he was buried in a shallow grave in a particular area. We were able to uncover partial human remains and through DNA analysis attempted to determine if were the remains of Johnny Paul Koroma.  The scientific report that we got back in relation to partial sets of two remains indicate that they were not Johnny Paul Koroma. We have recently been able to determine the identity of one of the individuals who was a young soldier fighting in the conflict there, and we are in the process, in consultation with Liberian authorities and with his family, to ensure that those remains are returned there for appropriate burial.  But we have not as yet been able to identify any remains that can be identified as those of Johnny Paul Koroma.  Tragically, however, this was an area in which hundreds of people were killed, and also an area in which there was a fair amount of flooding, and so just because we haven’t found his remains doesn’t mean that he is not dead. However, we can’t definitively close the case without finding remains and identifying them scientifically, and that to date has not been possible.


Noko5 asked: Are you going to make that the U S goverment becomes a part of the ICC, after wards indict president BUSH????”


MR. RAPP’S ANSWER: In regard to the ICC and in regard to my new role as an Ambassador at Large, I will be a representative of the United States government and will  be involved in discussions internally in the government about the direction we should take on international justice issues. At this stage in relation to the US participation in the ICC, all I can say is that when President Obama and Secretary Clinton were candidates for President last year, they both said that US membership in the ICC is premature at this time, that that they want to see how the ICC actually does its work.  In that regard it should be noted that the US often takes a long time to determine whether it wants to join international treaties.   However, there are several issues regarding the ICC treaty as to which President Obama and Secretary Clinton have expressed concern and were of concern to the American government during the Administration of President Bill Clinton when that treaty was negotiated.  You will recall that the United States government did not support the final treaty when it came out of the Rome Conference. President Clinton made a decision at the very end of 2000 to sign the treaty, albeit with a statement that the US still had problems with the treaty that they hoped would be resolved.  During the first term of US President George W. Bush, the US took a more hostile approach to the ICC. During the second term of the Bush administration, it did not oppose the UN Security Council referral of the Darfur situation to the ICC and eventually became one of the strongest supporters of the ICC when it came to the Darfur situation, particularly in publicly opposing any Security Council deferral of that investigation or prosecution.
Even before President Obama and Secretary Clinton took office, the United States had begun to move to a more cooperative stance with the ICC and this has continued with this Administration.  There are issues that need to be discussed within the US government, and I hope to be involved in that process in the coming months, but as yet, there has not been a decision by the President and the Secretary about how specifically to proceed.


Thanks again to Mr. Rapp.


  1. Tracey,

    Thanks for the post. Here we go again. Mr. Rapp’s choice of words says it all. His mind is made up. For him Charles Taylor is guilty. Never mind that he is a Lawyer- an old ‘wig’ at that. However, the THE PRESUMPTION OF INNOCENCE means nothing to Mr. Rapp. In responding to Jose Rodriguez’s question (the 1st question above) he goes “Moving the trial is not something that the prosecution sought, though we had expressed a willingness to consider any venue if it meant that Charles Taylor could be brought to justice.” I mean just read the last part “…if it means that Charles Taylor could be brought to justice”. If I may ask why not? ” if it means that justice be done and it is seen to be done “.

    Mr. Rapp’s public statements keep betraying him. The point I seek to make is that: the prosecution is professionally obliged to seek justice and not to seek for Charles Taylor’s conviction! Indeed if the prosecution finds evidence that exonerates the accused, it is obliged to disclose such to the court. However, with the various comments of Mr. Rapp I think all I can say is ‘res ipsa loquitor’!

  2. OK Folks,

    I am putting my head out there. While I don’t agree with the premise of this case, I will say, fighting for the rights of victimized women or women rights in general is highly commendable. I am a pro-gender individual. So Rapp has gained some respect for his personal and professional fights to protect women.

    My statement has nothing to do with the case…but it’s a human rights issue, so I just thought to throw it in there!

      1. Noko4

        You missed my point. My statement was not related to this trail. I was a statement that was purposefully made of tangent. I personally don’t know what CT beliefs are when it comes to women rights. I however, know generally Liberia needs to make drastic improvement in that arena.

        1. Sorry if I did….yes Liberia needs MORE but the females need to UNDERSTAND the RISKS take. We all know the play by play on the ground….SURVIVAL

  3. I am convince now that Stephen Rapp seriously considers the intellectual ability of others to be less than his. In the first set of response to questions, Mr Rapp said on the issue of amnesty that there were certain war crimes which fall under international law and did not require the decision of a nation to determine prosecution or not.

    But when it comes to the TRC and the Liberian case Mr. Rapp is saying that the decision should be left with Liberians. Is Mr. Rapp suggesting that there were no crimes against humanity that was committed in the Liberian war by all those warring factions? Why should Liberia be treated differently from SL under the same international law ? This is one more clear example that Taylor is simply being prosecuted for some other political reason unrelated to anything call justice. Lets be frank here, war crimes were committed in Liberia and all of the same charges that they have brought against Taylor were similarly committed ; and Stephen Rapp is telling us that the Liberian people must decide on international law regarding crimes against humanity? I wanted to atleast give this court some benefit of doubt but I resign that doubt right now. This trial is politically motivated only because Charles Taylor refused to sell Liberia’s rich natural resources for pennies. This is the general view among a huge population of Liberians and Stephen Rapp’s answers has reenforce that belief.

    In response to a question about why former president Kabbah of SL is not on trial . Mr. Rapp said that he does not know or it has not been proven that Kabban had knowledge about the atrocities committed by soldiers under his command. Again, why is Kabbah getting the benefit of the doubt under the same international law that has Mr. Taylor on trial. If the international law says those with the greatest responsibility should be put on trial then one wonders whether Kabbah as the president of SL did not have the greatest responsibility for his forces. Why Taylor who was never in SL be held responsible for war crimes by fighting forces inside SL but Kabbah who was directly giving orders to fighting forces inside SL not be held to answer for his responsibility? Again, this proves the double standard of the prosecution of Charles Taylor which was politically motivated and has nothing to do about seeking justice for SL victims.

    1. Old King Gray and new King Gray of the Bassa Tribe, please don’t stop posting. your posting is very analytical and eye opening. Good job.

  4. Seems that Prosecution case was just based on rumours, gossips and hearsays, and Taylor has shredded all the evidence into pieces.

  5. Hi Tracey:

    What happening in the house today? Is the house dead? Why no comments? I am actually missing the house today.

    Where are all the buddies? Noko 4 and the rest of the crew.

    1. Hi Kpadekpah,

      Apologies — I am away for the weekend with limited access to the internet so it is taking a bit longer for me to get to the comments and approve them. Sorry – I don’t mean to slow down the conversation! It is so lively at the moment. I am visiting family but will be back in town again Tuesday. In the meantime, I hope you forgive the inconvenience of slower posting of comments.


  6. Mr. Rapp knowing fully well that it was not the Sierra Leonean that requested the setting up of a special Court but the UN, why can’t the UN do the same for Liberia? But instead you are saying that it is with the Liberian people to decide. Because if Liberian decide, it then be Liberia VS Indictees where as it the Special Court VS Indictees (Charles Taylor……….) for Sierra Leone

    Thanks to this site for said forum because we are getting to know the real idea behind Taylor trial.


  7. Rapp,

    now you are telling us that the decision to transfer the case to the Hague was primarily the sub-regional request. However, you did not tell us which country and president; even though some of us know the usual suspects. Rapp, you think you just throw little jabs here and there and hide behind your rhetoric and it will be accepted by all. However, I get news for you. Not this generation of Africans. Nonetheless, you and the West have always ignored the African request of Africa and especially the west african sub-region, except it favors your interest. For example: just recently, the AU has said if AL Basha of Sudan should be tried, it should not be done by you guys, instead, it should be done in Africa and by Africans. Have you honored this request? Besides, the West African sub- region removed all sanctions placed on Liberia and requested the UN, International Community, US, and Great Brirain to remove all sanctions on Liberia following the 1997 election in which Taylor was declared winner. Did that ever happened? This is no hide and seek Rapp, because we know where you are.

  8. Stephen’s answer to Harris K. Johnson’s question regarding the stance of the US government on the establishment of war crimes in Liberia is very much interesting. In 1990, the American government called for the late president Samuel K. Doe to resign. Has he so soon forgotten when George “The Warrior” Bush called on Charles Ghankay Taylor to leave the Liberian political scene in 2003? Was this a decision that was left with the Liberian people? Look, the reason why they (the Americans) are pretending to leave the decision regarding the establishment of a war crimes court in Liberia is because their long time rebel mother Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is now president of Liberia, so they have got nothing to lose. They also know that she will be indicted for sure. Furthermore, the Americans know that their dirty deals against the people of Liberia will also be uncovered and made public for the whole world to know should a war crimes court be established in Liberia.

    1. Winslow David, I just can not stop laughing when you called “King George” “George the warrior Bush.” Good posting though.

    2. Winslow,
      I said it….as long as Ellen is alive….there will be NO court for Liberia. They put her there……imagine an election where one candidate sweeps Montserrado County including the House and Senate on the first round but looses that county on the presidential level on second round??? Yes, second round, Ellen won Montserrado County against Weah. Who will ever believe that???

  9. As always Tracey, and exceptional job!

    There is something that caught my attention, when asked about prosecution for US presidents for war crimes. Rapp explained, ICC’s “primary jurisdiction over the crimes to investigate alleged serious violations of international humanitarian law. It is only if the national system is unable or unwilling to investigate, and if appropriate, to prosecute, that the international court steps in to the situation and opens a case.” The operative phrase here is, “national system is unable or unwilling to investigate…the international courts steps in”. Do you think this is a window that Liberia could international court, might “step in” since it seems that some in Liberia are, “unwilling” to pursue a case? I am not saying this because I am an advocate for the war crimes courts, but this could be a loop hole here that pressure could be placed on other governments; including Liberia in the future.

    1. Hi Bnker — good question. Can I get back to you early next week? I am away at the moment, which is also slowing down the posting of comments, for which I apologize. I have limited access to email this weekend, but I look forward to continuing the conversation early next week. Sound okay?



    We should overlook Rapp’s responses. I have not commented because I share similar disappointment. We all see that his responses were not genuine if you read between the lines and put 2 and 2 together, Because that is what he wanted us to do, that was his design throughout the responses.

    For example, if you do not agree, to the question regarding taylor alleged bank accounts, he mentioned LBDI but no foreign banks. I interpret that answer as we have search but we have not come up with any evidence as yet. But as the trial is still ongoing we blah blah blah…

    That would have been an earnest attempt to address concerns. But that is what we had to deal with. So I encourage us to get over it and forge ahead.

  11. You guys are jumping all over again! Calm down and chill a bit! this is not a school playground with children shouting for who should be heard the loudest..Do you fellows really think that Mr. Rapp should provide you with the taylor’s bank account balancesheet while the trial is on going? How much stupier can such demand be guys? Do you think all this noise will get taylor out of bed he made for himself in mendling with affairs of Sierra Leone? We need to think before saying things that make very little sense if at all it’s worth saying so! As I always admonish some of you guys, you need to be analitical, take a deep breath before putting things on this site..remember this is an intellectual site! Thank you!

  12. Tracey,
    Please get Mr. Rapp back on our follow ups… start,

    1. The BILLIONS. He told us LBDI but no other banks….he told about atleast a million in Mr. Taylor’s account….I did the math and still cannot come up with a BILLION moreso, FIVE BILLION as told by Mr. Rapp.

    2. He claimed that there were CREDIBLE EVIDENCES against Mr. Taylor, for some of us following the trial, can he point to some of these evidences.

    3. Does Mr. Rapp believes one should go to jail on HEARSAY….no supporting documents.

  13. Mr Rapp,

    I do not think it is a good idea for you to answer questions on behalf of the prosecution because your answers contradict the cause of the entire SC-SL with all the time and resources put into this trial.

    The issue is, why is Mr. Ahmed Tejan Kabah excluded in the entire hearing….why?
    We need him to give an account to we the sierra leonean people of the price by lives of the sierra leoneans in restoring Kabah back to power after he was deposed by coup?

    Oh, my goodness! Innocent dead sierra leoneans are cryingggg ohhhh….. Wa lahi.


  14. Notice how he deftly ignored the second part of the last question: Will you push for the prosecution of the war criminal Bush? Completely talked his way around it. Funny how that was the last question too. Nothing ever changes. It isn’t as if Obama the hand puppet of the billionaires and his attorney general (who as a lawyer argued for leniency for Chiquita Brands in its dealings with right-wing death squads in Colombia) would ever prosecute the Cheney regime’s war criminals anyway. If they were of a mind to do something like that we’d have never heard of Barack Obama because he’d still be a community organizer and the elite would have backed someone else like Deval Patrick or Evan Bayh.

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