The much-anticipated cross-examination of Charles Taylor started this week with a stumble, as Special Court for Sierra Leone judges did not allow prosecutors to use a well-known public document — Sierra Leone’s peace agreement — as a basis for questioning the former Liberian president, because it had not been admitted as evidence in the trial so far. The judges cautioned the prosecution on the introduction of “new evidence” after its case was closed, a move referred to by Mr. Taylor’s defense counsel as a “trial by ambush.” Prosecutors also told Mr. Taylor that he had “reason to lie” during his four months of testimony which he had spent rebutting charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in crimes during Sierra Leone’s brutal conflict — and that he needed to prepare to be “honest” in cross-examination, which started on Tuesday in The Hague
In a move that led to the proceedings being adjourned early on Wednesday, lead prosecution counsel, Ms. Brenda Hollis, sought to ask the accused former president questions about certain provisions in the Lome Peace Accord – a peace agreement signed between the Sierra Leonean government and the country’s main rebel group, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in the Togolese capital, Lome, in 1999. In an attempt to present a copy of the Lome agreement to Mr. Taylor to discuss specific provisions that benefitted the RUF, Ms Hollis aimed to establish Mr. Taylor’s influence during the peace process. However, Mr. Taylor’s defense counsel, Courtenay Griffiths, objected. He argued it was “new evidence” which was not submitted to the court during the prosecution’s own case, nor used during Mr. Taylor’s direct examination. The defense called it a trial by “ambush” for the prosecution to present “fresh evidence” after it had already closed its case.
Presiding judge, Justice Richard Lussick, said that the interests of justice require consideration of all evidence against the accused, but it was necessary to “balance such need for justice with the fair trial rights of the accused.” The judges ruled that Ms. Hollis could not introduce new evidence in the form of documents which had not been presented as part of the prosecution’s case and were not used by the defense in direct-examination of the accused.
Ms. Hollis referenced a ruling by these same judges in the trial of Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) commanders before the Special Court for Sierra Leone when they allowed “fresh evidence” against the accused during cross-examination. In his response, Justice Lussick said that while this was the case, every case must be looked at based on its individual merits. The AFRC commanders were eventually convicted and are currently serving jail terms in Rwanda. Justice Lussick urged the Prosecution to make a formal written application to allow the defense opportunity to respond about the inclusion of the Lome Accord. After that, the judges could rule on whether new documents could be introduced as part of the prosecution’s cross-examination of the accused. The prosecution’s written motion should be filed on or before Tuesday November 17, with a response from the defense due on Monday November 23 and any prosecution reply to the defense response should be filed by Wednesday November 25th.
The judges also rejected Ms. Hollis’s request to ask “good faith basis questions” which “will be premised on the documents” but without using the documents themselves. Mr. Griffiths called it ”unacceptable.”
“It is a back door way of getting into the tribunal,” he said.
“You cannot make use of any of these documents until a formal motion is submitted,” Justice Lussick ordered.
Ms. Hollis at this stage asked the court to give the prosecution more time to “consider organizing our presentation” while work is being done on the formal motion for the presentation of the documents. The judges ordered that the court will adjourn for the day to give time to the prosecution to re-organize their presentation and continue the cross-examination of the accused the following day.
When court resumed on Thursday, the trial was cut short for the second day in a row, as Ms. Hollis asked for more time to “rearrange strategies” for the cross-examination of Mr. Taylor. Ms. Hollis requested an adjournment until Monday as the prosecution needed more time to plan. The application was granted by the judges.
Earlier on Tuesday, when Ms. Hollis commenced the cross-examination of Mr. Taylor, the lead prosecutor told the former president he has not been “honest” in direct-examination and that she is ready to prove that Mr. Taylor has been telling lies. Ms. Hollis, briefly taking Mr. Taylor through a few documents that he had discussed in direct-examination, pointed out the absence of certain key words used by the accused former president. In a letter written by Mr. Taylor to former United States president George Bush, Ms. Hollis asked Mr. Taylor to point out in the letter where he had said to Mr. Bush that he would step down as Liberian president, as claimed by the former president in his direct examination.
In his response, Mr. Taylor said that the portion of the letter which read that “I have considered recusing myself from the political process” indicated his intention to step down as Liberian president.
“That is my understanding counsel, that is how I understand it,” Mr. Taylor said.
Ms. Hollis, referencing Mr. Taylor’s May 2000 meeting with United States Special Envoy for Africa, Rev. Jesse Jackson, accused Mr. Taylor of not giving Rev. Jackson an honest answer when he did not admit that former Revolutionary United Front (RUF) commander Sam Bockarie and his fighters were being trained as mercenaries by Mr. Taylor in Liberia. Mr. Taylor “misled” the US envoy, as Ms. Hollis put it to the accused. Mr. Taylor denied the allegation, insisting that he gave an honest answer to the US Special Envoy.
“I object to the fact of mercinerization. I did give an honest answer to Special Envoy Jackson. Your suggestion that I was dishonest is not true and you should not allude to that,” Mr. Taylor said.
“I was not being misleading and if Special Envoy Jackson had asked me whether I was training those men and I said no, then I would have been misleading,” he added.
Mr. Taylor insisted that if he had been training Sierra Leonean rebel fighters and supplying arms and ammunition to RUF rebels, he would have said so. He also denied ever receiving diamonds from RUF rebels in Sierra Leone.
“If I had been training or supplying arms to the RUF, there is no reason why I would have denied it. If I had done so, I would have said so,” the former president said.
As he denied allegations of his alleged support to RUF rebels and receiving diamonds mined in Sierra Leone, Mr. Taylor accused the prosecution of building its case on “lies.”
“To suggest that I will deny something like that, remember, this whole case is a lie–my activities as president, that I sent arms to Sierra Leone, that I received diamonds from Sierra Leone, there is no evidence and your failure accept it, it’s all lies,” he said.
Ms. Hollis put it to Mr. Taylor that he has more reason to lie about his actions compared to the numerous witnesses who have testified against him. Mr. Taylor responded that “I have told this court the truth, unless you bring evidence that I am lying.”
“We will prove that,” Ms. Hollis responded.
As Mr. Taylor moved to the closure of his four months of direct-examination on Monday, he told the court that he decided to leave the Liberian presidency for asylum in Nigeria because he wanted peace in his West African homeland.
“I decided that I will leave for the sake of peace,” the accused former Liberian president said.
In August 2003, as rebel forces advanced on the Liberian capital Monrovia with an aim of unseating Mr. Taylor, the former president agreed to step-down as president. He left Liberia in August 2003 and relocated to Nigeria, where he lived until March 2006 when he was transferred to the custody of the Special Court for Sierra Leone. In his testimony on Monday, Mr. Taylor explained the circumstances surrounding his departure from Liberia and the unsealing of the indictment against him by the Special Court’s Chief Prosecutor.
Following his indictment while on peace talks in Ghana, West African leaders assured Mr. Taylor that they would inform the United Nations Security Council that the indictment was “unacceptable” and that it would be “quashed,” he said.
“I was informed that the UN Security Council will meet and the indictment will not stand. It was based on that assurance that I got on the plane and returned to Liberia,” Mr. Taylor explained.
On the strength of this promise, Mr. Taylor said he left Liberia for Nigeria in August of 2003. In March 2006, with pressure from the international community, Nigeria agreed to hand Mr. Taylor over to the democratically elected government of Liberia, which in turn handed him over to the custody of the Special Court for Sierra Leone. He was later transferred to The Hague where his trial is being hosted.
Mr. Taylor is accused of providing support to RUF rebels who waged an 11-year war on the government and people of Sierra Leone. It is alleged, among other things, that Mr. Taylor occupied a position of control over RUF rebels and that he could have prevented or punished rebel forces crimes against the people of Sierra Leone — including crimes of sexual violence, murder and recruitment of child soldiers. Mr. Taylor has denied all 11 charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international humanitarian law against him. Mr. Taylor started his direct-examination as a witness in his own defense on July 14, 2009 and concluded almost four months alter, on November 10, 2009. Prosecutors are now corss-examining Mr. Taylor.
His trial will continue Monday.