After debates over the use of “fresh evidence” threw the cross-examination of former Liberian President, Charles Taylor, into disarray in recent weeks, Special Court for Sierra Leone judges told prosecutors last Monday that they were in fact allowed to use new documents to test Mr. Taylor’s credibility. Any documents used to try to show Mr. Taylor’s guilt, however, would need to be handed over to Mr. Taylor’s defense team in advance. After problems during the week with the distinction between the two types of documents, prosecutors agreed on Thursday to disclose all documents they intend to use throughout Mr. Taylor’s cross-examination to avoid further “misunderstandings”.
Monday’s ruling allowed the cross-examination to continue with greater predictability while still leaving room for an “acceptable” element of “surprise” – while Thursday’s disclosure orders narrowed down the prosecutors’ discretion in disclosure, demonstrating that the judges were keen to stave off potential problems for the defense going forward.
In cross-examining Mr. Taylor, prosecutors have sought to use new evidence to impeach the former president’s credibility as a witness in his own defense – a move that his defense team has called a “trial by ambush.” The dispute arose when prosecutors tried to use a document to which Mr. Taylor’s defense team objected on the basis that it was not submitted as part of the prosecution’s case and was not used in Mr. Taylor’s direct-examination. On Monday, the judges ordered that documents which are meant to impeach the credibility of Mr. Taylor could be used by the prosecution without the need to disclose the documents to the defense. The judges further ordered that all documents which have probative value to the guilt of the accused must be disclosed to the defense before they could be used by the prosecution in cross-examining Mr. Taylor.
After the decision was handed down on Monday, however, Mr. Taylor’s defense counsel objected to the use of several documents which the prosecution sought to use to impeach Mr. Taylor’s credibility. These documents included records of bank transactions which prosecutors allege provide evidence of Mr. Taylor’s financial undertakings and a newspaper report of Mr. Taylor’s 1997 wedding to his former wife, Liberian Senator Jewel Taylor. The judges agreed with the defense that the documents were probative to the guilt of Mr. Taylor.
On Thursday, presiding judge Justice Richard Lussick said that the prosecution’s “piecemeal disclosure of individual documents” was unacceptable.
“This cannot be allowed to continue and the Chamber needs to set out a disclosure regime,” Justice Lussick said.
On Thursday, lead prosecutor Brenda Hollis agreed that to avoid further misunderstanding of the judges’ order as issued on Monday, all documents — whether intended for use to impeach Mr. Taylor’s credibility or to point at Mr. Taylor’s guilt — will be disclosed to the defense.
Addressing all the parties on Thursday, Justice Lussick made the following orders:
“1. All such documents should be disclosed to the defense by close of business day on Tuesday, and
2. Prosecution should give 24 hours notice to the defense of documents it intends to use for cross-examination on a particular day.”
Prosecutors also on Thursday told Mr. Taylor that he did not share the risks and hardships of his soldiers, that he never went to the front lines, and that he was never under fire. Mr. Taylor agreed that he never went to the front lines.
Comparing Mr. Taylor to the late General Quiwonkpa who was assassinated by former Liberian president Samuel Doe after a failed coup attempt, prosecution counsel Nicholas Koumjian told Mr. Taylor that the late General was popular among his troops because he was a fighter, unlike Mr. Taylor.
“Thomas Quiwonkpa was admired, and in fact, you could even say, would you agree, loved by many of the soldiers under him? And this is because soldiers admire and respect those leaders who share the hardships and risks of combat with them, correct?” Mr. Koumjian asked Mr. Taylor.
In his response, Mr. Taylor said “Yes, I would agree.”
When Mr. Koumjian put to Mr. Taylor that “you don’t share the hardships of your soldiers,” the former president responded that “No, but you were talking about soldiers. In the first place, I’m not a soldier, never taken military training. You spoke about soldiers caring for their men, I agree. Now you’ve put me–I have not, have never been– have never taken military training, so I’m not a soldier.”
When Mr. Koumjian pushed Mr. Taylor further to answer whether he shared the risks and hardships with his soldiers, the former president eventually said “oh, I do. Oh, I do.”
Mr. Koumjian told Mr. Taylor that “You stay behind the lines in your executive mansions while you send young men and women to fight.” Mr. Taylor dismissed the prosecutor’s assertion as “totally incorrect.”
Mr. Taylor agreed with Mr. Koumjian that he has never been to the front line.
“I have not been on the front line but I was under fire because I was on the ground,” Mr. Taylor said.
“As the leader, my protection was–my protection was very important. I must admit, I was very well protected and would have been stupid if I didn’t,” he added.
On Wednesday, prosecutors questioned Mr. Taylor on his decision to grant Liberian citizenship to Sierra Leonean rebel forces who relocated to Liberia in December 1999 after falling out with the Sierra Leonean rebel group’s hierarchy.
Mr. Taylor has long stated in his direct-examination that when Sierra Leone’s notorious rebel commander Sam Bockarie became a hindrance to the peace process in the country and eventually fell out with Revolutionary United Front (RUF) leader Foday Sankoh, West African leaders took a decision to get Mr. Bockarie out of Sierra Leone and have him relocated to Liberia. As Mr. Bockarie departed Sierra Leone for Liberia, hundreds of his loyal rebel fighters followed him to Liberia. Prosecution witnesses have testified that Mr. Bockarie relocated to Liberia on the invitation of Mr. Taylor. The former Liberian leader has denied these assertions. Mr. Taylor has stated that upon arrival in Liberia, Mr. Bockarie and his rebel followers were all granted Liberian citizenship before Mr. Bockarie’s followers were recruited into Liberia’s Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU). In cross-examining Mr. Taylor, Mr. Koumjian read from various portions of Liberian legislation dealing with Liberian citizenship and pointed out that Mr. Taylor flouted the legal procedures to grant citizenship to the Sierra Leonean rebels. Mr. Taylor responded that he acted on the advice of his lawyers.
“I am not a lawyer. I was president. I was given legal advice by my lawyers. So it’s unfair for me to answer questions on these legal documents when I am not a lawyer,” Mr. Taylor said.
On Monday, Mr. Taylor told the court that he received money from both Taiwan and Libya as contributions to his campaign to become president of Liberia in 1997.
“In 1996-1997, I received money from Taiwan and Libya,” Mr. Taylor told the court.
Mr. Taylor explained that during his campaign in the Liberian presidential elections in 1997, the Taiwanese government gave him 1,000,000 United States Dollars to support his candidacy. The money, Mr. Taylor said was delivered through the Taiwanese embassy in Ivory Coast and was received by his Chief of Protocol, Musa Sesay. Although the check was addressed in his name, Mr. Taylor said that it was cashed by Mr. Sesay in Abidjan, based on his (Taylor) authorization. Asked by lead prosecutor Ms. Brenda Hollis why the Taiwanese government had given him such amount of money, Mr. Taylor explained that the Taiwanese government probably did so for Public Relations (PR) reasons.
“They developed an interest in me,” Mr. Taylor said. “At that particular time, it was clear that elections were coming up. There was this concern that after the elections, they were concerned that China will block their interest in Liberia. It was like a form of PR for them because they were concerned that diplomatic support will continue after I became president. It was part of a policy to try to court foreign countries or prospective leaders.”
Mr. Taylor is responding to charges that he provided support to RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. Prosecutors allege that Mr. Taylor received Sierra Leone’s diamonds from RUF rebels and in return supplied them with arms and ammunition, which were used to commit atrocities in Sierra Leone. It is further alleged that Mr. Taylor occupied a position of superior authority to RUF rebels and that he knew or had reason to know that the rebels were committing atrocities in Sierra Leone but failed to prevent the commission of those crimes or that he did not punish perpetrators when he knew that such atrocities had been committed. He is now charged of bearing the greatest responsibility for the crimes committed by rebel forces in Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor has denied all the allegations against him. He has testified in direct-examination as a witness in his own defense and he is presently being cross-examined by the prosecution.
Mr. Taylor’s cross-examination continues on Monday.