As Cross-Examination Is Set To Begin: A Strategic Dilemma for the Prosecution…..

The direct testimony of former Liberian president, Charles Taylor, covered a lot of ground. Over the course of 13 weeks, Mr. Taylor talked us through his childhood in Liberia, his student days in the United States, his dramatic escape from a US jail in the 1980s, his time in Libya where he was influenced, he says, by Pan-African philosophy of Muammar Ghaddafi, the conflicts in both Sierra Leone and Liberia and his eventual decision to go into exile in Nigeria in 2003, among other things.

His testimony went well beyond simply responding to the charges against him.  In effect, Mr. Taylor created a counter-narrative about his life, actions and motivations which sought to present an entirely different picture to that painted by prosecutors.  Mr. Taylor wanted to demonstrate that he was a peacemaker – not a warmonger – and that he wanted the best for Liberia and for his neighboring Sierra Leone. And that meant that the fighting had to stop in Sierra Leone.  As a former rebel leader, he was well placed to create the conditions for peace, he said.  All his efforts, he explained, were directed towards peace and were undertaken with the blessing and knowledge of his colleagues: other West African leaders.

But some say there was a slight problem with this effort to create an alternative view of Mr. Taylor.  This broad counter-narrative that he presented to the court included significant digressions that were not clearly connected to the case or the charges against him. Kimberly Punt and Jennifer Easterman from U.C. Berkeley War Crimes Center, for instance, argue that while some testimony about issues that do not directly relate to the charges is normal in international courts, it has became excessive in the Taylor trial, and was not adequately reined in by the Trial Chamber. As a result, the trial lost unnecessary time and expended unnecessary resources.

Throughout Taylor’s testimony, the Court allowed Taylor to discuss issues that did not directly relate to the questions asked by the Defense. The Court has wide discretion to allow evidence into the record, as the Rules allow it to admit “any relevant evidence.” This means that in the Taylor trial the Court has heard a large body of evidence that is not directly related to the indictment but that the Judges have determined is relevant to the case.  Although this is normal for international criminal tribunals, it has become problematic in the Taylor trial due to Trial Chamber II’s passive judicial management style.  The Court has generally not limited the scope of evidence or witness testimony, although Rule 91 gives them the power to exercise control over witness testimony to avoid wasting time.  During Taylor’s testimony, there have been several occasions in which the Court could have exerted more control over Taylor’s answers to avoid wasting time.  Given the length of Taylor’s testimony, the financial constraints of the Court, and the need to conduct an efficient trial, this is an important consideration.

(Interested readers can find the full report – a good read – here:

Meanwhile, readers on the site highlighted a challenge that such digressions — and forays into areas not strictly related to the charges against him — have created for the Prosecution going forward.

A reader called “Digressions” posted the following:

The problem with the judges not cutting Mr Taylor off when he lapsed into endless digressions is that much of his digressions were blatantly incorrect: his descriptions of Liberia’s forests–”Liberia has the world’s biggest elephants”… wrong; that the Liberian shipping registry was started to protect ships during WWII… wrong…

it goes on and on.

The problem for the prosecution is: what do they correct?

Was it the defense’s strategy to baffle the judges with information (much of it irrelevant, as the Berkeley report points out)?

If so, then if the prosecution tries to correct everything, do they just feed into the defense’s strategy by overwhelming the judges?

Indeed, the reader called “Digressions” highlights one of the strategic decisions the prosecutors will have to make in the coming weeks: will they challenge Mr. Taylor on all his testimony, even those parts they consider to be irrelevant or tangential to the charges — or will they just focus on the parts of his testimony which form the core of their case against him as a way of focusing the judges on key issues they need to prove their case?

The Prosecution itself recognized the challenge that faced it in a brief they submitted to the judges on the introduction of new documents on November 17, 2009.

In that brief, the prosecution notes:

Many other aspects of the Accused’s testimony touch on issues that are either only tangentially relevant or completely irrelevant to the charges, such as his role in the Doe coup in 1980 and his escape from a Massachussetts jail in 1985.  While this testimony may bear little relation to the charges that are the subject of this trial, evidence that the Accused has intentionally lied to the court on these peripheral issues is still highly relevant to determining the credibility of his testimony as a whole.

The ability to challenge the veracity of any witness’s evidence lies at the heart of cross-examination; which is ultimately an exercise aimed at discerning whether a witness is telling the truth.  The Trial Chamber must be in a position not only to make determinations about the credibility of the Prosecution witnesses but also about the truthfulness of the Accused in this case and the witnesses called by the Defense.  To be effective, the cross-examining party must be given latitude to challenge the accused on all aspects of his account using available evidence.

As our reader, “Digressions,” points out, the danger of challenging everything on all aspects of Mr. Taylor’s testimony is that it risks overwhelming the judges with information, which then makes it hard to sort out what is relevant to the issues they really need to decide about Mr. Taylor’s guilt or innocence of the charges against him.

However, as the Prosecution pointed out in its own submission, challenges to testimony that are “digressions” — or not directly related to the charges — could still be useful in trying to demonstrate to the judges whether Mr. Taylor was truthful on the whole – and therefore going to his credibility generally as a witness.

This will be an important strategic decision for the prosecution that will be interesting to watch as the cross-examination goes forward. If they opt for the strategy for challenging Mr. Taylor on his entire testimony, we may be in for an extensive – and extended – cross-examination, particularly given the debate over the use of “fresh evidence” by the Prosecution during cross-examination.

But even then, what the Prosecution chooses to challenge amid Mr. Taylor’s entire testimony may likely be a matter of degree.  If they are able to convincingly expose some major flaws in Mr. Taylor’s testimony by demonstrating his statements were factually incorrect, then the calculation may become one of how many such statements need to be exposed in order to do serious damage to Mr. Taylor’s credibility and hence argue successfully that Mr. Taylor ought not be believed on much else.  And it may also depend on how much the judges are willing to allow the prosecution to dwell on inconsistencies in testimony that are not directly relevant to proving the team’s case, and what new documents they are allowed to use to try to impeach Mr. Taylor.

Meanwhile, it is clear that the defense will be on the look out for ways to limit the harm to their client, Mr. Taylor.  In challenging the introduction of “fresh evidence” during the cross-examination of Mr. Taylor, the defense team has already shown it will be looking to both protect Mr. Taylor’s fair trial rights under cross-examination, and to ensure to the greatest extent possible that Mr. Taylor has adequate legal advice on documents that will be used by the prosecution during the cross-examination phase.  We can continue to expect a robust defense, particularly in relation to procedural issues, over the coming months as the Prosecution challenges Mr. Taylor on his testimony.

Readers – did you spot any major errors or inconsistencies in Mr. Taylor’s testimony that you think the Prosecution will pounce on?  What about areas where his testimony was solid?


  1. This is a dilemma indeed. During the course of the trail, Mr. Taylor he has made many statements what are so very incorrect, but as you stated Tracy the prosecution has the dilemma of either challenging every statement made; resulting in bombarding the judge with an overwhelming amount of information, or only objecting to certain issues that are more relevant to discrediting Taylor’s testimony. But as you said the peripheral issues do contribute to painting a larger picture of the true Taylor. This is why Taylor is speaking about issues that same irrelevant such as his child-hood, education, etc…he is attempting to paint a different picture of himself by showing the more humanly or humane side of himself as an educative man, a man who fights for justice, an ordinarily Liberian with a beautiful childhood etc….. That is why I think the prosecution made a smart move by bringing in issues/conflicts in Liberia. Many readers say “what does that have to do with Sierra Leone”, But the prosecution I believe is attempting to use these peripheral events (Liberian civil wars, and Taylors role) to show the judge that Taylor is indeed capable of committing the acts that he’s accused of.

    I hope that the prosecution finds a balance between what lies they object to and what they allow to slip through. Because what seems like peripheral information could contribute to a larger objective; impeaching Taylor’s credibility.

  2. Ms. Teage,
    Here you go again with these personal assertion about Mr. Taylor. Where are you coming from with this blanket sttement of rendering mr. Taylors’ testimony as being incorrect??? These prosecutions brought up a case that they have failed up to this point to proof… What do you want the man to do ? Think about some of the vague questions that have asked that got notthing to do with their complains.. Think about some of the unprofessional attributions they ‘ve made..Don’t you think it’s kindof nieve for the prosecution to be advocating the intrductions of new evidences at this time????? What if their new prsentations proof futile. do you and I expect them to ask for more chances for intros..come on , why people think they can play with the life of others just for money…Look my sister we all know the game . MORE time means job sustainability, more money, trying to beat the global resession etc…

  3. Tracey Gurd,

    All I can tell you, in the court of law, the burden of proof is on the lap of the prosecution. The prosecution is to prove beyond all reasonable doubts, that the accuse actually did what he /she is being accused of. Once there is a little doubts, the benefit goes to the defense. As such, as far as the evidence and facts of this fake case is concerned, the prosecution has not done anything that this innocent man did what they say he did.

    They can impeach President Taylor credibility all they want, we want to see the proof of what he is being accused of.

    Let them show the world that Taylor was captured in Sierra Leone as an illegal enemy combatant.
    Let them show us document that Taylor was the head of the RUF.
    Let them prove that Foday Sankor was not the head of the RUF, but Taylor.
    Let them produce the Salute Report of the RUF taking orders from Taylor
    Let them show us receipt of Taylor purchasing arms for the RUF/AFRC
    Let them show us who bought the so-called Manyonese jar full of Sierra Leonean diamons from Taylor.
    Let them show us the gun manufacturing company in Liberia that was manufacturing these weapons for the RUF use during Taylor presidency.
    Let them show us DNA and forensic evidence that Taylor was in control of the RUF.
    Let them prove that Taylor was not a member of the Committee of 5,6, and 9 in helping to broker peace.
    Let them prove that Taylor ordered the chopping off of Sierra Leonean limbs and arms.
    Let them show us the 5 billion dollars that they say Taylor”HAS” in foreign banks.
    Let them show to us that Taylor claim about Sandline and Executive Outcome breaking the UN embargo is untrue.

    Tracey, if there is anything about credibility, it is the prosecutors who have a serious credibility issue.For example, one of their own witnesses said, it was Kabbah army that amputated his body parts and not the rebel. The other paid witness said, he and Taylor met at certain time in Monrovia whereas documents showed that Taylor was at a regional meeting outside the country. While the other one said, Taylor and Sankor were in a meeting in Liberia, whereas document shows Sankor was in Jail in Nigeria.
    Ms Hollis said, since one “Charles” was doing diamond business, it got to be Charles Taylor.
    Ms Hollis asked him question about Operation Octopus. Zero to do with the case. She talked about catholic Nuns. No connection to the charges. Taiwanense Govenment deposit, no relationship.

    Tracey, speaking about digression, it is the prosecution that is Talking more about other irrevelant things that have nothing to do with the case as oppose to President Taylor. For example, They asked Taylor whether General Quiwonkpa was more popular amongst his man, than Taylor. No relationship what so ever to the case. They asked Taylor about his wedding, No relations to the charges, and so many more.

    Tracey, no case here. The only way this innocent man will be found guilty, except they use their brute force and their backdoor way like what they did to get him at all costs. And that will ruin their already fragile credibility.

  4. Tracey,
    Thanks and welcome back to all….

    In some of my very early thread, I suggested that the evidence against Taylor in Sierra Leone is not concrete, yet, I warned that his “chatty” nature could get him in trouble. While thus far the prosecution suggest that some information is irrelevent and others thinks that it might be information overload, if he continues with his long winded answers, he could expose his vulnerability.

    Since the trial has resumed, I guess we shall see if the atmosphere is going to change. I expect it to become more contentious as this is basically the last leg to a long race. If the prosecution is the “hit a home run” it’s in this inning. If the defense is to prevent the prosecution from celebrating and popping the “bubbly”, this last lap is crucial. However, in a this case, the first day, will determine who has the “mojo”.

    1. Hi Bnker — welcome back and happy new year. I think you were in Senegal over the break if I remember correctly? If so, I hope you enjoyed your time there.

      Yes, I agree — this will be a crucial period for both the defense and the prosecution. I’m looking forward to Alpha’s report on the first day back.

      Glad you have rejoined us again this year, Bnker.

      Very best,

  5. Ms. Teage,
    Ha ha ha….so you don’t want him to tell the world about HIS LIFE??? Will it be fair for me to only tell the world a part of your life ONLY and that ONLY equals your WHOLE LIFE??

    Really, are the prosecutors looking for a HAIL MARY pass to win?? Since they started their cross, what the MOST IMPORTANCE ISSUE relating to the charges have we seen in this court?? All we see is about Liberia for which according to the MANDATE of this court has nothing to do with Sierra Leone. Are they up to his CREDIBILITY?? A tall hill to climb if you ask me……. Most of their witnesses have ZERO clue of him…..documents produced are WISHY WASHY plus he knows more about documents than they knew. So where are we and where are we going……HELP please.

  6. I am writting in response to your said “reader” digression’s comments. Indeed the Liberian shipping arrangement was set up to protect vessels during the second world war. On the issue of elephants, wether I claim the ones in my backyard to be the biggest or not is highly irrelevant. To the observers in Berkley, well, I have gone through a few of their reviews on this case and that of Issa Sesay et al and do not at all find them to be objective. Objectivity being what scholars must hold paramount.
    I do in my own view, feel the judges must avail the accused every necessary opportunity to pursue his defence and the prosecution must be made to know that this is not O.J Simpsons case where the subject is convicted due to media barage and bias. Lastly, I wonder if you could review prior prosecution witness cases on a week by week bases i.e put the records on display and ask for people on their takes on it. Cheers.

    1. Hi rgk007,

      Welcome — I can’t remember seeing you on the site before but am delighted to see you here.

      Thanks for your comments and your great suggestions. On the witness cases — we do have overviews of prior witnesses that were done by UC Berkeley and also Clifford Chance in the monthly reports which are posted here:

      Certainly, going forward, we could try to provide more detail on the defense witnesses’ testimony and I”ll talk with Alpha to develop ideas on how best to do that. I’ll also think more on what we can do to give a review of the prosecution witnesses to provide a refresher of the testimony going forward to date. But a great suggestion, rgk007. I’ll see what we can do.


  7. rkg007: The Liberian shipping registry wasn’t set up to protect vessels during WWII as both you and Mr Taylor say.

    The Belen Quezada was the first foreign-owned vessel to register with the Panamanian registry in 1919. Several US ships followed suit in 1922. The registry slowly grew over the next 15 years, mostly due to transfers from European flags. In the late 1940s, several factors led American shipowners to become unhappy with the registry, and there became a demand for a new registry that could compete with Panama.

    The Liberian Registry was formed in 1948–well after WWII–with the help of American businessmen. Stavros Niarchos, a Greek shipowner, registered the first ship (the World Peace) with Liberia in 1949.

    Perhaps you (and Mr Taylor) are confused with the merchant marine or something — but it had nothing to do with Liberia.

    (Likewise, Liberian elephants aren’t the largest elephants…)

    but your comments ngk007 highlight the problem for the prosecution as I see it. Do they allow Mr Taylor to make a composed presentation under questioning by Mr Griffiths (as the UC Berkeley review characterized it), or does the prosecution try to point out all the inconsistencies and errors in fact, even for issues (such as the shipping registry) that are digression unrelated to the actual case.

    Sorry to reiterate the point, but i think it is an interesting one for the prosecution to deal with.

    1. Degression,

      I had wanted to ignore your comments as not being substantive to the case. I would be grateful if you could pinpoint some inconsistencies in Mr. Taylor’s testimony that go t the heart of the accusations in this case. Dwelling on comments about how big an elephant is appears immaterial to me.

      One comment I would like to make on the shipping registry is that Mr. Taylor was able to remove control of the registry and its funds from the American and placed it in the hands of Liberians at least, for once since 1948. If this did not annoy the Americans leading to the folding of the ITC Bank than we must reconsider the frankness of some contributors here.

      1. Andrew — you are back with us! Welcome and happy new year. I hope you enjoyed the holiday season.

    2. Digressions,

      This case is about Sierra Leone, according to the prosecution, who is prosecuting this innocent man. However, focus like a laserbeam on Sierra Leone and not Liberia.

  8. Tracey, I saw your question and will love to give my opnion as soon as I’ve completed reading the 38 page Berkley report…LOL…BUT there are several areas I believe the prosecution can use to destroy Taylor’s credibility. Will reply later.

    1. Teage,

      We are more concerned about evidence, and not credibility. Show us that President Taylor is responsible for Sierra Leone killimg each other. However, I don’t think is that hard especially, if you have the evidence.

  9. I have said since the begaining of this trial that Mr. Taylor was feeding us with inconsistent statements, and sadly Mr. Griffith and his defense team,did noting to stop this man from talking, and just might have prejudice himself.thats my two cents

    1. Hi Ziggy Salis — welcome back and good to have you with us. Thanks for your comments.


  10. The few inconsistencies in Mr. Taylor testimonies has got nothing to do with the facts of this case or the charges against Mr. Taylor. Moreover, if inconsistencies was a burden for any witness, then this case is over. Because, all of the prosecution witnesses presented inconsistent testiomonies, and some prosecution witnesses contradicted the testimonies of other prosecution witnesses.

    So I do not see the issue here, since Mr. Taylor socalled inconsistencies does not hinge on the charges. For example, Taylor blasting of uneducated people like Zigzag Marzar but at the same time Zigzag worked for the NPFL as a general. This statement has got nothing to do with the facts that Zigzag lied about Taylor eating human flesh.

    Taylor referenced to an uneducated person has to do with the fact of giving that person senior leadership position in decision making processes. Zigzag Marzar was never a senior decision making in the NPFL nor the government under Taylor. As a matter of fact, it is this trial that has given Zigzag prominence but before this trial Zigzag was never known in Liberia as a major player in the NPFL nor president’s Taylor’s government.

    It is very common in Liberia to know who were the senior and main decision makers in the NPFL or Taylor’s government, not a mere frontline soldier who was given a motivation rank of general. Those war ranks meant nothing because in the actual Liberian military (Arm Forces of Liberia), Zigzag was never a general. His military rank was simply for the battle front and war purposes. The AFL could have never given an uneducated Zigzag a general rank.

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