Charles Taylor this week finished his seven-month long testimony with two key messages to the judges: he did not provide support to Sierra Leonean rebel forces as they committed crimes throughout his neighboring country, and that prosecutors have not proven the case against him.
“In order to make their case that they have not been able, in my opinion, to prove, they can call me any name, it does not make it right. And the facts before this court, the judges in their decision will determine as to whether this is true –‘He’s got billions of dollars’,” Mr. Taylor said, repeating the allegations made against him by prosecutors, who say he enriched himself with profits from selling diamonds he got from rebels in exchange for weapons.
“We’ve been in this court now, I’ve been sitting in this chair here for almost seven months, where are the billions?” he said. “I disagree with them, but I think it’s a part of their job to say these kinds of things or to try to make me look bad, this is not true, so I disagree with them.”
Prosecutors say Mr. Taylor is responsible for heinous crimes committed by Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel forces in the neighboring West African nation of Sierra Leone — including murder, rape, amputations and using child soldiers to fight — during the country’s brutal 11-year war. The former president has been testifying in his own defense since July 14, 2009. He has denied all charges against him in his trial at the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
In order to prove their case against Mr. Taylor, prosecutors have sought to lead evidence that the former president imported weapons from foreign countries into Liberia which were transferred to RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. These weapons were then used to commit atrocities against the civilian population in his neighboring country, prosecutors say. Prosecutors have also led evidence that in return for weapons, RUF rebels supplied Mr. Taylor with diamonds. According to prosecutors, proceeds of the diamonds, as well as resources from Liberia’s timber industry, were deposited by Mr. Taylor into various fake accounts, in and outside of Liberia. Mr. Taylor has denied all these allegations, challenging prosecutors to produce evidence of the money he is alleged to have hidden.
On Monday, Mr. Taylor responded to questions in re-examination about his earlier testimony that an account opened in his name at the Liberian Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) was a covert bank account that belonged to the government of Liberia while he was president. Mr. Taylor explained that the opening of the account was done with the authorization of the Liberian legislature which instructed him to use “any and all means” necessary to defeat Liberians United for Reconciliation and Development (LURD) rebels who were threatening to unseat his government.
“This account is a covert account opened by the government of Liberia at this time. It had to be opened in my name,” Mr. Taylor.
Explaining how monies deposited into this account were used, Mr. Taylor said that “the largest disbursement from this account went to arms and ammunition. Out of this account, we paid salaries for special units, the ATU [Anti-Terrorist Unit] was paid, the SSS [Special Security Services] was paid, and various presidential projects in dealing with goodwill within that period were paid out of this account. These are the four categories that we paid out of this account,” the former president explained.
On Tuesday, Mr. Taylor told the court that he did not work for the United States’ top spy agency, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) while he was a rebel leader in Liberia, but he did receive sophisticated communication equipment from the agency in the hope that his forces could help protect American citizens and property during Liberia’s brutal civil conflict.
Prosecutors have previously accused Mr. Taylor of working for the CIA while at the same time collaborating with the Libyan government which provided support to his National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) rebel group. In his re-examination on Tuesday, the former president denied working for the CIA.
“I have never, ever, and will not ever work for the CIA or any other intelligence agency, never, no,” the former president said.
Mr. Taylor has previously noted that his NPFL and the CIA did exchange information but that did not amount to him working as an agent of the CIA.
In other developments on Tuesday, Mr. Taylor denied prosecution allegations that he used his telephone services in his detention facility to manipulate witnesses set to testify for the prosecution. Prosecutors have previously alleged that Mr. Taylor worked with associates in Liberia to intimidate and discourage people from testifying against him.
Mr. Taylor dismissed the allegations, telling judges that the court’s registrar, who oversees his detention in The Hague, has never accused him of misusing the telephone services provided to him. He said that all his telephone calls are fully supervised and are arranged after intensive investigations on who he wants to call.
“First, I have to submit a number of an individual that I would like to call at some time, the process takes two weeks for the Sierra Leonean court and the facilities to do their security checks on the number and the individual,” Mr. Taylor said. “After about two weeks, that number is approved for calling. I cannot just automatically get up and say, please call this number, no, it has to be vetted and approved by the Sierra Leonean court.”
Mr. Taylor also on Tuesday rebuffed the contents of a January 5, 1999 letter written by former Sierra Leonean president, Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, to the United Nations Secretary General, in which the former Liberian president was accused of providing support to RUF rebels in Sierra Leone.
“I have a mountain of evidence that rebel offensive has been supported and sustained by the Taylor government,” President Kabbah’s letter noted.
Dismissing the letter as nonsense, Mr. Taylor explained how he would have reacted if he had received a copy of the said letter.
“I would have taken a different disposition during that particular period that Kabbah — who was calling me and talking to me and visiting Liberia — could write a letter making such an accusation. It would have probably changed me significantly,” Mr. Taylor said.
The former Liberian president added that if he had received the said letter, he would have removed himself from the Committee of Five, a committee established by West African leaders to facilitate a peaceful end to the conflict in Sierra Leone.
On Wednesday, Mr. Taylor denied claims that he secretly smuggled arms and ammunitions into Liberia in 1997 without informing the West African peacekeepers.
During cross-examination, prosecutors had raised allegations of Mr. Taylor’s involvement in arms smuggling in Liberia, pointing to a book written by Nigerian General Victor Malu — the head of West African peacekeeping forces in Liberia during Mr. Taylor’s presidency. In his book, General Malu reportedly claimed that in 1997, Mr. Taylor secretly smuggled arms and ammunition from South Africa through the Free Port of Monrovia without informing Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) peacekeepers. The former ECOMOG commander said that before his forces were alerted, Mr. Taylor had removed the arms and ammunition from the Free Port. As Mr. Taylor continued his re-examination, he dismissed the allegations as nonsense.
“Since ECOMOG arrived in Liberia in 1990, they maintained full control of the Free Port of Monrovia. So to say at this particular time that arms are being brought into the Free Port, the Navy of ECOMOG is based there,” Mr. Taylor told the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
“Even through my presidency, ECOMOG was deployed fully in Monrovia and its environs by this time. So this is total nonsense that someone could have brought a shipload of arms into the Free Port, the Navy of Nigeria is running this port, it’s totally, totally crazy here, it’s not possible.”
Prosecutors have alleged that these war materials that were imported into Liberia were transferred to RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor has maintained that his country did not have arms and ammunition to supply RUF rebels. He has, however, told the court that while he served as president of Liberia, as his country was under a United Nations arms embargo, he secretly bought arms from foreign countries and transported them into Liberia but they were purely for the purpose of fighting against LURD rebel forces in his country.
On Thursday, as Mr. Taylor concluded his testimony, he reaffirmed his position that he did not in any way support armed groups in Sierra Leone, including the RUF and Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) – a group of disaffected Sierra Leonean soldiers who overthrew the elected government of Sierra Leone in May 1997.
“Did you, Charles Taylor, between November 1996 and January 2002 provide assistance, support or any kind of help with war-like materials to either the AFRC or the RUF?” Mr. Taylor’s defense counsel, Courtenay Griffiths, asked him as a final question in his re-examination on Thursday.
“No. Never,” Mr. Taylor responded.
Mr. Taylor is charged with 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international humanitarian law in relation to his alleged role in supporting and controlling Sierra Leonean rebels who committed mass crimes during the brutal civil conflict in his neighboring country.
Other defense witnesses will start testifying in Mr. Taylor’s defense on Monday.