Here is the first installment of the interview we did with Charles Taylor’s lead defense counsel, Courtenay Griffiths, last week. The next two installments will be posted over the coming days. Enjoy!
QUESTION 1. Why did you take on this case? And are you winning or losing?
Based on the following comments:
Why did he decide to take on this case and how much is CT paying him or is his work pro-bono.
n March 5, 2010 at 10:07 pm, Noko4 said:
I will like to know
1. What MOTIVATED him to take this case??
On March 6, 2010 at 8:48 am, Harris K Johnson said:
1.Why did you choose to defend Mr. Taylor, a man who Washington and London see as a terrorist planted in West Africa, and what do stand to gain?
2. From a legal stand point what do you make of this case so far, are you wining or loosing?
Well, I took on the case because, throughout my career I always acted for – or tried to act for — the underdog. Particularly in those cases where the media have created the idea that the person is guilty even before a trial has taken place. Charles Taylor was tried and found guilty in the court of public opinion long before he was even arrested. It is very difficult to shift such public perceptions once they have been created. However, I strongly believe that every suspect is innocent until proven guilty following a fair trial and it is my responsibility to ensure that his trial is fair and that the judges arrive at the right verdict despite the odds.
QUESTION: And can you comment on whether you think you’re winning or losing?
I think we are winning. I think, based on the damage we did to the prosecution’s case, that this man ought to be acquitted. I have tried to be as objective as possible. My yardstick is: if this case was being tried before me in an English court, and I sit as a part-time judge in the Crown Court in London, what would my independent view be. Based on the quality of the evidence presented the verdict would have to be one of not guilty.
QUESTION 2. Charles Taylor initially challenged the Special Court’s legitimacy, now he is working within the system. What caused his change of heart?
Based on the following comments:
Your client originally denied the legitimacy of the Special Court and wanted to defend himself. Now he seems to respect the Court, utilizes you and the rest of the defense team, and is attempting to work within the system to prove his innocence. Do you know what caused this change of heart?
Well, that change of heart took place before I came on board. And frankly, I haven’t questioned him about it. But it is a novelty to find a former head of state who is willing to cooperate with the authorities in this way. And in fact, you will note, that in all political trials since Charles the First in the mid 17th century, that those leaders have always questioned the legitimacy of the courts and the court’s jurisdiction to try them. I think Mr. Taylor is the first leader of a country to have followed the procedures and accepted the authority of the court in the way he has. This is because he has an abiding belief in justice and he is willing to trust the Special Court for Sierra Leone to dispense justice.
QUESTION 3. Is Charles Taylor getting a fair trial and can you live with whatever result he gets?
Question based on the following comment:
On March 5, 2010 at 6:22 pm, Political-guru said:
Mr. Griffiths, let me first and foremost register my sincere thanks to the moderator and especially to you for your esteemed time. My question : Do you believe that Mr. Taylor is receiving a fair trial and no matter the result you would be able to live with it? And secondly, were he to be convicted, would his defense seek an appeal?
I’d say that I believe he is receiving a fair trial. I think the prosecution investigation was totally unfair and dishonest. Investigative techniques were adopted which have no place in a civilized court of law. But, nonetheless, I think these judges have striven since the beginning to ensure that the proceedings are fair. I think they do realize that their professional reputations are on the line. Unfortunately, the reality is, because the primary funders of this court want to see a Taylor conviction, I appreciate that these judges are under a great deal of pressure to convict. And I just hope that they will stay strong and sufficiently independent of mind not to bow to that pressure.
QUESTION 4. Are you confident that the judges can make an impartial decision free from international influence and pressure? Do you trust the judges?
Based on the following comments:
On March 5, 2010 at 7:21 pm, Jose Rodriguez said:
First of all, I will like to thank you and the entire defense team for the superb and splendid job performed over the years For President Taylor. Your heroic intiative and great personal value in the face of intense international media blitz and pressure and yet able to do your job diligently is just phenomenally awesome.
My question is, how confident are you when it comes to the making of an impartial judgement free from international influence and pressure by the judges? Do you really trust the judges and their final verdict? Why/why not
Well, I trust the judges, and I trust the integrity of the judges. But it is a fact that they’re operating under enormous international pressure, particularly from the United States and the United Kingdom. And there are real political reasons for that, because an acquitted Charles Taylor will be able to return to Liberia. And if he returned to Liberia and contests the election against the current incumbent, Charles Taylor would win. But can you see either the United States or the United Kingdom, having invested so much in this court, allowing such a democratic possibility to take place? Despite their alleged support of democracy and the rule of law! Can you see it? I cannot, because the economic interests at stake for them are too great.
QUESTION 5: If in fact there was a conviction, the questions are whether you would appeal it, and whether you would act on his behalf if you did appeal?
Hi Mr. Griffiths,
First of all I would like to congratulate you for such an outstanding performance. You are the best in the business.
Hope you don’t mind if I referred to you as Perry Mason (AKA). My question to you is this. What if President Taylor is found guilty, which is highly unlikely, would you represent him at the appeal level? Even though, we are not at the bridge yet, but it’s nice to plan how to cross the bridge before reaching to it.
Well, what I’d say is this: whether there is an acquittal or a conviction, there will be an appeal. Because, as you are aware, and many of your readers are, I’m sure, aware, if Taylor is acquitted, the prosecution can appeal that decision. And I’m very concerned about the prosecution appealing, and the Appeals Chamber in this court having to decide on such an appeal, because frankly, I consider the Appeals Chamber of this court to be biased. And that can be seen from their decision in the RUF appeal. They have bastardized important legal principles governing the central mode of liability in Mr Taylor’s case. Such has been the departure from customary international law that one of the appeal judges, Justice Fisher, interestingly an American judge, described the appellate decision as “dangerous”. Indeed one legal expert has opined that “..[the decision] sets a precedent for the trial of Charles Taylor, who, the prosecution alleges, participated in a joint criminal enterprise, along with the RUF, to take control of Sierra Leone by criminal means. If the Special Court for Sierra Leone applies this flawed logic [The decision in the RUF appeal] in Taylor’s case, another wrongful conviction could result.”
QUESTION: So you trust the trial chambers, but not the appeals chambers. You’re worried they’re biased.
I’m extremely worried about this Appeals Chamber. Some of their decision-making is really totally wrong. There is an absence of logic and intellectual honesty about some of their decisions. The appeals chamber appears to be motivated solely by political and pragmatic considerations. Vengeance seems to colour much of their thought. And those kinds of issues have no place in the rule of law. So frankly I don’t trust the Appeals Chamber.
QUESTION 6. Do you think this trial has been a waste of time and money? What do you think is the appropriate role of international criminal trials/domestic trials (war crimes tribunals) in post-conflict countries? Do you think the cost is warranted given their role in re-establishing rule of law? Do you think there are alternatives that are better use of money, time and political will? Would you have preferred that the trial was held in Sierra Leone?
Based on the following comments:
At the beginning of this trial, Sir, there was out cry, especially from taylor’s fan that “this was a waste of time and money” and not to mention how this trial was about a conspiracy by the West(USA&Britain),supporters claimed. Now that sufficient time has been spent on this trial and democracy being in practice, why would you say to those that still believe this whole trial was a waste of time and money?
On March 8, 2010 at 10:08 pm, questions said:
13. a) What legal precedents/theories are likely to come from this trial?
b) What will be its lasting impact on international law?
c) What do you think is the appropriate role of international criminal trials/domestic trials (war crimes tribunals) in post-conflict countries? Do you think the cost is warranted given their role in re-establishing rule of law? Do you think there are alternatives that are better use of money, time and political will?
d) Would you have preferred that the trial was held in Sierra Leone?
Yes, I do. I think it’s been a complete waste of time and money, because one of the suggested objectives of this trial was to imbed the rule of law in West Africa and to reaffirm that principle. And yet the prosecution has gone about paying witnesses. So many people in Sierra Leone and Liberia now associate the giving of evidence with the idea of making money. And it’s the prosecution who polluted the minds of those people in West Africa in that way. And so consequently, the legacy, the supposed legacy, is just not going to happen. And this has been an absolute waste of money. To what extent have the people of Sierra Leone gained? Nothing at all! These trials were conducted in Freetown, in a fortified oasis in the middle of Freetown, to which the vast majority of Sierra Leoneans had no access. Then Taylor’s trial is being conducted thousands of miles away. And their only means of accessing it is over the Internet if you’ve got a broadband connection. How many people in Sierra Leone and Liberia have such a broadband connection? So the supposed legacy, it’s just not going to happen. It is a mirage. It is the window dressing to justify their economic interests in the area. In the same way that non-existant weapons of mass destruction justified a terrible war in Iraq, the rule of law is being used here to disguise real neo-colonialist interests.
If there had to be a trial, nobody is going to convince me that it had to take place in The Hague. Are the authorities who have made that suggestion really suggesting that there’s nowhere in Africa stable enough for this trial to have been conducted there? ….To my mind, the whole idea of international criminal justice at this particular historical juncture is about neo-colonialism. It is a way of controlling certain countries. I will have a firm belief in international criminal justice the day George Bush and Tony Blair are put on trial for the illegal war in Iraq. Then I’ll believe in it. Until then, I have no belief in it as a form of international justice. At all At all, to borrow a Krio phrase.
QUESTION 7: Why haven’t you been waging a public relations campaign to make your case in the media?
Based on the following comment:
On March 6, 2010 at 3:03 am, King Gray said:
Mr. Griffins, I want to thank you very much for taking such a heavy case that is against the people of Africa. I think the people of America are good people and if they get to understand the reality of this political trial, they will cry out against using their name to suppress others. So why have the defense not been able to wage a serious public relations campiagn in the United States , on CNN and other media outlets, regarding the politcal nature of this trial?
Well, half of the problem, Tracey, is that in all criminal trials – what I’ve noticed in the thirty years that I’ve been working mainly as a defense advocate, is that the media are interested in the prosecution opening of the case. They may want to come back when there’s a celebrity witness, and then you see them again right at the end of the case. And so consequently, this blog is one of the few places where people can actually get regular updates of what is going on in the trial. And the major media houses are just not interested. And part of the reason, I believe, for that lack of interest, is because at the end of the day, having got Charles Taylor in custody, they see it as job done. And they don’t feel the need to educate the public as to the reality of the evidence in the trial. Indeed, I believe that their view is that the less the public sees how shoddy this prosecution case is, the better it is for them. And so whereas in Africa there has been a great deal of coverage, and we’ve made major strides in getting the message out, in the West no one is interested.