Defense lawyers for former Liberian president Charles Taylor have filed a motion before Special Court for Sierra Leone judges in The Hague seeking an investigation into leaked United States Government (USG) cables by the whistle blowing website WikiLeaks about Mr. Taylor’s trial.
According to defense lawyers in their motion filed on Monday, January 10 2011, two cables emerging from the US Embassies in Liberia and The Hague respectively suggest that the USG has a specific interest in Mr. Taylor’s trial and that sensitive information from within the various sections of the Court have been compromised through agents who are answerable to the USG.
Defense lawyers state in their motion that based on a March 10, 2009 cable from the US Embassy in Liberia, it is clear that the USG wants to keep Mr. Taylor behind bars at all costs.
The defense motion quotes the US Ambassador to Liberia, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, as saying in the cable that “the best we can do for Liberia is to see to it that Taylor is put away for a long time and we cannot delay for the results of the present trial to consider the next steps. All legal options should be studied to ensure that Taylor cannot return to destabilize Liberia.”
The second cable from April 15, 2009, according to defense lawyers, “reveals that sensitive information about the trial has been leaked to the United States Embassy in The Hague by unnamed contacts in the Trial Chamber, the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) and the Registry.” A footnote in the motion states that this cable relates to the pace and efficiency of the trial, funding, and personnel issues.
“Based on these cables…and other available information, there is an inescapable and axiomatic concern that the impartiality and the independence of the Court may have been compromised,” defense lawyers state in their motion.
The motion adds, “The disclosures in these cables, in no small way, place the integrity of the Court itself on trial, and the Court would have failed…if it is not seen to have been fair, or if it appears that the hidden hand of a third party influenced the proceedings.”
Defense lawyers have therefore asked that the Prosecution and Registry be made to disclose any USG contacts “within their respective organs, as well as the nature and extent of the relationship and the information that has been exchanged between the contact(s) and the USG.”
If such disclosures are not made by either Prosecution or the Registry, defense lawyers requested that the judges order an independent investigation to determine who the said contacts are and the nature and extent of any relationship they might have with the USG.
Regarding alleged USG contacts inside the Chambers of the Court, defense lawyers in their motion ask the judges to use their inherent powers to commission and independent inquiry “within its own quarters to determine the identity of the contact and the nature and extent of their relationship with the USG.”
During the entire period of Mr. Taylor’s trial, his lead defense counsel Courtenay Griffiths has constantly told the media that Mr. Taylor is on trial not because of crimes committed in Sierra Leone, but because the USG wants to keep him out of Liberia. Mr. Taylor himself, when he testified as a witness in his own defense, made emphasis on an alleged USG ploy to keep him behind bars. With the USG cables referencing the former Liberian president’s trial in The Hague, defense lawyers now say that they have been right to point fingers at the USG as the Western power seeking to keep Mr. Taylor behind bars. Defense lawyers in their motion point to the fact that the USG has been the highest funder of the Special Court for Sierra Leone and that three of the Court’s four Chief Prosecutors to date are American nationals.
“It will be recalled that Lead Defense Counsel [Courtenay Griffiths] submitted during his opening statement that Mr. Taylor was only indicted and arrested because of the USG’s interests and pressure,” the defense motion states.
It adds, “Mr. Taylor subsequently testified that the USG had a vendetta against him and sought to remove him from power through various means.”
Defense lawyers therefore now argue that “[t]he published cables provide further insight into this relationship between the OTP and the USG.”
“They also disclose and give fresh insights into what appear to be equally close relationships between the USG and source(s) within Chambers and the Registry, with the clear implication being that the USG has successfully infiltrated all organs of the Court,” the motion adds.
In addition to proof that the USG has contacts or sources inside the OTP, Chambers, and Registry of the Court, defense lawyers say that the released cables also point at the USG’s desire to ensure that Mr. Taylor does not return to Liberia.
This, they say raises serious doubts about the independence and impartiality of the Court’s prosecution of Mr. Taylor.
“Viewed objectively and reasonably, evidence suggests that the indictment and trial of Mr. Taylor…is no more than an extension of US foreign policy interests in West Africa, with there being no connection to any alleged crimes in Sierra Leone,” defense lawyers claim.
In view of the above, defense lawyers have sought the judges order disclosure and/or and investigation into the following:
- “The identity of the source(s) within the Trial Chamber, Prosecution and Registry who provided the USG with the information in the Cables;
- The full nature of the respective sources’ relationship with the USG, specifically including an explanation of the context and circumstances in which each of the comments recorded in the Cables were made to representatives of the USG;
- Information tending to suggest that the Prosecution has sought or received instructions from the USG regarding any aspect of the Taylor trial; and
- A full explanation of the money provided by the USG to the Prosecution, including the amounts of money given and when; the purpose of the funds; how the funds were used; and who the OTP was accountable to in the distribution and use of the funds.”
These, defense lawyers say, will be the only way to remove any doubt about the independence and impartiality of the tribunal.
The Prosecution is expected to respond to the defense motion next week.