Today, the Defense for Charles Taylor concluded its closing arguments. Taylor is charged with eleven counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of international law. He denies all of the charges against him and his legal team has presented a vigorous case in his defense. Yesterday and today, the court heard from the Defense about the most important aspects of that case.
Yesterday, Lead Defense Counsel Courtenay Griffiths discussed the strength of the documentary evidence, which he claims exonerates Taylor.
Today, Defense Counsel Terry Munyard submitted arguments to the judges of Trial Chamber II about the credibility of Prosecution witnesses.
Tomorrow, the Prosecution and Defense will have the opportunity to counter the opposing party’s oral arguments. This should mark the end of the trial, and allow the judges to retire and deliberate the evidence presented since the trial hearings began in January 2008.
Munyard began his submissions by claiming that the credibility of some witnesses was so poor that the court should completely disregard all of their evidence.
“In this case, there are so many examples of egregious implausibility and in a number of cases downright lies [that] we submit that it is appropriate to completely put aside several prosecution witnesses altogether,” Munyard told the judges.
The Defense pointed to the danger of relying on insider witnesses, some of whom are accomplices, and the large amount of hearsay evidence heard in the trial. Hearsay evidence is allowed at the SCSL and other international courts. However, the Defense suggested that hearsay evidence can effect the witness credibility and that hearsay evidence cannot be used to corroborate or support other hearsay evidence.
The Defense then went into a lengthy discussion of an issue that has plagued the SCSL—witness payments. The Defense has frequently cross-examined witnesses about money they have received from the Prosecution and the SCSL’s Witness and Victims Section (WVS). Indeed, the Defense recently filed a motion seeking additional evidence on this issue.
The Defense noted that all international tribunals reimburse witnesses for legitimate expenses they incur because they are involved with the court. The Defense submitted that it had no issue with these types of payments. However, as Munyard suggested, “Some of the evidence demonstrates very clearly that some prosecution witnesses have been rewarded—have ‘profited’—from their connection with the prosecution.” This, in the Defense’s view, rendered these witnesses unreliable.
The Prosecution uses a special fund, of unknown origin and amount, to provide money to witnesses and potential witnesses under vague and disputed criteria, the Defense alleged. Munyard asserted, “In some cases it is clear beyond doubt that this fund, this money, has been used to encourage witnesses to give evidence” rather than for security purposes or to put them in a position where they are not disadvantaged because of their involvement with the Prosecution.
This has had the effect of tainting witness testimony and polluting the pool of potential witnesses available to the Defense, Munyard submitted. Do illustrate this point, Munyard related how someone at an outreach meeting in Sierra Leone went so far as to suggest that the Defense and Prosecution should bargain with witnesses for their testimony.
Munyard also highlighted how significant these sums of money are for most people living in post-conflict Sierra Leone and Liberia.
Moving on to discuss particular examples of this issue that came up in court, Munyard described payments that the Prosecution had given DCT-032. DCT-032 was a potential Prosecution witness before he became a potential Defense witness. According to the Defense, although DCT-032 never testified, he provided written evidence about having received over US $3000 in payments from the Prosecution over five months in 2008.
Witness TF1-375, the Defense noted, had been paid over US $4,000 and 825,000 leones (approximately $200 by today’s exchange rate) between September 2005 and May 2008. In addition, the Defense noted, from August 2006 until May 2008 this witness had simultaneously been under the care of the Prosecution and the Registry’s WVS. TF1-375 received assistance amounting to approximately US $10,000 during that period, the Defense submitted.
Munyard proceeded to highlight what the Defense considered were questionable aspects about those payments, including that they were round sums, did not comport with actual costs incurred, profits made by the witnesses from the payments, and how such payments can impact a witness’ testimony.
For example, Munyard highlighted a payment of $100 received by Prosecution witness TF1-375. TF1-375 had testified that this payment was an “appreciation” he received after a trip he took. “What is an ‘appreciation’ if it’s not a gift?” Munyard asked.
The Defense claimed that it was inevitable that such payments would influence witnesses to feel a sense of obligation to the party paying him or her.
Munyard suggested that this was demonstrated by inconsistencies in witness testimony and “unique” evidence that was not corroborated. For example, the Defense submitted that Prosecution witness Suwandi Camara was the only witness to claim that Taylor and RUF leader Foday Sankoh had been together in Libya. This “unique” fact, the Defense claimed, helped demonstrate that Kamara had lied because of the payments from the Prosecution. Indeed, Munyard claimed Camara was “another witness who we submit very clearly and very obviously has received financial incentives to tell stories that are favorable to the Prosecution.”
Isaac Mongor’s Testimony Should be Completely Disregarded
Munyard then started a lengthy discussion criticizing Isaac Mongor’s credibility. The Defense claimed that the Court should completely disregard the testimony of Mongor and other Prosecution witnesses mentioned in the Defense final trial brief.
Mongor, the Defense submitted, was a witness who contradicted himself, told obvious lies, could not remember from one day to the next what his testimony was, and was a beneficiary of payments from the Prosecution.
Munyard went through several examples of what he submitted were gross inconsistencies in Mongor’s testimony. This included testimony about how he became a member of the NPFL, his claim that he was the RUF training commander at Camp Naama, evidence about the Magburaka arms shipment, and Taylor’s role in the January 1999 Freetown invasion. Munyard frequently disparaged Mongor’s testimony as “nonsense.” The Defense considered Mongor’s explanations for these inconsistencies implausible and untrue.
Munyard asked the judges to disregard the “pathetic collection of lies this witness gave the court.”
The Defense has now concluded its closing arguments to the court. Tomorrow, the judges will hear once again, and most likely for the final time, from the parties in the Charles Taylor trial.