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Cross-Examination Begins in War Crimes Trial of Former Liberian President


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Prosecutors at the U.N. Special Court for Sierra Leone have begun their cross-examination of former Liberian President Charles Taylor who is facing charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Mr. Taylor is the first witness in his defense and has spent much of the last 13 weeks dismissing the prosecution case against him as a series of lies.

So Principal Trial Attorney Brenda Hollis opened her cross-examination by asking Mr. Taylor: Who is lying?

"Now Mr. Taylor, you have said to this bench throughout your direct examination that all of this evidence here before you, it's all lies. And you have talked about how perhaps, cunning is not the word you used. But Mr. Taylor, it's true isn't it that of all the people who have come before these judges, you are the one who has the most reason to lie," Hollis said.

"Well, counsel, I would disagree with you except you can point to me why would I have the most reason to lie? I have been truthful before this court. Unless you can point to me. I have told this court the truth. And I suggest that you point to me and present the evidentiary fact before this court for to suggest, as you are, that I am lying," Taylor said.

"Well, we will do that over the course of the cross-examination, Mr. Taylor, but of all the people who have come before this court, you are the one facing these serious charges. Isn't that correct?" Hollis asked.

Well, that is correct counsel," Taylor responded.

The former president is pleading not guilty to an 11-count indictment that includes murder, rape, enslavement, and conscription of child soldiers.

Prosecutors say he led members of Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front across the border and acted as their effective leader for much of the country's 10-year civil war.

Mr. Taylor's lawyers maintain that any contact their client had with Sierra Leonean rebels ended before the jurisdiction of this court begins. They are also questioning the legality of Mr. Taylor being turned over to the court after he was granted political asylum in Nigeria.

Wrapping up his defense testimony, Mr. Taylor said he agreed to step down as Liberian president in 2003 in the interest of peace but was tricked by the international community.

"This was about regime change, and everything was put into place to accomplish that regime change," Taylor said.

While he says African leaders repeatedly assured him that his going to Nigeria meant he would not be turned over to the Special Court, he says Washington and London were determined to see him stand trial.

If I had the slightest, slightest knowledge that the United States and the United Kingdom were arranging such, I would have never left Liberia. We have an old saying: A gift from a wicked man is a trap. I would have never left Liberia," Taylor said.

He says then-Nigerian-President Olusegun Obasanjo approved of his traveling overland to Chad in 2006. But when Mr. Taylor reached the border, he was arrested for violating the terms of his asylum by trying to travel outside Nigeria without permission.

"I don't care what happens, I hope I am alive to really look into Obasanjo's face one day and ask him to tell the world the truth about what happened. With me I am Jewish. I do not hold any animosity. But I tell Obasanjo today, and I am sure he knows it, that he lied to the world when he said that I was escaping and he knew nothing about it. Why he lied I don't know," Taylor said.

This is the last case before the U.N. Special Court for Sierra Leone. The Freetown session of that court has convicted the last of the Sierra Leonean rebels indicted. Mr. Taylor's trial was moved to The Hague because of concerns that his supporters might disrupt proceedings held in West Africa.

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