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March 08, 2011

Charles Taylor Defense Says War Crimes Trial Politically Motivated

Defense attorneys for former Liberian president Charles Taylor say his war crimes trial is politically motivated and should include Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. Taylor's defense has begun its closing arguments in a trial that has lasted more than three years.

Defense attorney Courtenay Griffiths says Taylor is the victim of "selective prosecution" for his alleged role in helping to arm rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone because Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was equally involved.

"This was a court, ostensibly and publicly set up, we are told, to try those who bear the greatest responsibility," said Griffiths. "So why is Colonel Moammar Gadhafi not in the dock?"

Griffiths says that selective prosecution shows that Taylor's trial is politically motivated.

"We submit that it is to the shame of this prosecution that it has besmirched the lofty ideals of international criminal law by turning this case into a 21st century form of neocolonialism," said Griffiths. "And I am not apologizing for saying that."

Taylor pled not guilty to 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged support of Sierra Leonean rebels from the Revolutionary United Front, or RUF.

Prosecutor Nicholas Kumjian says Taylor bears primary responsibility for those rebels.

"Charles Taylor created the RUF on his territory," Kumjian said. "Charles Taylor armed the RUF. His forces led the RUF into Sierra Leone in March 1991."

While the Libyan leader and the Burkinabe president Blaise Compaore helped support those rebels, Kumjian says their involvement is in no way comparable to Taylor's actions.

"The RUF, the evidence shows overwhelmingly in our view, was a proxy army of Charles Taylor. The RUF didn't fight for Blaise Compaore," he said. "It didn't fight, as far as we know, for Moammar Gadhafi. But the evidence is overwhelming that Charles Taylor used them not just in Sierra Leone. He used his proxy RUF army in Liberia to fight against his enemies there. He used them in Guinea to fight against his enemies and forces in Guinea to invade that country. He sent them to the Ivory Coast."

Griffiths says the prosecution case is based largely on hearsay and circumstantial evidence.

"The prosecution are making assumptions in the absence of proof that, in effect, put bluntly, where no proof is available, let's make it up," added Griffiths.

As evidence of what he calls the political nature of this prosecution, Griffiths cites the U.S. government's receipt of Taylor's indictment two months before it was released.

Prosecutor Kumjian says Griffiths assertion that this was unethical reflects an unfamiliarity with the workings of international criminal justice.

"All international tribunals, including this one, have no police powers," Griffiths said. "The tribunals do not have the ability to arrest individuals. In order to affect an arrest, they need the cooperation of governments."

Taylor's defense is scheduled to conclude its closing arguments Thursday, with prosecution rebuttal on Friday.  A judgment from the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone is expected later this year.