Special Court Rejects Acquittal of Former Liberian President

The war crimes tribunal for Sierra Leone has rejected a defense motion to acquit former Liberian President Charles Taylor.

Defense lawyers asked the special court to acquit Mr. Taylor because they argue prosecutors failed to present evidence linking him to the planning, instigation, or execution of crimes committed during Sierra Leone's 10-year civil war.

The former Liberian leader pled not guilty to an 11-count indictment of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including acts of terrorism, murder, rape, sexual enslavement, and conscription of child soldiers.

At this point in the trial, judges were only to decide whether they have heard enough evidence to support a finding of guilt.

Dismissing the defense motion for acquittal in its entirety, presiding judge Richard Lussick says prosecutors have presented evidence that meets that threshold.

"The prosecution has adduced evidence that the accused provided arms, ammunition, financial assistance, manpower and other supplies to other participants in the joint criminal enterprise in furtherance of the common purpose, that he provided safe havens to other members, that he provided moral encouragement and military advice, the he facilitated the export of diamonds in return for arms, that he facilitated communication between the various members of the joint criminal enterprise, and that he had persons who he believed endangered the common purpose killed," he said.

Lussick restated that while the evidence presented could be used to find Mr. Taylor guilty, that does not mean the trial chamber will ultimately convict him.

Prosecutors say the former Liberian president led Revolutionary United Front rebels across the border in Sierra Leone and acted as their effective leader for much of the conflict.

Supporting the indictment of acts of terrorism, Lussick cited prosecution witnesses who testified Mr. Taylor was involved in planning the rebel "Operation No Living Thing," during which crimes set out in the indictment were systematically committed against the civilian population.

He also rejected a defense motion challenging the testimony of witnesses who referred to places in Sierra Leone by slightly different names than those in the indictment.

"It would not be appropriate or desirable to strike out the names of such locations given that a variety of languages and dialects are spoken in Sierra Leone and that some witnesses are illiterate.  Thus, names of locations mentioned by witnesses, which are similar, but not identical to names of locations that appear in the indictment may refer to the same location," he said.

With the rejection of their motion for acquittal, Mr. Taylor's lawyers are scheduled to open their defense case June 29.  They say the former Liberian rebel leader will testify in his own defense.

Mr. Taylor began a rebellion against Liberian President Samuel Doe in 1989.  He served as Liberian president from 1997 until 2003 when he was forced into exile in Nigeria.  He was arrested in 2006 on a warrant from the special court jointly established by the United Nations and the government of Sierra Leone.

His trial was moved to The Hague because of fears that his supporters might disrupt proceedings in neighboring Sierra Leone.

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