News / Africa

Charles Taylor's Attorneys Question Credibility of Prosecution Witnesses

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor during his trial at the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone in Leidschendam, February 8, 2011 (file photo)
Former Liberian President Charles Taylor during his trial at the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone in Leidschendam, February 8, 2011 (file photo)

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Defense attorneys for former Liberian president Charles Taylor say testimony from prosecution witnesses is tainted by cash payments from a special fund provided by the United States.  Mr. Taylor's war crimes trial is drawing to a close after more than three years.

Defense attorney Terry Munyard says money "lavished" on prosecution witnesses has polluted "the pure waters of justice."  He told the court that those payments went far beyond the simple reimbursement of expenses and were used in such a way "as to taint the testimony of some of the prosecution witnesses."

Mr. Taylor's lead attorney, Courtenay Griffiths, says what he calls this sometimes extravagant spending is further evidence of a politically-motivated prosecution.

"No similar fund was ever provided or requested by the defense," said Griffiths.  "And despite repeated requests by a number of bodies, the prosecution have never come clean as to how these moneys were acquired and indeed how they were spent."

Griffiths says the prosecution fund to pay witnesses was provided by the United States government as part of what he calls a campaign to ensure that Mr. Taylor is imprisoned.

Prosecutors were not permitted to respond to those allegations Thursday as the defense concluded its closing argument.  Prosecutors present their rebuttal Friday.

Mr. Taylor has 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.

Speaking to the court at the start of closing arguments Wednesday, prosecutor Nicholas Kumjian says Mr. Taylor is responsible for those rebels and the atrocities they committed.

"The defense is still denying that the RUFF was on a campaign of terror despite all the evidence of hands being chopped off, heads being put on sticks, one child whose hands and feet were chopped off and thrown in the sewer, women being raped and gang raped, women having to hear their children killed and having to carry the heads of the children in bags," said Kumjian.

The defense says there were clearly many human-rights violations during Sierra Leone's civil war, but Mr. Taylor is not responsible.  During the trial, defense attorneys argued that neither Mr. Taylor nor rebel leader Foday Sankoh would have engaged in a campaign of terror because they were both trained in Libya under Moammar Gadhafi. 

Kumjian says the importance of that defense argument is best illustrated by their submission of a 27-page speech by Colonel Gadhafi.

"Even though the prosecution was willing to stipulate that it come into evidence, it was so important to the defense that they chose to read it word-for-word into the record," added Kumjian.  "Well, perhaps there is one thing we can agree on with the defense.  We agree that Charles Taylor is as likely to use terror against civilians as Moammar Gadhafi.  That we believe is established."

In concluding his defense, Griffiths returns to what he calls the selective prosecution of these proceedings as Mr. Taylor is the first African leader to be tried in person.

"His trial has been trumpeted by the prosecution as demonstrating an end to impunity," said Griffiths.  "We agree.  Indeed, his trial is of importance to Africa and this evolving concept of international justice to which we are, as a defense, unswervingly committed.  Yet we note that currently everyone being tried or awaiting trial at the International Criminal Court are from guess where?  Africa.  We are disturbed by this."

A judgment from the U.N. backed Special Court for Sierra Leone is expected later this year.

Defense attorneys for former Liberian president Charles Taylor say testimony from prosecution witnesses is tainted by cash payments from a special fund provided by the United States. VOA West Africa Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, Mr. Taylor's war crimes trial is drawing to a close after more than three years.

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