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Taylor Denies Jailing Journalists for Investigating Diamond Smuggling

Former Liberian president Charles Taylor says he jailed foreign journalists because they were trying to assassinate him, not because they were investigating his alleged involvement with diamond smuggling in Sierra Leone.

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Former Liberian president Charles Taylor says he jailed foreign journalists because they were trying to assassinate him, not because they were investigating his alleged involvement with diamond smuggling in Sierra Leone.  Mr. Taylor is facing an 11-count indictment of crimes against humanity before a U.N. special court in The Hague.

While president of Liberia, Charles  Taylor says a foreign television crew was detained for being part of a plot to assassinate him with a cancer-causing laser beam.  They were later released and expelled when his security forces could not determine who was behind the plot.

As part of her cross-examination, Principal Trial Attorney Brenda Hollis says the journalists were detained for investigating his involvement with Sierra Leone's rebel Revolutionary United Front.

Hollis:  "The truth of it is, these journalists were put in jail because they were going to investigate things that were really going on in your country.  That is the truth of it, isn't it Mr. Taylor?"
Taylor:  "Totally untrue. Total nonsense.
Hollis:  "Things like the lack of good governance in your country. They were going to investigate that weren't they?"
Taylor:  "Total nonsense, no."
Hollis:   "And they were going to investigate the ongoing criminal conduct of your subordinates against civilians in your country. Isn't that correct Mr. Taylor?"
Taylor:  "Totally incorrect."
Hollis:  "And they were going to investigate your criminal involvement with the RUF and Sierra Leone diamonds. Correct Mr. Taylor?"
Taylor:  "That's the essence of your fallacy with my criminal conduct.  There was no such criminal conduct on my part, and I was not aware that they were there to investigate such."

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

Prosecutors say he led RUF members across the border and acted as their effective leader for much of Sierra Leone's civil war.  Mr. Taylor's lawyers say any contact he had with those rebels ended before the jurisdiction of the U.N. Special Court for Sierra Leone begins.

Mr. Taylor says journalists were free to report during his presidency. He rejects the prosecution assertion that he knew members of the imprisoned television crew were mistreated in Liberian custody.

Hollis:  "And indeed you said you did not believe they had been mistreated, isn't that correct?"
Taylor:  "I have said to you that it was not brought to my attention."
Hollis:  "And indeed you said that if you were given evidence of that, then you would have the Liberian Attorney General take a tough stand against anyone involved.  You said that, did you  not?"
Taylor:  "Well, I did say that.  You have to remember I was President of Liberia, Miss Hollis.  I was not working for the president.  I was president."
Hollis:  "Mr. Taylor, I asked you a simple question.  Did you say that?"
Taylor:  "I have answered your question, I was president."
Hollis:  "Did you say that?"
Taylor:  "You asked me the question and I have said to you that such matters were not brought to my attention.  And if they had been brought to my attention, of course as president at my level, I would have insisted that something happen to those responsible.  But such matters would not be brought to my attention.  They were not."

This is the last case before the U.N. Special Court.  The court's Freetown session has closed after sentencing the last of the 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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