The war crimes trial of former Liberian leader Charles Taylor resumes June 25th, after opening day proceedings were held last Monday.
Among those present in the courtroom at The Hague was David Crane, former chief prosecutor for the Special Court in Sierra Leone. Professor Crane signed the indictment against Taylor in 2003. He spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about his impressions of the first day of the trial.
"It was an exciting day. It was a somber day. It was a day of remembrance and a day of pride for the people of West Africa. I had to relive the entire process as I listened to prosecutor Stephen Rapp describe the horrors that were perpetrated by Charles Taylor and his henchmen. And it was kind of an emotional time as well. So, there were a lot of mixed feelings,” he says.
The charges against the ex-Liberian president stem from the long civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone, which Taylor allegedly fueled.
Taylor was not present for the opening day of his trial but released a statement criticizing the court and the charges against him. Professor Crane says, “Certainly, Charles Taylor should have been there. But this is not unusual for tyrants, heads of state and others, who’ve been accused of these severe crimes, war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
Taylor says he will represent himself from now on at his trial, rather than have a defense team. Crane has doubts. “I’m not sure. In some ways this was a tactic on Monday. That could very well happen, but I wouldn’t even be surprised if you saw his defense counsel and Charles Taylor sitting in the courtroom on the 25th. I think this was a choreographed deflection to try to get the world’s focus on the fact that he didn’t show up at the trial versus the very important opening statement that catalogued the horrors…perpetrated on the people of West Africa.”
Crane says the trial was adjourned after opening statements because apparently there was a camera in Taylor’s interrogation cell, making it difficult for Taylor and his attorney to talk openly. In the interests of a fair trial, Crane says the court gave them three more weeks to prepare