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Former Sierra Leone Court Prosecutor Reflects on Guilty Verdicts

The former chief prosecutor for the Special Court for Sierra Leone welcomes the guilty verdicts handed down in Freetown Wednesday against former rebel leaders Issa Sesay, Morris Kallon and Augustine Gbao on charges war crimes and crimes against humanity.

David Crane, now a professor at Syracuse University College of Law, says, "My reaction is I am so pleased for the victims of this horror story that took place in the 1990s in Sierra Leone and the surviving individuals of the infamous Revolutionary United Front have been justly found guilty in an open court for the people of Sierra Leone…. This allows them to put this behind them somewhat and to move forward into the future."

The reading of the verdicts took more than 90 minutes. Crane says the reason is "this is an open and fair trial. And both the individuals who have been found guilty have a right to hear those verdicts and as importantly, the people of Sierra Leone have a right to hear those verdicts. And so, yes, it seems to take a while, but it's absolutely appropriate and necessary."

The trial of the three men lasted four years. Closing arguments were heard last August and verdicts were originally expected in October. No official reason was given for the delay.

For Sierra Leoneans, Crane says, "It's important to know that those who destroyed their country, those who had the entire country in the palm of their hand, those who felt they were above the law, now have been fairly found guilty of the crimes that they perpetrated against not only the people of Sierra Leone, but also (against) the people of Liberia and Guinea. This was a regional war…. Many, many people died in West Africa as a result of these individuals."

All those found guilty have a right to appeal. "So, this will take a little bit more time, but frankly…this ends the third of the three joint criminal trials that I signed the indictments for back in March of 2003 against all of the warring parties in the tragedy that was Sierra Leone – the Civil Defense Force, the Armed forces Revolutionary Council and the Revolutionary United Front," he says.

The trial of former Liberian leader Charles Taylor continues, however, at a courtroom at The Hague. Despite its location, the trial is under the jurisdiction of the special court.

Professor Crane says that while the proceedings of the special court are winding down, there are others he says were complicit in the war who have not been brought to justice.

"The lead person…is the current leader in Libya, Moammar Gadhafi, who was absolutely involved in this tragedy in West Africa, particularly in Sierra Leone, and who was a major backer of the (rebel) Revolutionary United Front…. Additionally, another head of state, Blaise Campaore of Burkina Faso, also was very, very much involved in the transfer and movement of guns, diamonds, cash, gold and timber…. These individuals…were not indicted by me back in 2003 but are certainly culpable," he says.

Crane says that others responsible died before they could be tried, including long-time RUF leader Foday Sankoh, Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie and Dennis Mingo, who was called "superman" because he allegedly threw his victims off high places.

The law professor says his experience as the chief prosecutor caused him to "develop a deep and abiding respect for the people of Sierra Leone."