5 things you don’t know about the Charles Taylor trial

Tomorrow Charles Taylor’s trial will resume. The defense team will give an overview of their case. On Tuesday Taylorwill begin testifying in his own defense.

Most people assume Taylor is guilty and that the Special Court for Sierra Leone has proved that. Taylor is responsible for horrific deeds and I think he deserves to spend the rest of his life in prison. But below I offer five things you might not know about Taylor’s trial that don’t portray the Special Courtas a paragon of justice, and the prosecution’s case as flawless.

1) Taylor is being charged with crimes committed in Sierra Leone, not Liberia.

Taylor has spent almost no time in Sierra Leone, but is being charged under joint criminal enterprise, a form of liability that places blame on an individual who participated in the design of a plan that involved perpetrating a crime.

2) Most Sierra Leoneans and Liberians are not closely following the trial.

Despite the Special Court’s strong commitment to outreach, apathy toward the trial permeatesWest Africa.Why? For security reasons, the trial is being held in The Hague.This physical distance may be dampening enthusiasm.Also, for many in Sierra Leone andLiberia, the big fish are the rebels who raped the neighbor, or the soldiers who looted the village. These individuals remain free, living side by side with their victims. Taylor’s indirect responsibility for these local crimes may seem less obvious.

3) Taylor has attended almost everyday of his trial.

Taylor legitimizes the Special Court by attending his trial and following Court procedures.When I observed the trial in January 2008, Taylor showed up to Court in a business suit with gold Africa-shaped cufflinks. He took notes as witnesses testified. When he excused himself to use the restroom, he gave a slight bow to the judges.

4) The necessity of several prosecution witnesses was questionable.

Taylor does not deny that many of the crimes he is charged with supporting took place. Rather he denies his responsibility for these crimes. Yet perhaps in an attempt to pull the heartstrings of judges, the prosecution called many crime base witnesses. These witnesses recounted terrifying stories of rape and murder. This testimony humanized distant events, but their legal necessity often was debatable.

5) The defense used cross-examinations to highlight witness compensation.

Defense lawyers used their cross-examination of almost all of the prosecution’s 91 witnesses to highlight compensation witnesses received for testifying. This compensation sometimes took the form of per diems while staying in The Hague, reimbursement for hospital bills, or rent. Defense alleged that one witness had his rent paid for a year by the prosecution, and again by the Court’s Witness and Victim Support unit. The implication is that witnesses’ statements are less reliable if they received significant compensation to testify. It remains to be seen how much weight Special Courtjudges will give to this issue.


4 thoughts on “5 things you don’t know about the Charles Taylor trial

  1. chen


    why do you say the necessity of several prosecution victim witnesses was questionable? My understanding is the defence did not accept or stipulate to the fact that there was a widespread attack on the civilian population of Sierra Leone and specifically denies the Prosecution allegation that there was a campaign of terror by the rebels against these victims. The defence called many witnesses to claim that the rebels were fighting for legitimate reasons, they read long propoganda speeches into the record and denied most of the crimes, with many witnesses, such as issa Sesay even denying that the RUF used child soldiers. So why do you think the court should listen to Charles Taylor for 7 months talking about walking to school barefoot and listen to convicted killer and rapist Issa Sesay deny all crimes for two months but think that it was unnecessary to hear from those who really suffered in this confict about what happened to them when that is part of what the prosecution- correct me if I am wrong – has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt?

  2. Shelby Post author

    Thanks for this comment. My views on my fourth point have changed over time, and I now mostly agree with you. While the defense said they did not dispute that the crimes Taylor is accused of committing took place, in the course of the trial they did.

  3. Pingback: KELLY

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