FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Trial of Charles Taylor

TThe trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor has moved into a critical phase in a session of the Special Court for Sierra Leone at The Hague.  The occasion, taking place in a room rented from the International Criminal Court, was striking for the presence of the first African leader to be present in the dock for war crimes.  Charges levelled against him were dismissed by the indignant protagonist as ‘disinformation, misinformation, lies and rumours.’  Taylor, he was at pains to emphasise, had been an advocate of justice, the visionary peacemaker struggling with momentous historical circumstances.  He was certainly no ‘common street thug.’

More than that, the defense case rests on the failure of the prosecution to adduce evidence linking the alleged crimes committed in Sierra Leone with Taylor’s leadership.  Critical gaps, they have suggested, exist in the evidentiary record.  It was impossible to show a link to any of the charges made: planning, instigating, ordering, committing, aiding, abetting, the joint criminal enterprise or command responsibility.  Taylor, it was said, could hardly have played a substantial role in the January 1999 invasion of Freetown, or the vast complement of atrocities he is said to have been complicit in.

His arguments, clearly even eloquently framed, are the perennial ones of the leader who denies the issue of control and responsibility in command.  The line was almost contemptuously dismissed by the US courts in the case of the Japanese general Tomoyuki Yamashita, a precedent some jurists have regretted.  The Supreme Court, and an American public hungering for blood, would have found an acquittal of such a figure impossible to countenance.  A rather far flung interpretation of the doctrine of command responsibility was formulated, placing the blame squarely on the doomed Tiger of Malaya. Chaos, severed communications and a lack of control do not erase responsibility for the acts of those under your command.

This ghastly dilemma, which has gifted the African continent more villains than hot meals, is one that Taylor is deeply mired in.  He had himself led a rebellion as leader of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) against President Samuel K. Doe, citing electoral theft as a key justification.  Taylor had also taken the initiative to involve himself with RUF leader Foday Sankoh and that leadership in Sierra Leone, arguing that a common enemy, the United Liberation Movement of Democracy, needed defeating.  The prosecutors have seized upon the link, claiming that Taylor had received diamonds from RUF rebels for guns and ammunition, encouraging him to be complicit in acts of pillage, rape, enslavement and terror.  One witness testified that the stones had been carried in a cleansed mayonnaise jar.

The trial may allow yet another showman to display the strength of oratory before a legal process that risks falling flat.  The time to get through 249 defence witnesses, not to mention weeks of testimony, presents that possibility.  There is little doubt that such tribunals have their merit, though they prove more effective with functionaries without charisma or a sense of timing.  Such accused make better fare for legal precedent than colourful, self-aggrandising thespians in the dock.  The trial risks becoming a pulpit for Taylor’s rather loud visions for Africa.  Whether the trial escapes this politicisation or is allowed to stand as a legal precedent for African leaders will be a true test for the Tribunal.

BINOY KAMPMARK was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
August 23, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Notes on Inauthenticity in a Creeping Fascist Nuthouse
Andrew Levine
Recession Now, Please
Rob Urie
Mr. Trump Goes to Kensington
Jeffrey St. Clair
Deep Time and the Green River, Floating
Robert Hunziker
Earth 4C Hotter
Kenneth Good
Congo’s Patrice Lumumba: The Winds of Reaction in Africa
Pete Dolack
The Realism and Unrealism of the Green New Deals
David Rosen
The White-Nationalist Great Fear
Kenn Orphan
The War on Indigenous People is a War on the Biosphere Itself
L. Michael Hager
What Netanyahu’s Travel Ban Has Revealed
Ramzy Baroud
Jewish Settlers Rule the Roost in Israel, But at What Price?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Is Environmental Protection Possible?
Josue De Luna Navarro
What It’s Like to Grow Up Hunted
Ralph Nader
They Don’t Make Republicans Like the Great Paul Findley Anymore!
Gary Olson
Whither the Resistance to our Capitalist Overlords?
Dean Baker
On Those Downward Jobs Revisions
Rev. William Alberts
Beware of the Gun-Lover-in-Chief
Helder F. do Vale
Brazil: From Global Leader to U.S. Lapdog
Laura Finley
Educators Actually Do “Work” in the Summer
Jim Goodman
Farmers Need a Bill of Rights
Tom Clifford
What China’s Leadership is Really Worried About: Rising Debt
Daphne Wysham
Saving the Planet Means Fighting Bipartisan Corruption
Tierra Curry
Amazon Fires Put the Planet at Risk
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir: Decentralize Power and Revive Regional Political Institutions
John W. Whitehead
American Apocalypse
George Wuerthner
How Agriculture and Ranching Subvert the Re-Wilding of America
Daniel Murphy
Capital in the 21st Century
Jessicah Pierre
400 Years After Slavery’s Start, No More Band-Aids
Kim C. Domenico
Finding the Comrades: Maintaining Precarious Sanity In Insane Times
Gary Leupp
“Based on the Fact She Won’t Sell Me Greenland, I’m Staying Home”
John Kendall Hawkins
The Chicago 8 Trial, Revisited
Rivera Sun
Tapping into People Power
Ted Rall
As Long as Enemies of the State Keep Dying Before Trial, No One Should Trust the State
Jesse Jackson
The Significance of the “1619 Project”
Thomas Knapp
“Nuance” in Politics and Public Policy? No Thanks
Christopher Brauchli
Trump and Endangered Species, Wildlife and Human
Mel Gurtov
China’s Hong Kong Nightmare, and the US Response
Ron Forthofer
Sick of Being a Guinea Pig
Nicky Reid
Why I Stopped Being White (and You Should Too)
Jill Richardson
As the School Year Starts, I’m Grateful for the ADA
Seth Sandronsky
Rethinking the GDR
Adolf Alzuphar
Tears / Ayizan Velekete
Stephen Cooper
General Jah Mikey: “I Just Love That Microphone, Man”
Louis Proyect
Slaves to the Clock
David Yearsley
Moral Cantatas
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail