Friday, January 18, 2008

Taylor’s Lawyers Against the Odds in Winning Hearts & Minds

Charles Taylor surrounded by his henchmen: Courtessy to the New DEMOCRAT

The trial of former President Charles Taylor is evolving into his UN-paid lawyers’ campaign to win hearts and minds here.

His new lawyers have decided to wield the nationalist weapon, endeavoring to convince Liberians, themselves victims of Taylor’s crude misrule from which recovery is proving to be difficult, that they are the losers for his meeting with international justice.

Now, if the press conference they gave last week is the key, they are far from contesting the validity of the charges against Mr. Taylor, which encompass sexual slavery, pillage and other crimes against humanity.

Their counter-charge, amongst others, is that after all, Taylor is not the only one to stand accused for committing such crimes.

On the second level, they contend that Mr. Taylor was defending Liberia’s territorial rights and sovereignty by allegedly invading Sierra Leone and training its ruthless rebels. On the third level, they injected some bizarre nationalism in the case, telling Liberians that their President was equated to Aldolf Hitler, the German Nazi leader who killed himself to avoid standing before the world for the same crimes that Taylor is accused of.

Let is examine the lawyers’ claims, as put forth by lead lawyer Courtenay Griffiths QC:
Legitimacy & He Is not the Only War Criminal Defence The lawyers contend that Taylor is unjustly held because he is not the only war criminal. This is a kind of defense popular around here in a simple question. “Who didn’t kill?” This analogy indicates that those who have brought Taylor before the world, the big powers, perhaps, such as the US and Britain, their leaders, are bigger war criminals than Taylor the little one.

It is an argument that Taylor, while in power, frequently used against Washington and London. Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, all fell on the same argument without success. Lead lawyer Griffiths expands on this claim by telling a story linked to Alexander the Great:

“But we also have other concerns: one of our primary concerns is actually the legitimacy of this trial. By that I mean this. I am reminded of a story told by St. Augustine which was quoted favorably by (…) an American writer in a book called “Pirates and Empress” and in that book, St. Augustine is quoted as telling the story of a pirate captured by Alexander The Great.

And The Great Alexander asked the Pirate and I quote: “How dire you molest the sea?” the Pirate elegantly …you might think replied The Great Alexander, “How dare you molest the whole world, because I do it with a little ship on the sea only and I am called a thief or a war criminal. You are doing it with a whole fleet of ship with a whole army the air force, in fact you powers extends into outer space and yet you are not subject to the same stretches as I am.”

Protecting & Defending Liberian Territory Against Invading Sierra Leone

The lawyer’s statement that followed indicates a wish to whip Liberian nationalism into action, something that, he believes, would help his case.

He contends that by invading Sierra Leone, Taylor was protecting Liberia in the same manner that Apartheid South protected itself by invading South West Africa, now Namibia or, for that matter, Tanzania’s invasion of Uganda to kick out its tyrant Idi Amin. He says:

“Now, I hope you understand the message from that short story. In terms of how is it that your ex-president finds himself in that predicament and it raises the issue to us. Charles Taylor was the democratically elected president of a sovereign country.

He has been put on trial not for acts committed by him within the Republic of Liberia but rather the actions allegedly taken by him in a neighboring country which was at the time consumed by internal conflict which in fact and potentially threatened the integrity of the country of which he was then president.” Whatever the legal merits here, there is a gross twisting of history surrounding the tragedy that befell this region.

It is commonly known that Liberia was the epicenter of the sub-regional wars. Fresh from their rebel baptism in Libya, Foday Sankoh and other RUF leaders joined ranks with Taylor from December 1989 onwards, until the Sierra Leone disaster came in 1991.

The RUF, in their manifesto, made the links clear. They needed a territory from which to launch their rebellion. That territory had to be Liberia.

They fought along side Taylor’s rebels, and by 1991, they had captured enough territory in northern and western Liberia to open corridors. The first batch of rebels that landed in Sierra Leone was overwhelmingly Taylor’s, since the RUF was in its infancy. Could this be considered, and accepted as protecting Liberian territory?

After the 1997 elections, Tom Woewiyue, a leading executive of the NPFL then in the Senate, warned against cutting RUF links, saying Liberia’s security would be at risk. The statement came after numerous appeals to Mr. Taylor to end his support for the RUF, appeals he rebuffed.

But what did Woewiyue imply in his warning? He, amongst many others, could giving a helping and to the lawyers in advancing this defence.

The lawyer dwells extensively on this self-defence argument, as if, even if accepted, it encompasses chopping off limbs, stealing diamonds and waging terror on innocent people as the prosecutors charge. He claims:

“And the question is how should a sovereign head of state in such a position act in order to protect the sovereignty and integrity of his country?

Now I am not entering into the issues of whether or not the Prosecutions have proof of Mr. Taylor’s intervention in Sierra Leone that is the matter for evidence in due course.

What I am posing at the moment is a simple and general question: Do the President of your Republic have the right where he sees that such, the use of such a right is important in the protection of his people, does he have the right to intervene in the affairs of a neighboring country?

I asked that rhetorically because when we are asked to look at history, we will be aware that such intervention is a common place; America’s presence in Iraq, currently, America’s presence in many other countries around the world.

If we go back slightly in history, we will recall South Africa’s intervention in Namibia so the question is why are the actions of Mr. Taylor being single out in this particular way giving the historical way in which nations have behaved. So that’s the general concern that we have.”

No Witnesses, Security Council Indicted

Apart from nationalistic jingles, the lawyers have a more practical problem, and that is finding witnesses to disprove the prosecution’s case. They argue that many of their “potential” witnesses are on the UN travel ban and assets freeze list, but they did not name them.

The truth, however, is that the UN travel ban does not cover such travels as going on state matters, as Mr. Edwin Snowe did when he traveled to Qatar. And, of course, the lawyers know that when Taylor was about to be flown to The Hague, the ban was lifted. Both the travel ban and assets freeze were imposed to facilitate peace, not hinder it.

If the lawyers could name one witness who cannot testify because of the ban, they would have some sympathy.

That has not been done. On the other hand, instead of preparing for their case, the lawyers have selected to interfere in Liberians affairs by denouncing the assets freeze, particularly when they are paid by the UN, not the assets of Mr. Taylor nor his associates.

They should have been called to order for this glaring meddling and reminded that they should better earn their money by properly defending their client:

Griffiths: “But our concerns go beyond that (self-defence and legitimacy). Part of our reasons for arriving in Liberia is to see whether we are able to obtain witness statements, and that involves those who might assist in the defense of Mr. Taylor, in The Hague.

What we have seen so far is a great deal of fear and much of that fear is centered around two things: Firstly the fact that a number of potential witnesses have already been made subject to travel bans by the United Nations Security Council. They have also had their assets seized.

And that has had a chilling effect on their willingness to come forward and give evidence on behalf of Mr. Taylor. But it extends beyond that you see, because others might be minded to speak to are themselves afraid that if they were to come forward they too may be made subject to travel ban and their assets might likewise be seized.

And so consequently, it seems to us that our ability to properly prepare and present a defense for Charles Taylor is being directly hampered and hindered by obstacles placed in our way by the Security Council and the United Nations.

And in many cases, indeed in all cases those provisions have been put in place without there being any proof of criminal activities by any of the individuals concerned.

It is not as if evidence is being placed before a tribunal …jurisdiction that say, we know that these individuals have been engaged in witnessing intimidation, consequently it is right and appropriate that, that individual ability to move should be restricted, but there has been no such proof presented before a court of law in this country and yet you have many of your most prominent citizens subject to this ban and unable to access their assets and the knock on effect of that is we are constantly having difficulty in preparing our defense.

Pleas For Mass Pro-Taylor Action

From their statements, the lawyers indicate that one hope they have is to steer-up sentiments here against the trial.

They have unsuccessfully presented Charles Taylor as a victim of big power manipulation, an innocent man who has done just a little for what others do without punishment.

Now, they want the Liberian people who, they believe, are beneficiaries of Taylor’s enlightened rule that has seen their country out of the clutches of poverty.

“Now we were minded to inform you of these concerns in order to highlight the necessity of the people of Liberia to monitor closely the progress of the trial in The Hague, your ex-President is being tried thousands of miles away from the soil on which he was born, yet the subject matter of that indictment is a stone throw away in a neighboring country, Sierra Leone and not as if he is being tried by a jury of his peers, you are his peers, and it seems to me that as his peers you have the right to stand in judgment on the fairness of the proceedings in which he is currently involve.
It seems to me you have a duty and an obligation in that regard because the issues to be raised in that trial, although the indictment does not directly affect Liberia, nonetheless, the issues to be raised are of direct relevant to you as Liberia because the acts alleged against Mr. Taylor were allegedly committed by him whilst he was President of your country, so to that extent, it is directly relevant to you and you have a duty and obligation to monitor closely the proceedings in The Hague.

“And it also seems to me important that you are actively involve in that way in order to ensure that the statement made by David Crane last November by way of example doesn’t mean that a fair trial could not be heard by Mr. Taylor.

It seems to me that it is your vigilance, your willingness to complain if you see due process not being accorded to your ex- President, it seems to me to be your duty to ensure that your voices are heard and they are heard thousands of miles away in the Hague such that, that tribunal recognizes this obligation to ensure a fair trial on a level playing field for your ex-President.

We don’t believe in any fore gone conclusion, if we are properly and rightfully engage in a fair trial, it seems to us the out come should not be pre-determined and the only way in which we can ensure that is the case is by the active participation of people not only here in Liberia but indeed throughout West Africa.

That’s all I like to say at this stage, unless my colleagues will like to contribute, I am open up for questions.”

The legal team obviously has serious problems putting up a defence. For this, there is a search for gray areas, such as the prosecution’s statement, earlier, that they are convinced Taylor will be convicted.

Is this pre-trial publicity? Only the lawyers can decide that, but anyone entering a game with defeatist notions stands defeated.

On the other hand, one would have hoped to hear assuring statement from the lawyers that based on the prosecution’s case and the evidence available, Mr. Taylor will soon walk out to take his presidency or contest the next elections. This does not seem to be the case. Culled from the New DEMOCRAT

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