2011-01-31 US State cables used in Liberian president war crimes defense

Reuters reports that the defense for former Liberian President Charles Taylor, on trial for war crimes, have won the right to use U.S. state cables leaked by Wikileaks in his defense. Taylor is facing charges of instigating murder, rape, mutilation, sexual slavery and conscription of child soldiers during wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone which killed a quarter of a million people. He has denied all charges. The court ruled in favor of a defense motion seeking to re-open its case for the “limited purpose” of admitting into evidence two U.S. cables.

Cable 09MONROVIA188 from 2009-03-10 warns “Should Taylor be acquitted in The Hague or given a light sentence, his return to Liberia could tip the balance in a fragile peace. The international community must consider steps should Taylor not be sent to prison for a long time. We should look at the possibility of trying Taylor in the United States. … All legal options should be studied to ensure that Taylor cannot return to destabilize Liberia. Building a case in the United States against Taylor for financial crimes such as wire fraud would probably be the best route. There may be other options, such as applying the new law criminalizing the use of child soldiers or terrorism statutes.

Cable 09THEHAGUE247 from 2009-04-15 indicates “Court employees have intimated that the Trial Chamber could work more expeditiously. … Moreover, contacts in Prosecution and Registry speculate that Justice Sebutinde may have a timing agenda. They think she, as the only African judge, wants to hold the gavel as presiding judge when the Trial Chamber announces the Taylor judgment. Reportedly, her next stint as presiding judge begins in January.”

Cable 09MONROVIA188

There is quite little the GOL can do legally to arrest, prosecute or freeze assets of those who were close to Taylor, even if the political will were there, which remains an open question. The TRC has recommended a domestic war crimes court be set up, but under statute an Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INHCR) would implement the recommendation, and the Legislature (some of whom had close ties to Taylor) has thus far failed to establish the INCHR. The Legislature has also refused to pass any law that would allow the GOL to freeze assets of those on the UN sanctions list, and the Supreme Court has ruled that any confiscation of property can be done only after a trial. …

The pro-Taylor forces still have the ability to organize themselves. An NPP rally in December 2008 gathered a sizeable crowd, and Taylor supporters in June 2008 succeeded in preventing FBI investigators from entering Taylor’s residence “White Flower” to obtain evidence for the Chucky Taylor trial in Florida. The most recent example was their effort on March 7 to disrupt the International Women’s Colloquium. Taylor remains popular within many rural communities, especially in Bong, Lofa and Nimba counties, and is seen as someone who was able to unite Liberia’s different ethnic groups. We also suspect there is some sympathy within the Americo-Liberian population who saw him as their deliverance from their losses following the 1979 coup. While we do not suggest they would want Taylor to return, we are sure that they do no want too many rocks to be turned over. …

The threat of a return of Taylor strengthens their hand and for now they see no need to give in at all. However, if Taylor is put away for a long time, the government may feel a bit bolder in recovering assets and bringing Taylor backers who committed war crimes to justice.

The international community has just a few tools to pressure the Taylor people into accepting the new reality. The UN sanctions appear to have the intended effect of keeping them somewhat marginalized and fearful of further attempts to strip them of their ill-gotten gains. However, we have regularly heard of travel outside Liberia of those on the travel ban list without prior approval.

However, the best we can do for Liberia is to see to it that Taylor is put away for a long time and we cannot delay for the results of the present trial to consider next steps. All legal options should be studied to ensure that Taylor cannot return to destabilize Liberia. Building a case in the United States against Taylor for financial crimes such as wire fraud would probably be the best route. There may be other options, such as applying the new law criminalizing the use of child soldiers or terrorism statutes.”

The peace in Liberia remains fragile, and its only guarantee is the robust and adaptable UNMIL presence. The GOL does not have the ability to quell violence, monitor its borders or operate independently to fight crime. A free Taylor could tip the balance in the wrong direction.

Cable 09THEHAGUE247

Currently, the Registry,s budget milestone document projects an October 31 trial termination date, a March 2010 judgment, sentencing in April 2010, and the conclusion of appeals in October 2010. If, however, the Defense case starts in August, the timeline could be pushed back by approximately two months.

A delay in the timing for the Taylor trial may create additional challenges. First, the International Criminal Court (ICC), the location of the Taylor trial, has informed the SCSL that it will need its second courtroom as of September 2009. (The ICC scheduled its second trial to start September 24th, and will likely need the courtroom prior to September 24th for pre-trial work). Back-up options explored by the Registry include finding other space or working during gaps in the ICC schedule. Second, according to Registry sources, each additional month of trial time costs approximately one million dollars.

Judges Slowing Things Down? Further muddying timing predictions, Court employees have intimated that the Trial Chamber could work more expeditiously. The Taylor Chamber consists of three judges who take turns presiding: Justice Richard Lussick (Samoa), Justice Teresa Doherty (Northern Ireland) and Justice Julia Sebutinde (Uganda), along with an alternate judge, Justice El Hadji Malick Sow (Senegal). A couple of Court employees have grumbled that when the last Prosecution witness testified on January 30, 2009, the Court still had 11 outstanding motions, some over a year old. Additionally, one Chamber contact believes that the Trial Chamber could have accelerated the Court,s work by excluding extraneous material and arguments. Moreover, contacts in Prosecution and Registry speculate that Justice Sebutinde may have a timing agenda. They think she, as the only African judge, wants to hold the gavel as presiding judge when the Trial Chamber announces the Taylor judgment. Reportedly, her next stint as presiding judge begins in January.

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