Charles Taylor’s Verdict: Evil Doesn’t last
Moses D. Sandy
There are people, most especially Sierra Leoneans who are ecstatic that the former Liberian President Charles Taylor’s journey for a protracted imprisonment for the role he reportedly played in Sierra Leone’s fratricidal war will begin on May 30, 2012 while there are others mainly the Taylors who think otherwise.
But whatever the emotions or sentiments are, one thing is certain. That is, May 30th which has been dubbed by human rights campaigners as the “D-day,” would surely be a turning point in the annals of Mr. Taylor’s ongoing trial in The Hague.
The date is germane because it would bring to climax an era of a lengthy trial which hooked the ex-Liberian President to the gruesome murder, rape, and mutilation that characterized the civil war in that West African country.
The UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone currently sitting in The Hague, Netherlands, is expected to put Mr. Taylor away on May 30th for the aid he provided the disbanded Revolutionary United Front(RUF) in the commission of war and economic crimes in that country.
He faces an extended time of incarceration. Prosecutors at the Special Court On May 3, 2012, proposed 80 years jail time, but his defense counsels disagreed because they believe the years recommended are disproportionate to the crimes committed.
Earlier, the Special Court ex-Chief Prosecutor, David Crane, in a BBC interview aired on April 26, 2012, predicted the former Liberian President may get 40-50 years in prison. “
That’s an equivalent of a life time imprisonment”, remarked a US based Sierra Leonean woman, who spoke to this author on condition of anonymity. However, on May 16, 2012, Mr. Taylor at his sentencing trial held in The Hague pleaded with judges to show leniency when sentencing him.
He proclaimed, “I am 64 and a father of many children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. I pose no risk to society.” He said he did not get justice during the hearing because “witnesses had been bribed and threatened.”
Mr. Taylor, described by prosecutors as an “intelligent and charismatic manipulator,” pleaded for compassion in the adjudication of his sentence because “Witnesses were paid, coerced and in many cases threatened with prosecution if they did not give statements.”
When sentenced, the then commander-in-chief of the most feared National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) would be flown to Britain, United Kingdom where he will serve his jail time. The British government will foot the financial and material costs for his imprisonment.
“May 30th would be another heartrending moment for the Taylors,” remarked a 35 year old Liberian with residence in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
In 2009, Mr. Taylor’s son, Charles McArthur Emmanuel Taylor, alias, Chuckie, was given 97 years jail time following a criminal trial in the US for “Leading a campaign of torture against people opposed to his father’s rule.” Although he wasn’t charged with killing any of them, Mr. Taylor Jr,’s ”indictment alleged, he killed at least one of seven victims.”
Mr. Taylor’s future was shattered on Thursday, April 26, 2012 when trial Chief Judge, Richard Lussick of the UN backed Special Court hammered the final nail into the coffin that sealed his destination for the remaining of his life.
“Mr. Taylor, will you please stand-up so that I can read you the verdict. The trial chamber unanimously finds you guilty of aiding and abetting the commission of the following crimes…,” Judge Lussick pronounced.
The judges convicted Taylor for supporting the RUF in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone. He was accused of providing material, monetary and military assistances to the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), rebels in ex-change for “blood diamonds.”
Drug addicted and rag-tag RUF rebels reportedly hacked the limbs of children, women and men, and killed tens of thousands of people during Sierra Leone’s war, which ran from 1991 to 2002. He was convicted on 11 counts including terror, murder and rape. The former NPFL leader’s guilty verdict comes after almost five years of trial.
The UN arrested him in March 2006 and took him to Sierra Leone to face prosecution for the alleged material and monetary aid he gave the RUF in raining terror on Sierra Leoneans during the country’s civil war.
He was held briefly in Sierra Leone and later transferred to the International Court in The Hague due to security threat. Mr. Taylor’s trouble with the UN backed Special Court started in 2003 when the Court indicted him for war crimes and human rights violations in Sierra Leone.
Preceding the verdict, Mr. Taylor and some of his supporters, who traveled to The Hague for the hearing, were in high spirit for a non-guilty ruling. He went to court that morning elegantly attired in a dark blue suit.
He wore maroon neck tie, white shirt, and a map of Africa cufflinks. The ex-rebel general as most Americans often say was “sharp.”He looked presidential and ready to bid The Hague bon voyage.
But he was in error. He and his cronies’ optimisms of seeing him walked unscratched were aborted. He was held accountable for the injustices done to the destitute in Sierra Leone. Following the ruling, the onetime flamboyant, authoritative, and tough talking personality’s demeanor changed abruptly.
He collapsed his hands and stood in the court room stirring at the judges with a stone face. He seemed distraught. Mr. Taylor knew his life had been crushed forever. He grasped that his future and the prospect for exoneration were in trouble.
It finally dawned on him that the end had come. His reported past relationship with the erstwhile RUF late rebel leader Foday Sankoh his finally ruined his life and those of his family.
Mr. Taylor, alias Ghankay, or “papay” was speechless. It was a shock, he was in disbelief, but the verdict was irreversible. It was a reality that he must live with for now and forever.
Yes, the once ferocious, charismatic President of a gangster government, the ‘womanizer’ and ‘cruel warlord’s’ life had crumbled. The man, who on December 24, 1989 transitioned from fugitive of justice to a notorious rebel leader, had fallen from ‘grace to grass’.
The man, who once decided the fate of innocent Liberians and Sierra Leoneans at the stroke of a pen, or with the twinkle of an eye, was now struggling for his own survival. “Wow! What a twist of life. That’s life; it is unpredictable.”
In West Africa and the International Community, the designation Charles Taylor depicts extravagancy, dishonesty and authoritarianism. Before August 11, 2003 when self-proclaimed freedom fighters or rebels of the Liberians United for Democracy (LURD) militarily cowed him into resigning and fleeing into exile in Nigeria, former President Taylor lived a life most Liberians referred to as “large.”
He was ostentatious. By Liberian standard, he was a wealthy man. He controlled millions of dollars acquired through shady deals in Liberia and Sierra Leone. He had absolute control over Liberia’s revenues and natural resources. Taylor’s Liberia was a fiefdom; he single handedly decided who gets what, when and why.
He was the nation’s God father. Everyone including women, who wanted a piece of the pie, gravitated towards him. Even though Liberia has tree branches of government, Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary, during his reign, Mr. Taylor was the only central authority in the nation. Legislators and members of the Judiciary were deemed subservient.
They were inferior; he rarely consulted them on policy matters because he autocratically governed the country. The ex-war lord was not answerable to anybody. He was noted for religiously summoning public officials to the Executive Mansion for hand-outs.
During the hey days of his rebel leadership and presidency, he and his loyalists drove flashy cars and lived in upscale homes while majority of the people including civil servants went without regular meal, safe drinking water, electricity and salaries.
Educational and state owned institutions laid in ruined while he and his inner circle literarily “showered” in ill-gotten wealth. In Taylor’s Liberia corruption also, quadrupled while human rights violations took on an increase.
Militarily, Mr. Taylor was a man of might and utter power. As head of the NPFL, the onetime most powerful and notorious gangster group West Africa has ever produced in recent history, Mr. Taylor showed-off his military might in the 1990s.’
In an interview with the BBC, he vowed to avenge the fall of his former strong hold, Gbarnga, Bong County to the then allied forces of the United Liberation Movement and the Liberia Peace Council (LPC).
Then, he declared, “When Gbarnga falls, I will lift it up.” In deed he did. NPFL forces mobilized men and material resources and within a couple of days, they recaptured Gbarnga.
In the 1990s’ when his former NPFL rebels controlled most part of rural Liberia, Mr. Taylor again manifested his military supremacy when he turned up at a West African regional conference held on Liberia in Burkina Faso in full military gear. “
His equally well protected body guards jogged alongside his car from the airport to the centre of the capital, Ouagadougou, in a show of strength and loyalty,” the BBC in a 2009 news article captioned; Charles Taylor-Preacher, Warlord, President, reported.
In addition to being showy, Mr. Taylor was a man of women. The author of the book, Charles Taylor and Liberia, Mr. Colin Waugh labeled him “womanizer”. The former Liberian President had unquenchable thirst for females. Everywhere he went, whether local or international, Mr. Taylor was on the look out for women.
He had uncountable concubines and wives. He has been married three times. He is also, on record for consummating marital ties under pseudo arrangements with several women. Some of his notable wives were, Jewel Howard Taylor, Tupee Taylor, Agnes Reeves Taylor, and Haja Fatumata Taylor.
There were also reports that he flirted with the international super model Naomi Campbell in 1997, after both attended a star-studded charity dinner given in South Africa by the then President Nelson Mandela.
Last year, Ms. Campbell testified in The Hague before the UN backed Special Court that she received a “dirty-looking stones” from Mr. Taylor following the dinner. He was accused of giving diamond stones to Ms. Campbell.
Former President Taylor is a garrulous character. He loves to talk and he knows how to work the press. “Liberians love a talker and he was the mother of all talkers,” wrote the then Editor of the BBC’s Focus on Africa Programme, Robin White in a news article, My Verbal Sparring with Charles Taylor. He was what Mr. White described as the “Liberian Lip;” the “Monrovian Motor mouth.”
During the Liberian civil war, the BBC solidified Mr. Taylor’s popularity and war propaganda in West Africa and abroad. According to Mr. White, he made a total of six phone call appearances on the BBC’s Focus on Africa.
“He never held a press conference unless he had something important to say. He never called us if he didn’t have a story to tell-and he rationed his appearances,”Mr. White penned.
Locally, he created and controlled the Liberia Communication Network(LCN)- a pro Taylor print and broadcast (Patriot Newspaper, KISS FM and Television) entity that promoted the ex- NPFL and the National Patriotic Reconstruction Government (NPRG). LCN also became a praise singer media outlet for the Taylor administration following the 1997 special election in Liberia.
From Prison to President
His rise to eminence on the Liberian political scene goes back several decades. It goes as far as 1980 when the late President Samuel K. Doe then, Head of State and Chairman, of the erstwhile People’s Redemption Council (PRC) following the brutal overthrow of the William R. Tolbert regime, appointed him Director General, General Services Agency (GSA).
At GSA, Mr. Taylor’s stay was short lived. He fell out with the PRC after being accused of embezzling approximately US $1 million of government funds entrusted to the agency for the acquisition of logistics for public institutions.
He fled Liberia and soughed sanctuary in the US. He disclaimed the allegation, but the PRC remained adamant in holding him accountable. The regime requested his extradition from the US. He was picked up and canned in the Plymouth County House of Correction in Massachusetts in the 1980s’.
“Some reports say he managed to escape the prison by sawing through the bars; others say that there was some collusion in his departure from Americans who wanted him to play the role he then proceeded to carve out for himself-overthrowing the corrupt, violent and generally disastrous regime of Samuel Doe,” the BBC reported.
After years of military training reportedly in Libya and other West African countries, the now convicted Taylor at the helm of “blood thirsty” rebels of the NPFL on December 24, 1989, invaded Liberia by means of Butuo, a town situated at the Liberia Ivory Coast border in Nimba County.
The NPFL rebellion against the late President Samuel K. Doe regime succeedeause of the alliances. Mr. Taylor had with the once radical Colonel Mummar Gaddafi of Libya, the former Ivorian President Felix Houphouet Boigny, and Burkina Faso President Blasé Compaore.
His association with a rogues’ gallery of businessmen, local and foreign, aided him and the NPFL in flouting international sanctions for money making in Liberia.
In 1997, after winning power militarily, he won the Liberian presidency in a UN sponsored special election. Although the election was declared democratic, free, and fair, his opponents and critics say he bullied and bought the electorates.
Grace to Grass
He is the first former African President and Head of State, to be tried and convicted of war crimes by an international court since the Nuremburg trials of the Nazis after World War II. Mr. Taylor’s fall from stardom to humiliation proceeds similar fate that befell other tyrants and warlords in Africa.
The despotic leader of Libya, Col. Mummar Gaddafi was on October 21, 2011, captured alive and slaughtered by his own people following months of a bitter civil war in that country. The late Gaddafi dictatorially ruled Libya for 41 years.
During his reign, he through monetary and material support to dissident forces reportedly instigated civil upheavals in several African countries including Liberia.
Another martinet, who has also suffered the same international denigration for reported cruelty to humanity is, Dr. George Boley, the then head of the Liberia Peace Council (LPC).
The LPC was a faction in the Liberian civil war. The federal government after two years of trial in the US on March 30, 2012 deported Dr. Boley to his homeland, Liberia after convicting him for war crimes committed by the LPC and the recruitment of child soldiers during the Liberian civil war.
Mr. Taylor’s humiliation and the likelihood of him spending the rest of his life in prison for war crimes sends a strong message to dictators the world over that evil is vanity.
It does not last; malevolent has a short life span no matter how long it takes for the perpetrators to be brought to justice. It is often said that “The truth crushed to the ground, shall surely rise.”
The disgrace suffered by Mr. Taylor, the late Col. Gaddafi, Dr. Boley and oppressors, who preceded them, equates to the triumphant of good over evil. The episodes of these fallen autocrats and war mongers must be a guiding principle for world leaders in the dispensation of justice and economic resources to the governed.
About the Author: Moses D. Sandy is a US based Liberian journalist. Mr. Sandy is former Editor-in-Chief of the state owned Liberia Broadcasting System (LBS). He holds a Master’s in Social Work (MSW) and works in the City of Philadelphia as entry level manager. He can be reached at 302-494-4688.