Former Liberian President Charles Taylor took the stand today in The Hague and vehemently defended himself against charges of ordering rape, mutilation and amputation, calling the charges against him "a diabolical lie."
Taylor said there was no "indiscriminate killing of people on his watch" and that his "revolution" was to bring stability to Liberia.
Prosecutors have accused Taylor, who served as Liberia's president from 1997 to 2003, of ordering his subordinates to murder and mutilate civilians, cut off their limbs, use women and girls as sex slaves, abduct adults and children, and force them to perform labor or become fighters to further his economic and political ambitions in the region.
"I will be the first to admit that bad things did happen in Liberia," the former warlord said. "When we launched this revolution...some individuals engaged in these actions for their own purposes, but what is very clear is when we found out that these atrocities had been committed we acted," he said.
Lead Prosecutor Stephen Rapp said his team is pleased that Taylor is finally in the box: "This is Mr. Taylor's chance to try and discount the evidence of the 91 Prosecution witnesses who testified against him. When he finishes, we'll be ready for cross-examination."
Taylor's lead Counsel Courtenay Griffiths today said the prosecution's case was "riddled with hypocrisy and untruth," and added that there is a "deeply ingrained popular prejudice…based on lies" against his client. Griffiths told judges that Taylor's testimony will likely last for several weeks.
Earlier this year he moved for the judges to throw out the case against the accused warlord.
In May judges denied the defense's motion for acquittal "in its entirety," saying that there is enough evidence that Taylor was directly involved in the atrocities carried out against civilians during Sierra Leone's brutal civil war to continue the trial.
Taylor, who served as Liberia's president from 1997 to 2003, is charged by the Special Court for Sierra Leone with 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in Sierra Leone during the country's roughly 10-year conflict that officially ended in 2002.
The judges held that "during the campaign to terrorize the civilian population civilians were killed, raped, forced into sexual slavery, subjected to physical violence including amputations and mutilation, and were abducted and forced to labor" and "that children participated actively."
Charles Taylor Facing 11 Counts
Taylor is charged by the Special Court for Sierra Leone with 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in Sierra Leone during the country's roughly 10-year conflict that officially ended in 2002.
The Court was set up jointly by Sierra Leone's government and the United Nations. It is mandated to try those who bear the greatest responsibility for atrocities committed during Sierra Leone's brutal civil war between 1996 and 2002.
Taylor's case is being tried at The Hague instead of in Sierra Leone to reduce chances of sparking unrest in the west African state or in neighboring Liberia.
Prosecutors brought 91 witnesses to the stand during their 13-month long argument. Taylor, the first former African head of state to appear before an international war crimes tribunal, has denied all of the 11 charges against him.
Sudan's President Omar al Bashir has also been charged with crimes against humanity.
President Obama put African leaders on notice this weekend in his address in Ghana, saying that the world needs to stand up to the "inhumanity" of Africa's atrocities.
"It is never justifiable to target innocents in the name of ideology," said the President.
Last year, Taylor's son Charles Emmanuel Taylor, also known as Chucky, was convicted of torture. He was the first American citizen charged and convicted with committing war crimes abroad. Prosecutors accused Chucky Taylor of torturing civilians during his reign as the head of a special unit in his father's army, referred to as the Demon Force. He is now serving 97 years in a federal prison in Florida.