Playing the Race Card at War Crimes Trial

Lawyer for accused blood diamond-financed president slams Tribunal for "racism."

ByABC News
October 26, 2009, 6:38 PM

Oct. 27, 2009 — -- The lawyer for the African despot accused of financing rape and pillage with stolen diamonds, has blasted the War Crimes Tribunal where his client stands trial as "racist," and a tool of American foreign policy.

"International criminal justice as currently conceived is about those lesser breeds without the law. It is a civilizing process you see," Courtenay Griffiths, lead Counsel for former Liberian President Charles Taylor facetiously told ABC News last week in the lead-up to the direct examination of his client which resumed Monday.

Taylor is being tried by the Special Court for Sierra Leone, which receives a third of its funding from the U.S., and is charged with masterminding the atrocities, such as mass rape and amputation of civilians, in Sierra Leone (which shares a border with Liberia) in order to take advantage of the country's vast natural resources, including diamonds.

The U.S. has given $69.4 million for the Special Court for Sierra Leone since 2002, according to the United Nations, which includes the trials of Sierra Leonean rebel leaders who carried out atrocities. The UN cannot say exactly what percentage of that has gone to the Taylor trial, but it comes to millions of dollars each year. Griffiths asserted that this funding has influenced a predetermined conviction because America does not want that money to have gone to waste.

"In a way the court has been set up with a conviction in mind," said Griffiths.

Over the course of the almost two-year long trial, Taylor has grabbed headlines by firing his first attorney and converting to Judaism, such that there is never a dull moment at The Hague's International Criminal Court where the trial is taking place. United Nations officials decided that for security reasons it would be safer to try Taylor there than in Sierra Leone where the atrocities occurred.

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. Taylor has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

"The way in which Taylor has been portrayed as a 'cannibalistic savage' is typical bearing in mind historical notions of many in the West," said Griffiths.

Griffiths said that international criminal justice, which includes both the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the ICC (which does not receive any funding from the US) is racist and geared towards "civilizing" Africans. He said that neither former President George Bush nor former British Prime Minister Tony Blair would ever be put on trial despite their involvement in foreign wars, which is testimony to the racist element of the court: "It's not by some coincidence that every single defendant currently facing trial before the ICC is from where? Surprise, surprise-- Africa."

The ICC is currently investigating atrocities in northern Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, and Darfur.

Rapp said the Special Court for Sierra Leone was established in order to prosecute those that bear the greatest responsibility for atrocities that took place, and to "say to the victims that we recognize the suffering that they experienced, and we go further that that by holding the individuals responsible for the crimes they've committed."

Griffiths slammed the prosecution for wasting time by bringing un-credible and irrelevant witnesses to the stand.

The prosecution called a total of 91 witnesses, nearly two third of which Griffiths says gave their personal accounts of mutilation, amputations or rape.

Griffiths said that though these witnesses painted a picture of the bloody environment in Sierra Leone during the civil war, and that he did not deny that the atrocities occurred, they in no way portrayed Taylor as the mastermind.

"One would have thought that a diligent prosecution would have focused on that issue of liability rather than to seek to create this veil of emotion by calling all of those crime-based witnesses to testimony," said Griffiths.

Rapp told ABC News a very different story: "[Taylor] was calling the shots, he provided [rebels] with arms, he provided them with training, he provided them with safe havens if they were pushed back."

Rapp also has alleged that illegal diamond money was a major motivation for Taylor's rape of his neighboring Sierra Leone: "It's [Sierra Leone's} rich diamond fields which financed the continued conflict, and according to our evidence, was part of the motivation for Taylor in going in there and carrying out a conflict that ranged across the 1990s with an increased level of atrocity against the civilian population."

Griffiths flatly denied that Taylor had millions of illegal dollars in various banks around the world, as suggested by Rapp, saying that the Prosecution has not shown a shred of evidence to that fact, and that Taylor did not have time, having inherited an unstable Third World country to run, to act as a diamond dealer on the side.

"Frankly given the many years the Prosecution has had to trace his illegal millions, given also the international financial mechanism which are in place to trace such funds, why is it that after all these years the prosecution did not present a shred of financial evidence in support of that aspect of its allegations?"

Griffiths added that Taylor's children now live in London and are penniless, something Taylor would not have allowed had he any money secretly stored away.

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.

Rapp told ABC News that in 1997, Taylor was elected President of Liberia with the slogan, "He killed my Ma, he killed my Pa, we'll vote for him."

"He basically intimidated the public into supporting him in the election in August 1997." Taylor's ex-wife Agnes has defended her former husband saying the slogan was misinterpreted.

When asked if he believed Taylor was a just leader, Griffiths said he is "not here to judge Charles Taylor in that sense" but that the Liberian people returned their verdict by electing him president of their country in July 1997.

"Despite the fact that he was supposedly wicked, brutal, war-lord, would be prosecuting this brutal civil war since the Christmas of 1999 … but, in terms of my role as his lawyer looking at the facts and the evidence brought against him in purely forensic terms, my view is that the prosecution hasn't come close to proving that case."

Click Here for the Blotter Homepage.