WHY TAYLOR COULD WALK: Wikileak Cables Reveal America’s Fears For Liberia

– Rodney D. Sieh

Source: FrontPage Africa

Monrovia – When the United States of America announced in November that it had released US$ 4.5 million to the UN-backed Special Court of Sierra Leone, trying former Liberian head of state, Charles Taylor, the backdrop to the revelation was that the grant demonstrated the US commitment to ensuring that those most responsible for the atrocities committed during the war in Sierra Leone are brought to justice.’

One month later, revelations unveiled in the controversial Wikileaks documents suggest that the amount was made available at the urging of the U.S. Ambassador to Liberia, Linda Thomas Greenfield who suggested in leaked cables to Washington that there was a strong possibility that the former Liberian leader could walk and the best the U.S. can do is to see to it that Taylor is put away for a long time. The U.S. envoy went on to suggest the possibility that Taylor could likely follow the footsteps of his son, Chuckie Taylor, who was tried in the U.S. for war crimes and is currently in jail.

Greenfield’s fears were a follow-up to the former prosecutor Scott Rapp’s comments months earlier that there was a strong possibility that the former Liberian leader could walk if funding was not made available to the court.

The cable quoting a senior U.S. official said: “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 statues.”

The U.S. envoy also raised concerns that some former factions are regroup and aiding insurgents in Guinea and the Ivory Coast. Recently, Liberians were concerned about comments by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf warning former combatants from getting involved in the crisis in neighboring Ivory Coast where incumbent Laurent Gbagbo has refused to let go of power despite losing the just-end run-off elections. Now the cables suggest that Sirleaf may have been alerted by the U.S.

Said Greenfield: “Certainly, the same is true for the other factions, the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy(LURD) and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia(MODEL). While apparently unarmed and not active in Liberia, we continue to receive reports that LURD is recruiting ex-combatants for militias in Guinea and MODEL is doing the same for Cote d’Ivoire.”

In an interview a with FrontPageAfrica a day after Sirleaf’s statement was released, Thomas Yah-Yah Nimely, the former head of the erstwhile Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL), a rebel group that became active in March 2003, launching attacks from Cote d’Ivoire denied that he was involved in the recruitment of or involvement in the Ivorian crisis. Nimley said he has for the past five years been involved in farming in Grand Gedeh County.

Said Nimley: “I find that statement to be a politically-naïve statement. I think what we should be concerned about right now is a sister country is in conflict. If the crisis materializes where it becomes a reality and there’s war in Cote d’Ivoire. Cote d’Ivoire has fifteen to seventeen million people. We have five counties in Liberia that share a common border with Cote d’Ivoire. If we have a million refugees coming into Liberia, we have crisis on our hands as well.”

‘By all calculations, the Court would have run out of money by early December which could have jeopardized the continuation of the Charles Taylor trial before the Court reached a verdict,’ it noted.

As a result of fears about a possible Taylor return and ongoing crisis in both Guinea and Ivory Coast, the U.S., in announcing the assistance to the special court last month, urged other UN member states to also contribute funds to the court to enable it to complete its work.

The court is mandated to try those who bear the greatest responsibility for serious violations of international humanitarian law and Sierra Leonean law committed in the territory of Sierra Leone since 30 November, 1996. The court has already indicted Taylor and 12 others for war crimes and crimes against humanity in 2003, due to their involvement in and support for some of the worst atrocities in Sierra Leone’s civil war.

Besides her concerns about a possible Taylor return, the U.S. envoy also raised concerns that judges in trials have been deliberately slowing down proceedings, senior US. Officials believe causing significant delays to proceedings. The cables reveal US doubts about the trial in The Hague of Charles Taylor, the former President of Liberia amid allegations that one of the judges has manipulated proceedings so that she can personally give the verdict in the case. “Sources speculate that justice Julia Sebutinde may have a timing agenda,” one senior US diplomat states. “They think she, as the only African judge, wants to hold the gavel as presiding judge y the trial announces the Taylor judgment ”, Ambassador Greenfield is quoted in one of the cables.

The cables allege that Sebutinde, from Uganda, had slowed proceedings while she waited for her turn at the court’s rotating presidency, which finally came up in January. Experts say such moves are common in international criminal proceedings.”

The Guardian Newspaper quoting a spokesman for the court rejected the notion that judges were slowing down the case, stating that the judges had tried to speed up proceedings.” Since she became presiding judge last January, Justice Sebutinde has worked to expedite the Taylor Trial,” the Guardian quoted a spokesman for the court. “All of the judges of the trial chamber have worked tirelessly, and made personal sacrifices to expedite the Taylor trial. The allegations that any or all of the judges have sought to slow down the proceedings is untrue.”

Ambassador Greenfield’s concerns cabled to Washingon coupled with Chief Prosecutor Stephen Rapp’s announcement that Taylor may walk free grabbed the attention of the post-war government who according to the cable made contact with the embassy with President Sirleaf calling the ambassador on February 28 to raise her concerns. “She pointed out that Liberia’s stability remains fragile, and such remarks reverberated throughout the country as people are still traumatized by Taylor and the war”, the ambassador is quoted as saying.

The cable also quotes Ambassador Greenfield as saying that press accounts of The Hague have also emboldened the pro-Taylor factions including his extended family members, financiers and National Patriotic Party(NPP) loyalists, raising their hopes that Taylor might be acquitted soon. “Despite their rhetoric about “moving on”, they have thus far refused to appear before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission(TRC) to account for their activities, and those on the UN sanctions lists continue to request delisting on the basis they have done nothing wrong rather than demonstrating what they have done to provide restitution for their activities.”

According to Greenfield, the government was caught in the middle. “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 means an open question. The TRC has recommended a domestic war crimes court be set up, but under statute, an independent National Human Rights Commission(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.”

Political and legal experts are concerned that the comments revealed in the cables for the first time raise serious possibilities that the case against Mr. Taylor may not be very strong in the wake of the U.S.’s lack of confidence in the proceedings. Further complicating matters are suggestions in the cables that U.S. officials at the court explored possibilities for eventually putting Taylor on trial in the U.S. “The best we can do for Liberia is to see Taylor put away for a long time and we cannot delay for the results of the present trial to consider next steps,” another high –ranking US official stated in a cable.

Calls placed to Taylor’s lead attorney Courtenay Griffiths Sunday night were not returned. But some observers believe the leaked cables could give Griffiths a lot of ammunition to build a case of international conspiracy against the former president. It may also not be a good sign some say that the U.S. is already thinking about a post-Hague trial for Taylor bordering financial crimes such as wire fraud and a new law criminalizing the use of child soldiers or terrorism statutes, when a verdict in the ongoing trial is still a bit far from being reached.


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