African News

Charles Taylor and the Fallacy of the Special Court

31 May 2012 at 21:26 | 590 views

Editor’s note: This article was first published May 11, 2012.


By Alfred Munda SamForay, USA.

Before we get to the matter of Prosecutor versus Charles Ghankay Taylor and the myths and fallacy of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, let’s address some myths about Charles Taylor himself. In particular, the myth that the former Liberian president escaped from the Plymouth County Correctional Facility in Massachusetts in 1985 and somehow landed in Liberia without the knowledge and assistance of state or federal officials of the United States. Anyone who has ever worked in any state or federal prison in the United States as I have knows that no inmate escapes from such an institution without the assistance or knowledge of someone in the system itself. Of course, Mr. Taylor himself has testified under oath at his trial that his so-called prison break was in fact engineered and funded by the government of the United States and that he walked freely in the country before returning to Liberia to start his revolution that eventually spread to neighbouring Sierra Leone. Common sense also dictates that even if Taylor had somehow singlehandedly masterminded his escape, there was no reasonable chance of him flying out of the United States with a passport bearing his true name and likeness.

Much Ado About Nothing.

It may have been only coincidental – or perhaps not – that the Special Court for Sierra Leone has lasted almost as long as the Sierra Leone civil war itself which lasted from 1991 to February 2002. Or that the trial of Mr. Taylor would have lasted half as long as the war by the time the appeals are heard and disposed of. It may also have been purely coincidental that the justices sitting at the Dutch legal capital, The Hague, to try Mr. Taylor for war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged involvement in the war, dilly-dallied with the trial and the verdict until one day before Sierra Leoneans were to celebrate their country’s fifty-first independence anniversary on April 27, 2012. If the timing of the verdict was to tap into the euphoria surrounding independence from Britain, which has culminated in fifty-one years of permanent dependence on the very colonial masters we wanted to separate ourselves from in the first place, it was a partially successful charade.

Last week, after convicting Mr. Taylor on eleven counts of Article II common to the Geneva Conventions known as war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in providing the fuel that drove the rebel war in Sierra Leone, the Prosecutor asked for an eighty year prison sentence for Mr. Taylor. Sentencing the sixty-five year old Taylor to eighty years in prison is clearly a form of judicial masturbation – an act to satisfy one’s basic human instincts with no meaningful outcome. It is a nonsensical performance for the American and European overlords of the Special Court that serves no practical purpose whatsoever. The only significance for it is to justify the enormous amount of international taxpayer money that the court has expended on itself to conduct this trial as well as those of the other nine convicted people presently incarcerated at Mpanga Prisons in Rwanda.

The Killer Court

Throughout its ten years of existence in Sierra Leone, the Special Court has acquired a well-earned reputation as a killer court. A sort of judicial Bermuda Triangle where people entered as accused persons, innocent before the law, and exited as corpses or simply ceased to exist as human beings. As promised by its original Chief Prosecutor, David Crane, the role of the court was to make sure that those accused would “never see the light of day”. Crane, a former United States military intelligence officer with no prior experience before an international tribunal was a master of nonsensity and a grandstand artist of the baser sort. His failure to properly indict the CDF according to the court’s own Rules of Evidence was a case in point.

It is worth noting that of the fourteen individuals accused, tried and or convicted by the court as bearing the greatest responsibilities for alleged atrocities committed in the civil war, four escaped trial or punishment by reason of death while in the custody of the court, or as fugitives from the court. In the case of AFRC leader, Johnny Paul Koroma, the man who allowed the RUF rebels to enter the city of Freetown in January 1999 and massacre a reported six thousand people, his case was simply declared closed when the court unable or unwilling to locate him conveniently declared him dead although no body was ever presented to ascertain his alleged death. In the case of RUF field commander, Sam “Maskita” Bockarie, he was allegedly killed in Liberia or Sierra Leone under unexplained circumstances. In the case of RUF leader, Foday Saybana Sankoh, the previously robust sixty-something year old former army corporal and Second Vice-President of Sierra Leone, he slowly deteriorated into a zombie while in the custody of the court before he died of “natural causes.”

Then there was the case of the court’s and the country’s most celebrated accused person, former Deputy Minister of Defence and later Minister of Internal Affairs and leader of the government’s own Sierra Leone Civil Defence Forces (SL-CDF), Chief Samuel Hinga Norman. He was a former army captain and a robust sixty-three year old when the Sierra Leone Police arrested him on March 10, 2003 on orders from the Special Court and with the presumed knowledge of his boss, President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. Norman was handcuffed behind his back and tortured on his way to prison at Bonthe Island. As a result of his mistreatment at the hands of agents for the court, he suffered a permanent hip injury for which he was flown to a prison hospital in Dakar, Senegal four years after his injury. Two weeks after a botched-up operation, Norman bled to death as a result of gross medical negligence and extreme cruelty to his person.

In a recently published book, From SAS to Blood Diamond Wars, authors Hamish Ross and former British Special Air Service operative, Fred Marafono, who should know a thing or two about covert operations, Marafono states in no uncertain terms that his former friend and comrade-in-arms, Sam Norman’s death was the result of someone purposefully injecting him with a drug that mimics a heart attack leading to chemically-induced myocardial infarction. As with Foday Sankoh, Mr. Norman’s death was ruled to be from “natural causes”. His family and the family doctor representing them at the autopsy, former Vice President of Sierra Leone, Dr. Albert Joe Demby, rejected the autopsy result and the subsequent inquest by the court. Mr. Norman had no previous history of heart disease. Uncontroverted evidence from Mr. Norman’s personal diary also clearly indicate that he was killed by agents of the court in collaboration with the then government of Sierra Leone to keep Norman from becoming a challenger or potential challenger to Mr. Kabbah’s anointed heir to the Sierra Leone presidency. Notwithstanding, Kabbah’s anointed one and his party still lost the general and presidential elections of 2007. In the case of Charles Taylor, rumors began circulating in mid-2010 that Mr. Taylor was suffering from heart ailment. Shortly thereafter, Taylor’s supporters began circulating rumors of their own that if Mr. Taylor died an untimely death in the custody of the court, as did Hinga Norman and other Special Court victims, “rebels” would enter Sierra Leone in broad daylight. Shortly thereafter, reports about Taylor’s alleged heart troubles quickly vanished from the rumor press.

The Charade at The Hague
In April 2010, I had the unique though not entirely pleasant opportunity to spend a week in The Hague as a civil society observer at the Charles Taylor trial. Although my one-week in The Hague did not necessarily represent the true scope of the exceedingly long six-year trial, it did represent a snapshot of the futility of the whole judicial charade. I had anticipated prior to my arrival at The Hague that with the super-star status accorded Mr. Taylor, holding his trial in Europe instead of Sierra Leone where all the other defendants had been tried, that the balcony would be filled with curious spectators representing a cross-section of the international community. To my amazement, I was surprised to see that hardly any one attended the trial. During the morning session of the third day I was at the trial, I was actually the only spectator in the audience until a few hapless souls showed up later for the afternoon session.

This was not the only fallacy of the Taylor trial. During the time that I observed the trial, the prosecuting attorney, one Joseph Kamara, faced off with an RUF defence witness for Mr. Taylor. So unprepared and unprofessional was the prosecutor that in my official report to the court back in Sierra Leone, I opined that the court would fail to convict Mr. Taylor based on the strength of Taylor’s defence team and the awkward and lackluster performance of the prosecution team. In reality, of course, there is no way the court would allow itself to lose such a high profile and expensive case in full view of the people who financed the court into seemingly perpetual existence. In my interviews with the British Broadcasting Corporation later broadcast in Sierra Leone and Liberia, I advised the Liberian government not to give any consideration to setting up a “special court for Liberia” as was being rumored about. Whether Liberia harkens to this unsolicited advice remains to be seen. What is certain is that, more than the war itself, the establishment of the court remained the most divisive action in Sierra Leone in the country’s history.

How the Court Divided Rather Than Healed Sierra Leone

While the war itself did not divide the country along regional, tribal or religious lines, the court clearly did. By indicting only the leaders of the Kamajors, composed mainly of the Mende and Mende-related ethnic groups of the south and east of the country, the court, in Achebean terms, set a knife upon the things that held us together so that our people could no longer act as one – socially and politically. Accordingly, the largely south-eastern based ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) became, in the words of Jesus, a house divided among itself that ultimately could not stand and the SLPP lost the 2007 election. This was primarily because two of its principal pillars, Charles Francis Margai – a principal defence counsel for the CDF - and Samuel Hinga Norman, first accused of the SL-CDF, pulled out of the party to form the rival People’s Movement for Democratic Change led by Margai with strong backing from supporters of Chief Hinga Norman. As Robert Butler Yates said, “Things fall apart because the center cannot hold”.

These are some of the reasons, I advised the Liberian representatives present with me at The Hague including one Member of Parliament not to entertain the thought of establishing a special court for Liberia. The enormous cost of running the court – over two hundred million United States dollars in the case of Sierra Leone – which could better have been used to improve the lives of the living rather than avenging the dead is another compelling reason against the establishment of such a court. And what did Sierra Leoneans get for two hundred million dollars spent in their name? A divided nation, a set of ramshackled buildings along Jomo Kenyata Road in Freetown and ten convictions at the cost of $20 million per person all held outside Sierra Leone. For a country with the highest infant and maternal mortality rate in the world, we could have built ten universities or ten hospitals for women, infants and children. In short, for those who derive great satisfaction from blaming their own failures on other people, the fictional American boogey-man or the spirit of our ancestors, the Taylor verdict is a cause for celebration. For those of us with a more critical mind who think that Sierra Leoneans and only Sierra Leoneans bear the greatest responsibilities for slaughtering and hacking off the limbs of their own kith and kin, the Taylor verdict is tantamount to what American economist, John Kenneth Galbraith, calls intellectual ineptitudeness - or stupidity.

The first phase of the Taylor trial is over. It is now left with the sentencing and the subsequent appeals that will follow. Mr. Taylor will likely spend the rest of his natural life in prison in the United Kingdom as will the nine others presently imprisoned in Rwanda. Will the trials deter future war crimes and make the world safe for democracy? Did the Nuremberg trials following World War II deter the Khmer Rouge, the Rwandans or Sadaam Hussein from killing millions of their own people? Did it deter the United States and its NATO allies from killing innocent men, women and children in Libya? Or does the death of Samuel Hinga Norman, Muamar Kadhaffy, Laurent Gbagbo, the hunt for Bashir of Sudan and the conviction of Charles Taylor only prove that international justice is selective against the weak, the poor and, in particular, the Africans? You be the judge – or the jury.


Note: The author, Alfred Munda SamForay, is a former member of Civil Defence High Command and head of the CDF support group, the Sierra Leone Action Movement (SLAM). Unlike the former substantive head of the CDF, Minister of Defence, Commander-in-Chief and President of Sierra Leone, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, who refused to testify on behalf of the CDF which he created, SamForay testified in writing before both the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as well as the Special Court. For the past ten years he has remained an unrepentant critique of the Special Court for usurping the Sierra Leone judicial system, unlawful and immoral payments to prosecution witnesses for false testimonies, lack of judicial independence from Sierra Leone politics and mismanagement of international taxpayer funds to run the court. The views expressed in this article are entirely those of the author.