SIERRA LEONE

Charles Taylor’s lawyer storms out of court after angry exchange

Charles Taylor’s lawyer stormed out of court during the final phase of the former Liberian leader’s war crimes trial Tuesday, refusing to take part in the closing arguments concerning his client’s alleged warmongering in Sierra Leone.

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AP - Calling the trial “a farce,” Charles Taylor’s lawyer stormed out of court Tuesday after judges refused to accept a written summary of the former Liberian president’s defense at the end of his landmark war crimes case.

British attorney Courtenay Griffiths ignored judges at the Special Tribunal for Sierra Leone who ordered him to stay in court after unprecedented angry exchanges erupted before closing arguments in the three-year case.
 
“How will posterity judge the credibility of this court if, at this 11th hour, they prevented Mr. Taylor from presenting ... 90 percent of his closing arguments?” Griffiths said outside court. “We have decided not to participate in these closing arguments because as far as we are concerned it is a complete farce.”
 
But prosecutor Brenda Hollis argued that neither Taylor nor his lawyers had the right to walk out.
 
“The accused is not attending a social event. He may not R.S.V.P. at the last minute,” Hollis said. “He is the accused at a criminal proceeding.”
 
Taylor himself remained in court as Hollis began summing up the prosecution case.
 
The courtroom fireworks were ignited Monday, when the three-judge panel issued a majority decision rejecting Taylor’s final brief in which his lawyers summed up their defense case, because it was filed 20 days after their Jan. 14 deadline.
 
Ugandan Judge Julia Sebutinde dissented, warning that refusing to accept Taylor’s brief “is to deny him his fundamental right to defend himself.”
 
Griffiths said he would file an appeal later Tuesday against the trial chamber’s decision to reject the summation.
 
Griffiths argued earlier that he could not submit the defense summary on time because the court had not ruled on several outstanding motions, including one challenging the U.N.-backed court’s independence based on diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks.
 
In one leaked cable from the U.S. Embassy in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, diplomats warned that if Taylor is acquitted and returns to Liberia it could destabilize the country’s fragile peace.
 
“The best we can do for Liberia is to see to it that Taylor is put away for a long time” said the cable, dated March 10, 2009. It also suggested that building a case against Taylor in the U.S. could be one way of ensuring he does not return to Liberia should he be acquitted by the Sierra Leone tribunal.
 
Griffiths said the cable showed the tribunal is not independent “because the Americans are already putting in place contingency plans so if Mr. Taylor is acquitted they will put him on trial again in the United States.”
 
Taylor, the first former African head of state to be tried by an international court, has pleaded innocent to 11 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, torture and using child soldiers.
 
Prosecutors allege he armed and supported brutal rebels responsible for many of the worst atrocities of Sierra Leone’s civil war, which left tens of thousands of people dead and many more mutilated after enemy fighters hacked off their limbs, noses or lips.
 
Continuing to sum up her case in Griffiths’ absence, Hollis laid the blame for the atrocities firmly at Taylor’s feet, saying he used the rebels to pillage Sierra Leone’s mineral wealth and in particular its diamonds.
 
“Charles Taylor, this intelligent, charismatic manipulator, had his proxy forces ... carry out these crimes against helpless victims in Sierra Leone,” she said. “All this suffering, all these atrocities, to feed the greed and lust for power of Charles Taylor.”
 
Taylor, however, in months testifying on his own behalf, cast himself as a statesman who tried to pacify Western Africa.
 
Taylor boycotted the opening of his trial in June 2007 and fired his defense team, saying he had not had enough time to prepare his defense. The trial got under way again six months later with the first witness.
 
“We have seen this attempt at manipulation of the proceedings at the beginning and now we are seeing it at the end,” Hollis said.

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