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Charles Taylor was convicted but who else is guilty?

By Brian E. Muhammad -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: May 17, 2012 - 11:23:29 AM

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Charles Taylor
George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Colin Powell could be charged with war crimes resulting from an illegal intervention in Iraq, that killed a million innocent men, women and children on the basis of a lie.
( - Last month a special international criminal court for Sierra Leone convicted former Liberian president Charles Taylor on 11 counts of “aiding and abetting” in war crimes and crimes against humanity that included murder, mutilation, rape, sexual slavery, recruiting child soldiers and pillaging in the West African nation from 1996 to 2002.


Some applauded the verdict, others questioned the authenticity of the courts apparent double standards and asked if convicting Mr. Taylor was enough. 

“There are a number of difficulties with this case,” said Jonathan Gant, a Liberia specialist with Global Witness, a watchdog group against global economic corruption.

 “We obviously like the fact that somebody who was really instrumental to the misery of so many people was brought to account. But the combination of the fact that the court was given a fairly limited mandate—just to gun for a top few individuals … that’s a problem,” said Mr. Gant.

The Special Court is an independent tribunal established jointly by Sierra Leone and the United Nations to try persons accused of bearing the greatest responsibility in violating international humanitarian law and Sierra Leonean law specifically within the country after November 30, 1996.

In a May 25, 1997 coup d’état, members of the Sierra Leone Army overthrew the democratically elected government of Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and invited the Revolutionary United Front (RUF)—an opposition group—to join its junta government called the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC).  Mr. Taylor was alleged to have acted in concert with the group in rights violations as head of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, and later as president of Liberia.

The prosecution accused Mr. Taylor of providing the alliance with military training, financial, communications, technical and other operational support, such as transporting of material and personnel.

An example for African leaders?

At a volatile time in geopolitics, Mr. Taylor is the first African Head of State to be convicted by an international tribunal and some analysts say the verdict may represent a model for how other African presidents will be handled by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Currently there is an ICC arrest warrant issued against Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir and Laurent Gbagbo, ex-president of Ivory Coast, is incarcerated and awaiting trial in The Hague on human rights abuse charges from post election conflicts last year.

“The western press keeps saying, the ‘first head of state,’ as if there will be other heads of state; it’s like a warning and a fear tactic to bring all these heads of state in line and make sure they’re doing what the West says they should do,” said A. Akbar Muhammad, the international representative of the Nation of Islam.

Mr. Muhammad noted the constant media depiction of Mr. Taylor as a rogue and questioned the strength of the prosecution’s case, considering the trial lasted four years. In comparison, the famous Nuremburg trials—after World War II—for crimes against humanity committed in Nazi Germany had 24 defendants and only lasted one year.

Former U.S. Attorney-General Ramsey Clark, who served in the White House under President Lyndon B. Johnson and was once a lawyer for Mr. Taylor, agreed that the case was weak. He called the entire international justice system as “tragically flawed” and noted failure of the special court to convict the Liberian leader of direct involvement in the atrocities. America would not stand-up under the same criterion as the largest purveyor of arms globally, said Mr. Clark.

“It should have gone before the International Criminal Court or a court …with Liberia; it’s even shown in the result—that he could only be accused of aiding and abetting; something we (America) could be accused for all the guns we have sent all over the world; aiding and abetting people in slaughtering their own,” Mr. Clark told The Final Call in a telephone interview from his home in New York.

Taylor conviction a precedent for U.S. leaders?

Although irrefutable abuses exist around the world, most of the ICC cases are against Africans. Using the same logic of the court’s ruling against the American-educated Taylor as a precedent, prosecutions should not be limited to African leaders. Actions stemming from U.S. foreign policy condemn past and present U.S. administrations for fostering mayhem and destruction worldwide.

For example, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger could be pursued for his role in the chaotic overthrow of Chile and the death of its popular President Salvador Allende in 1973.  Perhaps President Bill Clinton could be indicted for aiding and abetting “Africa’s world war” that killed six million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo to gain control and continued influence over the vast mineral resources in Central Africa.

George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Colin Powell could be charged with war crimes resulting from an illegal intervention in Iraq, that killed a million innocent men, women and children on the basis of a lie. In two wars on Iraq America used depleted uranium that experts are now attributing to high rates of birth defects there.

Furthermore, civilians were killed by aerial drone in Afghanistan and American soldiers have committed gross abuses in the name of fighting terrorism, yet in reality it’s to secure Euro-Asia pipelines for oil in the Caspian Sea.

The U.S. could be accused in the Summary Execution of Osama Bin Laden by Special Forces troops instead of having him tried in a court of law for 9-11 terrorist attacks. There is the killing without due process of Sheikh Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen and strong opponent of U.S. foreign policy. 

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton could be charged for authorizing logistical and material support for counter-revolutionary forces, which included Al-Qaeda operatives in Libya’s insurgency that deposed and assassinated Muammar Gadhafi and killed 50,000 Libyans in 2011. 

But, what mechanism is strong enough to take U.S. leaders to task? The major impediment to the ICC is America’s influence on the court, though it never ratified the court’s agreement. This means America is outside the courts sphere of accountability, while hypocritically exerting enormous pressure on the ICC to issue warrants against her enemies like President Bashir, Col. Gadhafi and Mr. Taylor, albeit under the special court.

“There can be no equal justice when the major arms perpetrator of the planet stands clear of impunity of the jurisdiction of the court. It’s really a tragic corruption of justice because most of the prosecutions brought before it have been of enemies of the United States,” said Mr. Clark.

Should global capitalists be indicted too?

Arresting heads of states and combatants is one thing, but according to Global Witness, indictments must also extend to multi-national conglomerates that facilitate the movement of pilfered resources to world markets. It is natural resources like diamonds, timber and mineral riches that fuel and finance conflict. Furthermore there are also arms dealers, security firms and other merchants of misery who wax rich on turmoil.

The presiding judge in the Taylor case, Richard Lussick, said President Taylor extended substantial support to the rebels through moving diamonds and facilitating weapons on behalf of the RUF, knowing the group was committing atrocities—though Mr. Taylor was not directly involved in the acts. 

In 2001 the UN imposed sanctions on the diamond trade in Liberia to interfere with the alleged use of profits in Sierra Leone. To compensate for the loss of diamond revenue, Mr. Taylor sold Liberia’s forests to logging companies, shifting his sources of financing from “blood diamonds” to “conflict timber,” said Global Witness on its website.

Most notorious among those who received logging concessions during this period was international arms dealer Leonid Minin, who is presently in hiding over his dealings at the time. One case being adjudicated under Dutch law involves The Oriental Timber Corporation ran by Dutch national Gus Kouwenhoven, who is currently jailed and on trial in the Netherlands.

Mr. Kouwenhoven is being tried for breaking UN economic sanctions after importing arms into Liberia and developing infrastructure that was allegedly built to transport weapons to Sierra Leone. If there is a conviction, Global Witness is hoping the Oriental Timber case will set the tone for holding companies responsible for their roles in human rights violations.

It’s difficult nailing businesses and their home countries, like the U.S., Britain and France, don’t hold companies and bankers answerable for their exploitative role in abuses, said Mr. Gant. The crimes are treated as the course of doing business and making money. 

At the end of the day in the murky waters of geopolitics, accountability of governments and their leaders large or small is unusual and justice is even rarer.

“There is not always the appetite to hold the companies to account; it’s much easier to nail the one dictator,” said Mr. Gant.

Sentencing for Mr. Taylor is scheduled for May 30. He is expected to serve his time in the United Kingdom based on a deal made before the trial began.

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