Global Policy Forum

Where Is Charles Taylor's Defense?


By Douglas C. McNabb and C.J. Dresden *

International Herald Tribune
August 25, 2006

Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia and current guest at the International Criminal Court detention facility just outside The Hague, has been charged with 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity stemming from alleged acts committed during the civil war in his home country, 1991- 2002. Originally jailed in Sierra Leone after his capture near Cameroon, Taylor arrived in The Hague thanks to a chain of acts of international cooperation: an agreement by the ICC to provide space and facilities for the trial, an agreement from the Netherlands to act as host country so long as another country would volunteer to take custody after the trial, agreement by Britain to house Taylor should he be convicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone, and finally, the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1688 as the glue holding the web of bilateral agreements together.

On June 20, Taylor was flown to the Netherlands in the custody of the United Nations. With the transfer complete and preparations for the trial moving forward, no doubt the defense has its hands full getting ready and responding to an indictment that includes more than 30,000 pages of evidence. But it is disturbing that the defense seems to be completely unprepared to fight, if the court of public opinion is any measure. The Special Court - including the judges, the prosecutors and the registry - has been unrestrained in presenting its version of the facts to the world. But Taylor's defense team has remained perfectly silent.

On the day of Taylor's transfer to The Hague, the Special Court - the same Court that must attempt to render a fair, efficient, judicious process in this case - posted more than a dozen digital photos, plus some video footage, of a handcuffed, heavily guarded Taylor on its Web site. Remarkably, there have been no reports of objections filed by the defense to this highly prejudicial move by the court. Defense attorneys have not even pointed out to the hungry press that the Special Court's shameless global publication of the photos indicates that the court has dispensed with the statutory presumption of innocence until proved guilty.

The Special Court seems to have a public-relations representative speaking for it as well. David Crane, the former chief prosecutor at the Special Court, has become a media favorite during the coverage of this case. His statements, all conveying the presumption of Taylor's guilt, have gone unanswered. During the news cycle that hit when Taylor was being transported from Sierra Leone to The Hague, Crane was given the opportunity to interpret the transfer and the attention it has garnered, including the Special Court's photos and home movies. For the people of West Africa, he said, "to see Charles Taylor - who was so feared - humbled before the law, it is special because justice is being done." If this is what "justice" means, why bother with a trial and a defense at all?

Crane, who is credited with writing the original indictment against Taylor, is also on record linking unindicted people to Taylor, speculating about the existence of transnational networks of conspirators, including the Libyan dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi, and glibly blending allegations contained in the indictment with accusations of conduct that are well beyond the jurisdictional reach of the Special Court. Like the International Criminal Court and the International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, the Special Court is constituted of three organs that presumably work together in the search for truth. According to Crane, however, the quest is not for the truth of the matter, but for the truth of the victims. If this bias is so deeply embedded, defense attorneys must challenge it as a threat to the fairness of the Special Court.

Finally, it is worth noting that the conditions for moving Taylor's trial to The Hague were declared met when Britain agreed to provide post-conviction accommodation, completely leaving out the possibility that Taylor will not be found guilty. The media reports did the same. There has been no public response by Taylor's defense, and no objections filed. Do Taylor's defense attorneys find such activity acceptable and just?

About the Authors: Douglas C. McNabb and C.J. Dresden work for McNabb Associates, a global criminal defense firm.

More Information on International Justice
More Information on Charles Taylor
More Information on the Special Court for Sierra Leone


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