Court throws out motion for Charles Taylor’s early acquittal, orders war crimes trial to go on

Court dismisses Charles Taylor’s acquittal motion

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Judges on Monday rejected a request by former Liberian President Charles Taylor for an immediate acquittal on war crimes charges, saying he must answer allegations that he was part of a campaign to terrorize Sierra Leone’s population through murder, rape and mutilation.

The U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Sierra Leone ordered Taylor’s trial to resume on June 29 with the opening of the defense. Defense attorney Courtenay Griffiths said he will call Taylor to the stand to testify in his own defense.

Prosecutors concluded their case against Taylor in February. The defense then asked the court to acquit Taylor, arguing that prosecutors had presented insufficient evidence linking him to atrocities for the trial to proceed.

The judges, however, cited testimony from 91 witnesses alleging that Taylor, along with Sierra Leone rebels, recruited child soldiers and sent them to kill and mutilate civilians; that he had people killed who interfered with his plans; and that he was responsible for sexual slavery, cruelty and pillaging.

The court “dismisses the defense motion in its entirety,” said Judge Richard Lussick. Prosecutors had presented evidence “capable of supporting a conviction” against Taylor on all 11 counts he is facing, the judge said.

“That doesn’t mean that at the end of the day the trial chamber will return a conviction,” Lussick said.

Chief prosecutor Stephen Rapp said he was pleased by the decision. “We are encouraged by the language and the analysis” of the unanimous ruling, he told The Associated Press from his office in Washington.

Taylor was expected to be the first defense witness, and to testify for a month or two, followed by several weeks of cross-examination. Hearings could be concluded by October when the court adjourns for its annual recess, Rapp said.

An estimated half-million people were killed in Sierra Leone’s 1991-2002 war, which was fueled by an illicit diamond trade. Rebels used machetes to maim thousands of victims, chopping off their hands, legs, lips, ears and breasts.

Taylor is accused of arming and controlling militias from across the border in Liberia while he held power.

Submitting a motion for early acquittal is a common defense tactic in war crimes cases, although the motions are seldom granted. But the rulings often give an indication of which testimony the judges pay closest attention to.

The ruling said the evidence suggested that Taylor provided arms, ammunition, manpower and finances to the rebels, that he offered them “safe haven and moral encouragement,” and that he traded in diamonds for arms.

Taylor, 61, was Liberia’s president from 1997 until he was forced into exile in 2003. He was arrested in Nigeria in 2006, but his trial was moved to The Hague for fear that his appearance in a courtroom in Africa could re-ignite violence.

The trial opened in June 2007, but was suspended for six months when Taylor fired his first lawyer and refused to attend the court sessions.

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