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BBC NEWS | Africa | Taylor testifies at Hague trial
Charles Taylor - preacher, warlord, president
Former Liberian leader and war crimes suspect Charles Taylor is on trial in The Hague - the culmination of a lengthy campaign for him to be brought before an international court for allegedly backing rebels in neighbouring Sierra Leone.
Liberia's former President Charles Taylor is a frustrated showman. There is nothing this naturally confident man would like more than to strut the African stage playing the flamboyant statesman.
But he is now on trial for alleged war crimes.
The charges relate to his role in the war in neighbouring Sierra Leone where he allegedly backed rebels responsible for widespread atrocities.
The showman has been on display many times.
When he was a rebel in the early 1990s, controlling most of Liberia apart from the capital, he turned up at a West African regional conference in Burkina Faso in full military combat gear.
His equally well protected bodyguards jogged alongside his car from the airport to the centre of the capital, Ouagadougou, in a show of strength and loyalty.
When, as president in 1999, he faced accusations from the United Nations that he was a gun runner and a diamond smuggler, he addressed a mass prayer meeting clothed from head to foot in angelic white.
The showman, who is also a lay preacher in the Baptist tradition, prostrated himself on the ground and prayed forgiveness before his Lord - although he also denied the charges.
And even when he cannot be seen by his public, the showman finds a stage: throughout the 1990s Mr Taylor conducted a series of dramatic telephone interviews with the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.
The first, from the then-relatively unknown warlord, announced his invasion of Liberia.
In one famous exchange with Focus Editor Robin White a few years later, Mr White suggested that some people thought him little better than a murderer.
Mr Taylor bellowed with a flourish to the effect that "Jesus Christ was accused of being a murderer in his time."
Charles Taylor was born in 1948 to a family of Americo-Liberians, the elite group that grew out of the freed slaves who founded the country in the 19th Century.
For what are suspected to be political reasons - broadening his appeal to the indigenous African majority - Taylor added the African name "Ghankay" in later years, becoming Charles Ghankay Taylor. Like many Americo-Liberians he studied in the United States. He returned home shortly after Master Sergeant Samuel Doe mounted Liberia's first successful coup d'etat in 1980.
Mr Taylor landed a plum job in Doe's regime running the General Services Agency, a position that meant controlling much of Liberia's budget.
He later fell out with Doe, who accused him of embezzling almost $1m, and fled back to the US.
Mr Taylor denied the charges, but ended up in the Plymouth County House of Correction in Massachusetts, detained under a Liberian extradition warrant.
Some reports say he managed to escape the prison by sawing through the bars; others that there was some collusion in his departure from Americans who wanted him to play the role he then proceeded to carve out for himself - overthrowing the corrupt, violent and generally disastrous regime of Samuel Doe.
Mr Taylor's rebellion succeeded partly because of Doe's incompetence. But it was also the fruit of Mr Taylor's building of sometimes surprising alliances.
His friends over the years have included the once-radical Colonel Gaddafi of Libya, the conservative former ruler of Ivory Coast Felix Houphouet-Boigny, the current President of Burkina Faso, Blaise Compaore, and a rogues' gallery of businessmen, local and foreign, prepared to flout UN disapproval to make money in Liberia.
After winning power militarily, Charles Taylor won elections in 1997. Although the polls were probably the most democratic the country had seen at the time, Mr Taylor's critics say he bullied and bought the electorate.
Charles Taylor has been married three times and has several children. In 2005, after he had left power, his then wife Jewel was elected to Liberia's senate.
Mr Taylor's third ex-wife, Jewel, was elected to Liberia's senate in 2005
While president, he used to enjoy table tennis and lawn tennis which he played behind the high walls of his Monrovia residence.
He was detained by the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone last year after a period of enforced exile in Nigeria
His arrest was appropriately dramatic for the showman that he still was - it involved his initial apparent "disappearance" from his residence in Nigeria, a chase across the country with Mr Taylor in a disguised diplomatic car, and his eventual arrest, allegedly with huge sacks of cash, on the Nigeria-Cameroon border.
His first arrival at the courtroom of the Special Court in Freetown was equally dramatic - he turned up there after his exploits in Nigeria in a UN helicopter surrounded by armed UN guards.
He looked dishevelled and unshaven and donned a UN-issue bullet-proof jacket.
But by the time he first appeared in court for the initial hearings in Freetown he was in a sombre European business suit with a classic red tie.
The showman had returned, but in more reflective mood.
BBC NEWS | Africa | Charles Taylor - preacher, warlord, president
Taylor 'had billions' in US bank
Taylor admits allowing display of human skulls
Former Liberian President Charles Taylor sits in the courtroom of the International Criminal Court (ICC) prior to the beginning of his defence case during his trial in The Hague July 13, 2009
Posted Thursday, July 16 2009 at 18:45
THE HAGUE, Thursday
Liberian ex-president Charles Taylor told a war crimes court today he had seen nothing wrong with human skulls being displayed at checkpoints in Liberia during his 1989-90 "revolution."
"Skulls were used as symbols of death," he told judges of the Special Court for Sierra Leone trying him on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity stemming from the 1991-2001 civil war in neighbouring Sierra Leone.
"These were not our people. Enemy soldiers had been killed and their skulls were used. I knew that, and it did not bother me."
The skulls were of soldiers killed in clashes with Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) which invaded Liberia from the Ivory Coast in 1989 to oust his predecessor, president Samuel Doe.Mr Taylor sought to draw a distinction between human skulls and fleshed human heads, calling it "a blatant, diabolical lie that I, Charles Ghankay Taylor or anyone would drive by a human head.
"These were only skulls that I saw and I would not have tolerated anyone killing and putting a human head up," he told the court.
The 61-year-old testified that skulls were displayed as a symbol "that death had occurred by the enemy" and to convey the message that "if you do wrong, this is the result."
Mr Taylor argued that the skull was still used as a symbol by "western fraternal organisations".
"I saw them (at the checkpoints), I investigated... and came to the conclusion it was not anything wrong.
"I had also seen skulls in fraternal organisations that are western, I did not think there was anything wrong with a skull. "We are not taking about skulls lying around all over the place", he added, but only "at certain strategic junctions."
Mr Taylor denied, however, having ordered the setting up of skulls at checkpoints. The former warlord took the witness stand on Tuesday for the first time since his trial started in January 2008, dismissing as "lies" the charges of murder, rape, conscripting child soldiers, enslavement and pillaging against him.
The invasion of Liberia and his ascent to power was a prelude to Taylor's involvement in the brutal 1991-2002 civil war in neighbouring Sierra Leone, for which he is accused of 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
DAILY NATION- Taylor admits allowing display of human skulls
Former Liberian President Charles Taylor on Tuesday, the first day he took the witness stand, explained how former President William R. Tolbert was killed during the April 12, 1980 bloody coup, indicating that the first bullet at the president was fired by coup plotter, Nelson B. Toe and that second shot came from the gun of Harrison Pennue.
Emphatically, he quoted another coup plotter, Thomas Quiwonkpa as telling that Tolbert was actually shot by these two men before the rest of them were able to approach the place he was gunned down to the face.
Responding to an inquiry from his lead Counsel, Griffiths, the former president who denied all eleven-count charges leveled against as 'lies' said "President Tolbert was killed on the 8th floor of the Executive Mansion.
Now, I know that place because I lived up there myself. What General Quiwonkpa and the main killer of Tolbert explained, this was a young man who actually shot him.
The 8th floor is the family living floor of the President. It is very, very secured. All of the glasses up there are bullet proof glasses. The doors are sealed, so when the President enters, there is the living room, his bedroom, his wife's bedroom, the entire area once the President - once he enters it is secured."
He said still quoting the late former General Quiwonkpa: "I am told by General Quiwonkpa after the firing started - and, quite frankly, it is a very sad scenario. Most of the soldiers at the presidency that were guarding the President fled because their friends were staging a coup. They were all together, so they just didn't budge.
"They went upstairs and they actually have to knock on the President's door. After he had apparently called around the different stations and no-one answered, he got up, got dressed, because the body of Tolbert was still dressed - fully dressed - in a white suit."
He got up and got dressed, they knocked on the door, they kept knocking on the door and he opened the door, because they could not get in. Like I say, that area is secured. You cannot enter unless the President inside opens the door. And the first gentleman I am told by Quiwonkpa there was a young man called the late Nelson Toe."
The former president who looked very composed and confident told open court, in response to his lawyer's question, that another shots came "a gentleman called Harrison Penue.
"He is also Krahn," Taylor made reference to his ethnic background. "Then he was the second, but I am told by General Quiwonkpa that the original first shot was fired by a young man called Nelson Toe, a very fiery young man who ended up getting executed with Weahseng too because of his fiery behavior."
It was rumored during the days of the People's Redemption Council (PRC), the junta that took power following the death of the Tolbert regime that Penue killed the former president. That many people did not believe on grounds that he (Pennue) was said to be going out of his mind. The cause of his going out of his mind was however blamed on that the fact he did shoot former President Tolbert who was magically stronger than him.
With the revelations coming from former President Taylor, as someone who worked very closely and dearly with one of the coup plotters, observers said Harrison did not conjecture at the time nor did he try to give himself a vain glory of something he had no hands in at all.
Other issues raised with Taylor
Answering to whether Tolbert was the only individual in that administration who met such a brutal fate, the former President who became a member of the PRC as a self-styled head of the General Services Agency (GSA) responded in the negative, saying "following the killing of Tolbert several members of the government were executed," a reference to the 13 former officials of the Tolbert government executed by firing squad."
He struggled with the exact number of former officials killed by the PRC for what they called "to stabilize and consolidate their grip to power.
"If I am not mistaken it could have been as many as 17," he responded to the question and also added "Right on the beach outside of the barracks. The Barclay Training Centre in Monrovia is located on the beach, and I will say from the office of the commanding general to where the execution took place may be 500 metres - 500 to 1,000 metres - where the execution took place."
Taylor told the court that he observed the killing on the men and that he felt the impact of their brutal killing.
" I had never seen anybody killed. I have seen dead bodies before as in normal death. It was a very chilling experience for me. I stood on the balcony of the commanding general's office and looked over to where it - the execution occurred," the war crime indictee said.
Besides that, he said he personally knew some of the former 13 government officials killed by the PRC administration that turned brutal later and even killed their own members.
"I knew all of them. I knew all of them; some of them better than others. The speaker and others that were executed I can say were personal friends of my father. The President Pro Temp of the Senate by the name of Frank Tolbert I had dated a daughter of his and visited his home many, many times as a young man, and there was a very good friend of mine - a personal friend of mine - by the name of John, John like in J-O-H-N, Sherman. He was the minister of commerce. The rest of the ministers I knew them very well," Taylor told the court.
Whether he was a party to the decision to execute them, he said "Really we were party to a decision to help reduce the number of people that they really wanted to execute. I remember one evening I am sitting down and General Quiwonkpa returns from the - from a council meeting."
He explained how the whole thing went "sitting and he comes and he is very sad. These meetings were held without anyone being invited in the beginning. Only those that staged the coup d'état were permitted. He came very sad and he called me. He said, "Taylor, the chairman, Chairman Doe, has decided with the council that we should execute some people". I said, "What?" He said, "Yes". He said, "The people ..." - you know, this is almost like Liberian English. He said, "The people are plenty."
I said, "What do you mean?" I said "About how many?" He said, "Oh, it could be almost 200." I said, "No, no, no, no." I say, "Thomas, Thomas, Thomas, this cannot happen." I got to know subsequently that other individuals, other progressive individuals, had also heard this about a day later and were also pleading to say, "You can't do this." We fought - at least I fought for my end to tell them that it was not - that Tolbert's death was sufficient, but they insisted that some people had to go because this would show that the old system had been totally uprooted and so they finally settled on these few."
Taylor said he was not down with the decision to kill the men in such huge number. "No, I did not agree with that. I said that it was bad enough for Tolbert to be killed as President when they could have saved him, but that it would just be terrible in the eyes of the international community to begin to line people up on the beach and execute them where they were not being put on trial. here was not a trial where, "We are going to try you before a military tribunal." None of that. They just decided, "These are the so-called Congo people who caused the trouble. They have to go." I was opposed to that.
On whether he agreed or disagreed with the brutal decision to cut the tie with the past, Taylor told the court "There are several reasons. Look, number 1 it would not have made any difference if I did, but number 2 - even more important number 2 - we would have lost, or I would have lost, an opportunity to bring about the meaningful change that we were trying to construct to bring about. Pulling out - imagine all of the progressives in Liberia are on board. I have an opportunity and it has been realized I am in the system, I am respected, I speak freely to all of them.
Pulling out would have been maybe a very glorious act to do, but I believe at that particular time it would have been a stupid thing to do because Charles Taylor alone wanting to pull out and return to the United States would not have meant anything because everybody else was on board and I felt that my staying in there would also give me an opportunity to be meaningful in what I saw as the way forward for Liberia.
The former president was bothered with an inquiry whether "In any event the executions take place, and his response was positive but when further as saying that it helped to legitimize the Doe regime.
"Oh, it really - it really did not help. After the executions most of the western countries and donor agencies and different things frowned on the whole process and this really intensified the anti-activities on the part of the international community towards the Doe government," Taylor garbed in a dark glasses and a double-bracelet coat said and in the same vein indicated that also played on the entire population.
"When you look at the percentages that I gave you before and you look at the underlying problems of Liberia between the Americo-Liberians and Aborigines, the vast majority of the population that were the Aborigines were happy and wouldn't care less and in fact I would say probably wanted more to go. People saw this as this opportunity to at last vent this anger over the years.
"These people came. They have overlooked us. They have treated us like slaves in our own country." To be frank, people were happy and I would say in the majority."
Taylor told the court that he worked with Quiwonkpa, then Commanding General of the Armed Forces of Liberia for three months. "I was in the barracks for about three months. I would say I can just help by extending some percentages. I would say I spent as of that time about 70 percent of my time at the barracks.
"As to what he did there, he said "Oh, working, receiving complaints, talking to diplomats, getting matters to the general, dispatching people to put out troubles where people were - the soldiers are misbehaving, looting people's properties, all kinds of problems."
"I just stayed there and, you know, tried to get things back on an even keel in as far as getting the soldiers back to barracks, because one of the things that I really was interested in - and let me tell you what I mean by barracks. I am not just talking about the Barclay Training Centre in Monrovia. "By the time this coup occurred soldiers from all military bases across the country instead of remaining at their bases and waiting for orders, everyone is moving to Monrovia and so you have got everyone coming. So they see this now as - in fact one expression used at that time was "This is our time. This is our time".
"And so trying to get people to go back to - go back to your station, helping to get logistics arranged in terms of transportation to return them back, imagine at this particular time the international airport is closed, trying to get things - just getting it cranked up. Don't forget these are young men that had just come into power, know nothing about governance, know nothing about international relations, know absolutely nothing and they are now depending on us, this whole progressive group, to come and help them steer the country back to normalcy."
" So I am there with him, because most of the other progressive are at the ministries and dealing with other members of the council and General Quiwonkpa in the barracks has no-one there to help him and so I stayed there to help him carry out these functions."
Charles Taylor denies cannibalism
Charles Taylor faces 11 counts related to the war in Sierra Leone
Former Liberian leader Charles Taylor has denied eating human flesh or ordering militias to eat their enemies.
Speaking at his war crimes trial in The Hague, Mr Taylor was quoted as saying accusations of cannibalism levelled against him were "total nonsense".
Some of Mr Taylor's former fighters have previously told the court that he had ordered them to eat their enemies. Mr Taylor has denied 11 charges related to the civil war in Sierra Leone, Liberia's neighbour.
At the start of the third week of his trial, Mr Taylor also said impassable roads would have made it impossible for him to trade weapons for Sierra Leone's diamonds, as the prosecution alleges.
On trial at the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone, Mr Taylor is accused of having armed and directed rebel groups from Liberia in order to seize control of Sierra Leone's diamond riches.
The 61-year-old denies charges including terrorism, murder, rape and torture.
He is the first African leader to be tried by an international court.
Responding to the allegations of cannibalism, Mr Taylor was quoted by AFP news agency as saying: "It is sickening. You must be sick to believe it."
CHARLES TAYLOR CHARGES
Violation of humanitarian law: Conscripting child soldiers
Crimes against humanity: Terrorising civilians, murder, rape, sexual slavery, enslavement
War crimes: "Violence to life", cruel treatment (including hacking off limbs), pillage
Preacher, warlord, president
Q&A: Trying Taylor
Taylor 'made rebels eat enemies'
"It makes you feel like throwing up."
The former Liberian leader said there were cannibals in parts of his country, but he was not among them.
One witness had told the court he had eaten human flesh with Mr Taylor at a meeting of a secret society, Poro, AFP reports.
"It never happened," the former president responded. "I never ordered any combatant to eat anyone."
Denying accusations that he had traded diamonds for arms, he said neither of the two roads leading to the border between Liberia and Sierra Leone could support vehicles laden with weapons.
One of Mr Taylor's former bodyguards testified last year that he had escorted such vehicles, and the court was shown a photo with a lorry allegedly pictured near the border.
Mr Taylor said on Monday that the accusation was a "lie", also dismissing allegations that he accepted diamonds from rebels in Sierra Leone.
An estimated 500,000 people were killed, mutilated or suffered other atrocities in the civil war in Sierra Leone, which lasted from 1991 until 2002.
A verdict in Mr Taylor's trial, which was moved from Sierra Leone to the Netherlands because of security concerns, is expected next year.
Naomi Campbell may be subpoenaed by war crimes court
Ms Campbell has declined repeated requests to be interviewed
War crimes prosecutors in The Hague say supermodel Naomi Campbell should be subpoenaed to testify at the trial of Liberia's ex-President Charles Taylor.
They say Ms Campbell "was given rough diamonds" by Mr Taylor in 1997 at Nelson Mandela's house in South Africa.
Mr Taylor is accused of using "blood diamonds" to fuel an insurgency in Sierra Leone that cost tens of thousands of lives.
Ms Campbell had previously declined to provide testimony to prosecutors.
Ms Campbell's testimony is necessary as there is evidence that Ms Campbell was given rough diamonds by the accused (Mr Taylor) in September 1997," said a prosecution motion filed with the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
Mia Farrow connection
Mr Taylor is accused of selling diamonds and buying weapons for Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels, who were notorious for hacking off the hands and legs of civilians during the brutal 1991-2001 civil war.
The trial heard claims in January that he had given Ms Campbell a "large" diamond after a 1997 dinner hosted by South African ex-President Nelson Mandela.
The former Liberian leader, who has been on trial since January 2008, dismissed the claims, calling them "total nonsense".
He has pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity stemming from the 10-year war in Sierra Leone.
Earlier this month, Ms Campbell deflected a question about the diamond during an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show.
When asked about the gift, she said: "I don't want to be involved in this man's case. He has done some terrible things, and I don't want to put my family in danger."
The prosecution also wants US actress Mia Farrow - another guest at the Mandela dinner - to testify about the alleged gift.
According to Ms Farrow, Ms Campbell told her about the gift the following morning.
Ms Campbell said she had been visited by representatives of Mr Taylor during the night, and that they had given her a "huge" uncut diamond, Ms Farrow told ABC News last month.
"You don't forget when a girlfriend tells you she was given a huge diamond in the middle of the night," Ms Farrow told ABC.
She has told the court that she is willing to testify if needed.
BBC News - Naomi Campbell may be subpoenaed by war crimes court