Charles Taylor, a former warlord who was president of Liberia from 1997 to 2003, has been convicted on eleven counts of war crimes by the Special Court for Sierra Leone sitting in The Hague. In a trial that began in 2006 and that, over the years, included lengthy testimony from Taylor and over a hundred other witnesses concerning conflict diamonds, amputations, and cannibalism, prosecutors sought to link particular war crimes in Sierra Leone’s civil war to Taylor without written orders or testimony putting him at the scene of the crimes. They were able to do so using intercepted communications and testimony from Taylor’s radio operators.
Taylor was a high-ranking member of Samuel Doe’s government in Liberia following the 1980 coup that toppled William Tolbert. In 1983, he was dismissed from the government and charged with having embezzled Liberian government funds. He fled to the United States where, on May 24, 1984, he was arrested and charged with laundering the funds that had been embezzled through an American bank. He escaped from prison sixteen months later—with help from the CIA, according to his own testimony at trial—and made his way to Libya where he gained support from Muammar Gaddafi.
Eventually Taylor traveled to Cote d’Ivoire where he formed the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) and attacked Liberia in an effort to unseat Doe. A rival organization eventually deposed Doe, but the civil war continued in the form of an ethnic conflict wrapped up in a struggle to control natural resources.
Elections were held in Liberia in 1997 following the conclusion of the war a year earlier. Taylor won the election with 75 percent of the vote (using, among others, the campaign slogan “he killed my Ma, he killed my Pa, but I will vote for him”). As president of Liberia, he supported the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel force in the civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone, allegedly by supplying arms for diamonds. It was his engagement with the RUF that prompted his indictment for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
Sentencing in the case has been set for May 3.