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Former Liberian President Charles Taylor was convicted this morning of aiding and abetting war crimes committed in neighboring Sierra Leone. When Taylor was indicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone in 2003, he was the first sitting African head of state to be charged with war crimes. We speak with the court’s first prosecutor about the impact of the verdict.
- David M. Crane Former Chief Prosecutor, Special Court for Sierra Leone; Professor of Practice, Syracuse University College of Law
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, the Unconquered, a trek into the Amazon to find and protect isolated tribes, but first, the trial and conviction of Charles Taylor. Early this morning, the former president of Liberia was convicted of 11 counts of war crimes, for aiding and abetting rebel forces in neighboring Sierra Leone. When he was indicted in 2003, he was the first incumbent African head of state to face war crimes charges.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIToday, Charles Taylor is the first head of state to be convicted since the Nuremberg trials. The conflict in the tiny country of Sierra Leone claimed the lives of as many as 50,000 people. Thousands more were victims of shocking acts of violence. Villagers were lined up to have their hands and arms chopped off and entire villages of children were forced to join the violence as child soldiers.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIWe're joined on the phone by the original prosecutor for the Special Court of Sierra Leone who brought the original indictments against Charles Taylor. He is David Crane, former chief prosecutor with the Special Court for Sierra Leone and a Professor of Practice at Syracuse University College of Law. He joins us by telephone. David Crane, thank you for joining us.
MR. DAVID CRANEIt's my pleasure and welcome and greetings from The Hague.
NNAMDIOh, thank you very much for joining us from the Hague. By all measures, this conflict in Sierra Leone was unique for its, well, ferocity involving child soldiers and acts of shocking brutality. It was also extremely hard to understand. It was fueled by so called blood diamonds and the vast mineral wealth in the region, waged by soldiers without any real stated ideological goals, abetted by outside players like Charles Taylor, at least according to the verdict today. What exactly did the court convict Charles Taylor of?
CRANEWell, Charles Taylor was convicted of all the charges of which I signed the indictment for back in March of 2003. He was not found guilty of anything. (sic) He was found guilty of aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity. And all of the 11 charges stood against him. And so this is wonderful verdict for the people of Sierra Leone. Justice has been done.
NNAMDIToday, most people are familiar with the concept of blood diamonds. They might also remember just how shocking and brazen the violence that took place was. The rebels dubbed their assaults Operation No Living Thing. They used crude nicknames for cutting off people's arms like short sleeve and long sleeve. But when the court was launched in 2002 this was still a part of the world most people seemed content to ignore, wasn't it?
CRANEWell, you know, it's interesting. There are places in the world, I call them the dark corners, of which mankind tends to look away from. But that's where we should be worried about because that's what happened in the last ten years of the 20th century was the murder rate, maiming and mutilation of over 1.2 million human beings. A horror story that I described to the tribunal in my opening statement that there is no language in the world that can describe what these people went through, the horror that Charles Taylor aided and abetted in conducting.
NNAMDITell us how this tribunal came about because this is a Special Court in The Hague, but it's the Special Court for Sierra Leone. How did it...
NNAMDIWell, it is a part of the people of Sierra Leone. In fact, all of its trials were conducted in Sierra Leone before the people of Sierra Leone on behalf of the people of Sierra Leone. Only Charles Taylor's case was removed to The Hague because the presidents of Sierra Leone and Liberia asked the president of the Special Court for Sierra Leone to move it due to security reasons. But it's important to understand that despite this Charles Taylor was arraigned before the people of Sierra Leone in Freetown. So there was a great symbolic victory there as well.
NNAMDIWe're talking with David M. Crane. He is a former chief prosecutor with the Special Court for Sierra Leone. He joins us by telephone from The Hague. He's now professor of practice at Syracuse University College of Law. David Crane, the indictments maintain that Charles Taylor had direct involvement in planning of operations but the court apparently ultimately disagreed and acquitted him of those charges. What kind of evidence did you amass to try to prove those charges?
CRANEWell, one is he was not found not guilty of anything. There's a great confusion here.
CRANEWhen I drafted the indictments, I laid out three possible modes of liability where he could be individually criminally held responsible for the 11 charges that I charged him with, one of which was aiding and abetting which the trier of fact shows. But the other two, joint criminal enterprise and/or command and control were other ways by which they could find him individually criminally responsible. They just chose one but I put all three in so that the trier of fact could pick one of the three or two of the three or all of the three.
CRANEBut the bottom line is Charles Taylor has not been found not guilty of anything. He was found guilty as charged, based on the mode of liability called aiding and abetting and planning.
NNAMDISome people have asked pointed questions about the prosecution. For starters, it only covered crimes committed in Sierra Leone and that seems a bit problematic that Liberian victims of Taylor are not really getting justice. Also if you look at the conflict in Sierra Leone it wasn't just the rebels who committed these brutal acts. In fact, some of the more brutal war crimes documented were perpetrated by pro-government militias. Can you talk a little bit about that?
CRANEWell, yes I can. In fact, there were all sides that were committing atrocities and so I chose to pick a neutral aspect of it. And I indicted the leadership of all of the war infractions and Charles Taylor, the RUF, the AFRC and the CDF. And so that's how we approached it. I agree with you that there -- we are only halfway through in some ways. The people of Liberia need justice as well. Now the mandate for the Special Court for Sierra Leone was to prosecute those who bore the greatest responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone.
CRANEBut now the world needs to focus on some type of justice mechanism for the victims of Charles Taylor in Liberia. And so that's something that needs to be done, too. There were over 500,000 victims there.
NNAMDITraditionally international law afforded immunity to a sitting head of state when it came to criminal charges. In effect you would have had to wait until Charles Taylor was deposed or stepped down. So when you unsealed these indictments you were taking the court into uncharted waters. To what extent has this become a template now for other conflicts?
CRANEWell, it is a clear bell ringing throughout the world telling the world, particularly those heads of state and tyrants and thugs who are killing their own citizens that they will no longer get away with it anymore. Now, I'm not saying that international criminal law is perfect -- international criminal justice is perfect but certainly the case -- the prosecutor versus Taylor, an indictment which I signed back in -- the third of March of 2003, tells the world that in fact tyrants and thugs who kill their own citizens will be held accountable some day.
NNAMDISome people have talked about bringing charges against Syrian President Bashar Assad in the International Criminal Court. Do you think these kinds of tribunals and criminal courts could play a positive role in a conflict like Syria? We know that President Omar Bashir of Sudan was indicted by the International Criminal Court in 2008.
CRANEWell, certainly justice brings peace and that's what we really are trying to seek here. Not only justice for the victims but justice practically in reality brings peace. And so it is important that there'd be attempts to be made either by domestic courts, regional courts or international courts to seek justice for the victims 'cause only then after justice is done can true peace begin.
NNAMDIWhat's next for Charles Taylor?
CRANEWell, Charles Taylor's sentencing hearing will be in mid May. This is an opportunity and a fair and open trial for all sides to present evidence of mitigation and extenuation or aggravation to determine what type of sentence he should receive. And a decision apparently will be made no later than the end of May. So again, this is a fair and open process and the trier of fact will decide based on the very serious charges that were levied against him, then they will decide the actual sentence itself.
NNAMDII've seen reports that this entire prosecution cost almost $250 million and that the brunt of it was actually picked up by the United States. I'll ask a direct question. Was it worth it?
CRANEWell, again, I don't know the exact numbers of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, but certainly the Special Court for Sierra Leone clearly was the more efficient of the International Tribunals costing about 25, $30 million a year over its life of ten years. The United States was a very supportive country related to these funds and they certainly contributed to its success.
NNAMDIAnd it has resulted in a way that you as the prosecutor would have liked it to result. And I'll ask the question another way. Did the American taxpayers get their money's worth?
CRANEI think so. I think the taxpayers of the world got their money's worth because they can be rest assured tonight that justice was done fairly and openly for the people of Sierra Leone who suffered so greatly over a period of ten years in the 1990s.
NNAMDIDavid Crane, thank you for joining us.
CRANEIt's been my pleasure as always. Good talking to you again. It's been a while.
NNAMDINice talking to you, David. David Crane is the former chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone. He joined us by phone from The Hague where the verdict was rendered this morning convicting Charles Taylor, former Liberian president, of 11 counts. David Crane is currently Professor of Practice at Syracuse University College of Law. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we take a look at a trek into the Amazon to find and to protect isolated tribes. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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