If Charles Ghankay Taylor is determined guilty on 25 April 2012, he will be the first former head of state to be convicted by an international criminal tribunal. The former Liberian president has remained the most senior figure being tried by the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) on eleven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The Taylor trial has produced diametrically opposed narratives about Taylor’s role in West Africa. Taylor’s lead lawyer, Courtenay Griffiths, has argued that his “role in Sierra Leone was entirely peaceful,” and although atrocities took place, he was not at the center of them. American prosecutor Brenda Hollis, however, contends that the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) was a terrorist army created, supported, and directed by Taylor and responsible for acts such as displaying “heads on sticks and car bumpers,” killing babies, cutting open pregnant women, and eating “Nigerians and white people.”
To prove Taylor is responsible for “acts of terrorism,” the prosecution has the difficult task of demonstrating that he forged an illicit conspiracy with RUF leader Foday Sankoh in the late 1980’s to conquer West Africa through a campaign of terror financed by rough diamonds (or “blood diamonds,” as they are sometimes called) from Sierra Leone. The trial has produced close to 50,000 transcript pages and well over a thousand exhibits. The prosecution has flown ninety-four witnesses to The Hague. Some observers, however, criticize the Court’s temporal jurisdiction, which only extends after November 1996, which leaves questions of Taylor’s responsibility for atrocities committed before then unaddressed.