On April 26, 2012 Charles Taylor, the 64-year-old former president of Liberia, was convicted of war crimes by the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL), making his trial the first time a former head of state has been prosecuted in a court of law since the aftermath of World War II. Specifically, Taylor was found guilty of aiding and abetting the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) during Sierra Leone’s Civil War from 1991 to 2002. According to prosecutor Brenda Hollis, by arming the RUF, Taylor is criminally responsible for their numerous atrocities which include the death of over 50,000 people, the mutilation of thousands more, the public rape of women, and the display of decapitated heads at checkpoints. Taylor will be sentenced on May 30 and faces up to 80 years in prison.
Many people believe this event sends a clear signal to dictators and warlords around the world that the international community will no longer stand idly by and permit blatant human rights abuses. According to the Washington Post, Richard Lussick, a presiding judge in the case, believes “this judgment confirms that with leadership comes not only power, but also responsibility.” However, as a defender of reason, I am naturally suspicious of majority opinion as well as made-to-order judicial justifications that oddly correspond with Spider-Man’s morality.
But let me be clear. This article is neither a vindication of Charles Taylor, nor an attempt to make him appear less culpable than he actually is. I do not question his guilt as much as I question the system that dares to judge him.
First and foremost, the evidence in this case hardly passes cross-examination. As Edward Cody of the Washington Post reports, the SCSL has had to fight claims of corruption because key witnesses were apparently paid for their testimony. In addition, according to Mark Doyle of BBC, “the prosecution failed to establish two of its principal charges: that Taylor had effective command and control of rebel forces in Sierra Leone… or that he was part of a joint criminal enterprise.” All that Taylor could be found guilty of was indirectly helping the RUF, a charge so weak that alternate judge, Malick Sow, openly expressed his dissent. Taylor’s lawyer, Courtenay Griffiths, believes “the whole [international justice] system is not consistent with the values” it claims to defend.
The standard of proof used to convict Taylor is so troublesome that the United States, the founder of modern democracy, could not escape prosecution. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute the United States is the largest exporter of weapons in the world and, therefore (if one takes the logic of the SCSL seriously), America is a terrorist state.
But this type of blatant hypocrisy has a long and proud history in international law. The Nuremberg Trials, a crowning achievement to some, is a prime example of politics supplanting justice. The Allies manufactured laws (like crimes against humanity) to retroactively punish Germany, an act so legally disingenuous that it is expressly forbidden in Article I, section 9 of the U.S. Constitution. But what is even more contradictory is the fact that the United States committed some of the very same infractions for which twelve war criminals were executed, such as the bombing of civilian targets. Although I do not intend to cry over dead Nazis, I do think that the Nuremburg Trials of 1942 were little better than the unceremonious mob killing of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
The harsh reality of my words is borne out by the ever-growing irregularities of international law. While defending himself in the SCSL Taylor questioned why former U.S. President George W. Bush, was not being prosecuted for crimes against humanity, asking: “Is he above the law?” Most of the mainstream media, including CNN anchor Erin Burnett, dismissed Taylor’s controversial comparison with the speed and self-assurance of a logical fallacy, because it is far easier to rely on ad-hominem than to address the merits of Taylor’s reasoning. By any measure former President Bush’s warrantless wiretaps, unlawful invasion of Iraq, and admission of torture would at the very least warrant a tribunal. Even the benevolent, Nobel Peace Prize winning President Obama should probably be prosecuted for violating the sovereign airspace of Pakistan, using Attorney General Eric Holder to redefine due process, and for using drones to summarily kill terrorists without habeus corpus. Ironically enough, the United States could even be responsible for the crimes of Charles Taylor himself—unless one actually believes that Taylor escaped from a Massachusetts’ House of Correction in 1985, and launched a Libyan funded coup throughout Liberia in 1989 by the power of positive thinking. Can you say CIA?
Although Taylor’s comments about a former U.S. President is likely an attempt to draw attention away from his own crimes rather than an idealistic appeal for a more just international legal system, truth can be found in the strangest places. Who would have thought that a former Liberian dictator, who once compared himself to Jesus Christ could be the source of so much profundity? I guess as a thorn goeth up into the hand of a drunkard; so is a parable in the mouth of fools.
Photo source: BBC