I was misled slightly but materially by one of my sources about the Charles Taylor verdict. I thought it was the International Criminal Court but it is a special court set up by the UN and Sierra Leone instead: A distinction without a difference.
The Special Court for Sierra Leone was set up with a special law, called the Statute. Here’s the text.
The Statute establishes the crimes (Article 3) and allows prosecution also under Sierra Leone law. But the Statute places the Special Court over the court system in Sierra Leone:
1. No person shall be tried before a national court of Sierra Leone for acts for which he or she has
already been tried by the Special Court.
2. A person who has been tried by a national court for the acts referred to in articles 2 to 4 of the
present Statute may be subsequently tried by the Special Court if:
a. The act for which he or she was tried was characterized as an ordinary crime; or
b. The national court proceedings were not impartial or independent, were designed to shield the
accused from international criminal responsibility or the case was not diligently prosecuted.
The Statute has rules of evidence and there is an appellate court as well. The prosecutor is appointed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations.
Here is the “bill of rights” under this Statute:
1. All accused shall be equal before the Special Court.
2. The accused shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing, subject to measures ordered by the Special
Court for the protection of victims and witnesses.
3. The accused shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to the provisions of the
4. In the determination of any charge against the accused pursuant to the present Statute, he or she shall
be entitled to the following minimum guarantees, in full equality:
a. To be informed promptly and in detail in a language which he or she understands of the nature
and cause of the charge against him or her;
b. To have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his or her defence and to
communicate with counsel of his or her own choosing;
c. To be tried without undue delay;
d. To be tried in his or her presence, and to defend himself or herself in person or through legal
assistance of his or her own choosing; to be informed, if he or she does not have legal
assistance, of this right; and to have legal assistance assigned to him or her, in any case where
the interests of justice so require, and without payment by him or her in any such case if he or
she does not have sufficient means to pay for it;
e. To examine, or have examined, the witnesses against him or her and to obtain the attendance
and examination of witnesses on his or her behalf under the same conditions as witnesses
against him or her;
f. To have the free assistance of an interpreter if he or she cannot understand or speak the
language used in the Special Court;
g. Not to be compelled to testify against himself or herself or to confess guilt.
In other words, a super court is set up (admittedly with the assistance of the national government of the Sierra Leone) under the control of the UN under the authority of a UN written Statute and can place people in prison under the authority of the UN to serve their sentence.
What did this super court find in the verdict against former Liberian President Charles Taylor? It ought to be chilling to the neo-cons and their liberal allies that want to intervene throughout the world. The Special Court found that Taylor did not control nor command the brutally evil actions of the rebels in Sierra Leone he supported:
The Trial Chamber finds beyond reasonable doubt that the Accused provided
arms and ammunition, military personnel, operational support, moral support and
ongoing guidance to the RUF, AFRC, AFRC/RUF Junta or alliance, and Liberian fighters
for military operations during the Indictment period.
Taken cumulatively, and having regard to the military support provided by the
Accused to the RUF/AFRC, the Trial Chamber finds that the practical assistance,
encouragement and moral support provided by the Accused had a substantial effect on
the commission of crimes by the RUF/AFRC during the course of military operations in
As discussed earlier, the Trial Chamber is satisfied that as of August 1997, the
Accused knew of the atrocities being committed against civilians in Sierra Leone by the
RUF/AFRC forces and of their propensity to commit crimes. Notwithstanding such
knowledge, the Accused continued to provide support to the RUF and RUF/AFRC forces
during the period that crimes were being committed in Sierra Leone. The Trial Chamber
therefore finds beyond reasonable doubt that the Accused knew that his support to the
RUF/AFRC would provide practical assistance, encouragement or moral support to them
in the commission of crimes during the course of their military operations in Sierra
Taylor did not order nor did he control (even his own troops in Sierra Leone) the rebels in Sierra Leone. I am sure he is morally guilty of all of it. It is good in one sense that justice has been done. But this is not the way to do it. The UN is given power to establish the crimes, the rules of procedure and evidence and then imprison in a special court that is over the local courts. I want this to be a local Sierra Leone issue, not a special UN court.
And Taylor was not convicted of direct involvement but rather aiding and abetting the rebels AFTER he knew they were engaging in the horrible atrocities committed in Sierra Leone. If we aid say Libyan rebels or Syrian rebels AFTER we find out they commit similar actions, our leaders are potentially liable to an international tribunal. (Note to the editors of Bloomberg: ONLY our VETO at the Security Council shields our leaders from similar prosecution but the ICC is semi-independent of the Security Council. Yet they called for its abolition!)
So I am sorry I said the International Criminal Court convicted Taylor. The Special Court for Sierra Leone did it instead. The point is identical. Our intervention will result in our leaders subject to criminal liability to a court without the liberties we hold dear. My advice to a future President: No more UN courts!