War crimes judges sentence Charles Taylor to 50 years

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Taylor’s lead attorney, Courtenay Griffiths, warned that the court’s refusal to take into account Taylor’s decision to step down from power following his indictment in 2003 when setting his sentence sent a worrying message against the backdrop of ongoing atrocities allegedly being committed by Syrian government forces.

“What lesson does that send to President Assad?” Ms. Griffiths said. “Maybe the lesson is: If you are a sitting leader and the international community wants to get rid of you, either you get murdered like Col. Gadhafi or you hang on until the bitter end. I’m not so sure that’s the signal this court ought to be transmitting at this particular historical juncture.”

At a sentencing hearing earlier this month, Taylor expressed “deepest sympathy” for the suffering of victims of atrocities in Sierra Leone, but he insisted he had acted to help stabilize the West Africa region and claimed he never knowingly assisted in the commission of crimes.

“What I did … was done with honor,” he said. “I was convinced that unless there was peace in Sierra Leone, Liberia would not be able to move forward.”

Judges rejected that argument, saying that while he posed as a peacemaker, he covertly was fanning the flames of conflict by arming rebels in full knowledge they likely would use weapons to commit terrible crimes.

Prosecutors said there was no reason for leniency, given the extreme nature of the crimes, Taylor’s “greed” and misuse of his position of power.

“The purposely cruel and savage crimes committed included public executions and amputations of civilians, the display of decapitated heads at checkpoints, the killing and public disembowelment of a civilian whose intestines were then stretched across the road to make a check point, public rapes of women and girls, and people burned alive in their homes,” Ms. Hollis wrote in a brief appealing for the 80-year sentence.

Taylor stepped down and fled into exile in Nigeria after being indicted by the court in 2003. He finally was arrested and sent to the Netherlands in 2006.

While the Sierra Leone court is based in that country’s capital, Freetown, Taylor’s trial is being staged in Leidschendam, a suburb of The Hague, for fear that holding it in West Africa could destabilize the region.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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