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Ex-Liberian leader’s lawyer calls for acquittal

Associated Press / March 10, 2011

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LEIDSCHENDAM, Netherlands — Charles Taylor’s lawyer branded the war crimes case against the former Liberian president “neocolonialism’’ built on circumstantial evidence, calling on the judges at the trial yesterday to acquit his client on all counts.

In his closing statement, Courtenay Griffiths sought to take apart the prosecution case, charging that the trial of the once-powerful Liberian leader is “politically motivated’’ to ensure he does not return to power in Liberia.

Taylor, the first African head of state put on trial at an international tribunal, has pleaded not guilty to 11 war crimes and crimes against humanity. He is accused of arming and supporting murderous rebels in Sierra Leone’s civil war in exchange for that country’s rich natural resources, and specifically charged with murder, rape, sexual enslavement, and recruiting child soldiers.

Sometimes mocking the prosecution’s evidence, Griffiths told judges that if they looked at the case in an “independent, reasonable, unemotional way, there can only be one verdict on all these counts, and that is . . . not guilty.’’

He urged judges not to be swayed by public perceptions of Taylor as a warlord. “A criminal trial is not a beauty contest,’’ Griffiths said. “We are not asking this court to like Charles Taylor.’’

Taylor faces a maximum life sentence if convicted. Verdicts are expected later this year.

Atrocities committed during the 1991-2002 war were well documented at the time and were reviewed in painful detail during the lengthy trial by the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone. But Griffiths said the prosecutors had failed to prove that Taylor was responsible for those crimes.

The prosecution had produced “very little direct evidence to link the accused to the crimes alleged,’’ Griffiths told the panel of international judges. Instead, their case was built on “hearsay, circumstantial evidence, and broad assumptions.’’

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