“Mr. Taylor, will you please stand up so that I can read you the verdict,” Judge Richard Lussick politely asked the former Liberian President.
Taylor stood up and adjusted his suit. Wearing a royal blue pinstriped suit, with an impeccably white shirt and a maroon silk tie, Mr. Taylor looked the part of a noble statesman, rather than a war-criminal, as Judge Lussick was soon to pronounce him to be.
God is Not Willing: Taylor Will Not Be Returning Home
“… the Trial Chamber unanimously finds you guilty of aiding and abetting the commission of the following crimes… during the Indictment period, and planning the commission of the following crimes in the attacks on Kono and Makeni in December 1998, and in the invasion of and retreat from Freetown between December 1998 and February 1999,” Judge Lussick read, before briefly turning to flip through some his papers.
At that moment, the camera panned over to Taylor showing him shifting and momentarily lifting his head to stare forward as if bracing himself for the remainder of the judge’s verdict. And, for that brief moment, through his rimless glasses, Taylor’s eyelids looked heavy and weary, as if he had been having sleepless nights worried about this particular moment.
Judge Lussick then read through the 11 counts, ranging from murder, rape, pillage, sexual slavery, and on and on, as Taylor stood with his left hand clasped over his right in front of him. He shifted some more and blinked spasmodically, as he listened with a resigned docility as his fate was sealed.
Charles MacArthur Ghankay Taylor, the enigmatic Liberian warlord and strongman President, gifted with an indefatigable charisma, a remarkable eloquence and an intellectual astuteness, if not even genius, which he put on display during the course of his trial, suddenly looked anything but the man who had kept his country spellbound by his extraordinary persona.
Instead, he looked more like the embodiment of the literary tragic figure, not unlike Okonkwo in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, the strong warrior who rose to prominence through his irrepressible determination, but committed too many flaws and consequently, suffered a disreputable demise.
But, what made the scenery seem all the more tragic was that this was no figment of fiction. The judge’s pronouncement was as real as it gets, and as Taylor sat back down after the judge finished reading his verdict, reality surely must have set in.
I imagine that it must have suddenly dawned on him at that moment that, despite his last parting oracular pronouncement to the Liberian nation on August 11, 2003: “God willing, I will be back!” before his forced exile to Nigeria, the oracles had finally come back with an unambiguous answer: “God is not willing, Mr. Taylor. You will not be back and if at all, not any time soon!”
So, until the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice in Liberia, Taylor’s verdict will always seem half-baked and indeed, nothing more than the machinations of powerful nations…
Justice Delayed is Justice Denied
But even as human rights proponents around the world celebrate the Taylor verdict as a watershed moment in the annals of international justice, some, especially in Liberia, are bewildered and even flabbergasted that their former President has been convicted for crimes committed in a neighboring country and not in Liberia where he orchestrated a barbaric civil war that spawned other copycat warlords and ignited a carnage of wanton killings and pillaging in their country.
That notwithstanding, the narrative coming out of the international media is that Taylor’s verdict is a triumph for the righteous imperative of justice and a victory for the downtrodden victims of warmongering potentates who exact untold brutality upon their own people. Some major media outlets have even run with the headline: “Charles Taylor Verdict: The End to Impunity.”
Really? The end to impunity?
It is hard for Liberians to imbibe that narrative when all around them are warlords of every incarnation living lives of luxury despite the fact that they actively led rebel armies that committed: 1. Acts of terrorism, 2. Murder, 3. Violence to life, 4. Rape, 5. Sexual slavery, 6. Outrages of personal dignity, 7. Cruel treatment, 8. Other inhumane acts, 9. The use of child soldiers, 10. Enslavement, and 11. Pillage, the same charges for which Taylor now stands guilty of commiting.
If Taylor’s trial and verdict were simply a matter of “ending impunity” and an ode to the indomitable fervor of justice, then why only Taylor and not the others, Liberians are asking. And why for Sierra Leone and not Liberia?
With these lingering questions in the minds of Liberians, it would seem to add validity to the belief that Taylor was “singled out” through the machinations of powerful nations who perceived him as a veritable threat to their interests in West Africa.
The Sierra Leonean Civil War was brutal no less, and in some of its exhibitions, like the widespread chopping off of limbs by rebels, different from the Liberian Civil War. But, as macabre as it may sound to do a body count here, while an estimated 50,000 people lost their lives as a result of that conflict, some 250,000 people lost their lives as a result of the Liberian Civil War.
So, in as much as Taylor may have some culpable role in the Sierra Leonean conflict, the victims of the Liberian Civil War too are asking: “What about us?” “What about ending impunity in Liberia?”
An oft quoted saying by proponents of justice is one by Martin Luther King, Jr.: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” So, until the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice in Liberia, Taylor’s verdict will always seem half-baked and indeed, nothing more than the machinations of powerful nations against an African leader who would not submit himself to their bidding.