Thursday, April 19, 2007

AP Interview: Prosecutor says some witness identities in Charles Taylor trial to be secret

THE HAGUE, Netherlands: The identity of most witnesses who testify against Charles Taylor at his war crimes trial will be kept secret, and some will likely be given new homes, due to fears of retribution from the former Liberian president's supporters, the leading prosecutor in the landmark case said Wednesday.

Among the trial witnesses were former "insiders" once close to Taylor, said Stephen Rapp, chief prosecutor for the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

"People are fearful," Rapp said in an interview with The Associated Press.

As a result, up to 95 percent of prosecution witnesses would likely be granted protective measures, including the right to use pseudonyms while testifying in open court, he said.

After trial, some may have to move to new homes in order to stay safe, he said.

"All witnesses could be at risk after testimony, but insiders particularly can be viewed as traitors who deserve punishment for their treason," Rapp said. "We have to deal with the potential for relocation of individuals."

Taylor, 59, is scheduled to go on trial starting June 4, 11 charges including terrorism, murder, rape, sexual slavery, mutilation and recruiting child soldiers. He has pleaded innocent to all charges, and faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment if convicted.

Taylor was flown to the Netherlands in June amid fears that staging his trial in Sierra Leone, where the Special Court usually sits, could trigger fresh unrest in the war-scarred African nation.

The case, being heard in a courtroom rented from the International Criminal Court, is expected to last around 18 months.

Due to the complexity of convicting Taylor for masterminding atrocities carried out by rebels in the chaotic and bloody conflict in Sierra Leone, the prosecution planned to call witnesses to try and establish a clear link between Taylor and the rebels, Rapp said.

"At the end of the day, we think Taylor planned and knew exactly what was going on," said Rapp, an American lawyer who previously was chief prosecutor at the U.N. war crimes tribunal for Rwanda. In 1993-2001, Rapp was a U.S. attorney for the northern district of Iowa.

Prosecutors said in a pretrial brief outlining their case that after Taylor became Liberia's president in 1997, rebels carrying out atrocities in Sierra Leone were in almost daily contact with "White Flower," Taylor's residence in the Liberian capital, Monrovia.

In exchange for diamonds smuggled out of Sierra Leone, Taylor provided rebels with arms, ammunition, communication equipment, as well as alcohol, drugs and cigarettes, prosecutors allege.

Rapp said that prosecutors would rely on transcripts of witness testimony at previous trials in Sierra Leone to prove atrocities such as rapes, mutilations and hacking off limbs.

But some victims, likely fewer than 10, would be brought to The Hague to testify, he said.

"There will be crime victims — amputees, others who were involved," Rapp said.

Sierra Leone's conflict was notorious for child soldiers hacking off the limbs of civilians.

Prosecutors say Taylor's proxies in Sierra Leone deliberately recruited children because they obeyed orders so well, and that rebels set up "Small Boy Units" and "Small Girl Units," which Taylor allegedly used for his personal security.

They also were used as guards in Sierra Leone's Kenema and Kono districts — where hundreds of villagers were rounded up and forced to dig at gun point in diamond mines operated by the rebels, prosecutors say.

As well as child soldiers and mutilations, the conflict in Sierra Leone also was characterized by widespread rape and sexual enslavement.

In Kono district, hundreds of women and girls were raped and beaten. Some were taken to camps, one known as "Superman Camp," where they were "distributed among the forces and used as sexual slaves and forced labor," prosecutors allege.

Defense attorneys are due to file their pretrial brief, outlining their defense, later this month.

Link to AP Interview: Prosecutor says some witness identities in Charles Taylor trial to be secret - International Herald Tribune