Friday, July 20, 2007

London Lawyer to Defend Charles Taylor

The defense attorney for former Liberian President Charles Taylor said Wednesday he needs more time to prepare before the war crimes trial resumes.

Courtenay Griffiths, appointed Tuesday, leads Taylor's defense against charges of arming and supporting rebels who murdered, raped, tortured and mutilated thousands during neighboring Sierra Leone's savage 10-year civil war, which ended in 2002.

Taylor, the first African leader to face an international tribunal, has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Last month, he boycotted the trial's first two days at the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone. And he argued that his defense was underfunded and fired his lawyer.

The case was scheduled to resume Aug. 20. But in a telephone interview Griffiths said he needed more time to study the "voluminous" case file.

"I cannot see it would be in the interests of Mr. Taylor for us to go ahead unprepared," he said.

Since June the court has increased Taylor's defense funds to $100,000 per month, which covers office space in The Hague, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Griffiths said it was not clear if that would be enough.

"First we need to see what investigations have been carried out by the previous team and what further investigations we will need to carry out," he said. "It is important from our point of view that there be equality of arms between us and the prosecutor."

Taylor is accused of training Sierra Leone's rebels and shipping them arms, alcohol and drugs - often used to desensitize child soldiers before they were sent to the front lines - in return for diamonds often mined by slave laborers.

Taylor's trial is held in the Netherlands because of fears it could trigger violence if held in the court's headquarters in Freetown, Sierra Leone's capital.

Griffiths has worked on high-profile cases, including the 1984 Irish Republican Army bombing of British hotel where then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was staying, and a deadly IRA bombing outside London's Harrods department store in 1983.

London Lawyer to Defend Charles Taylor - Forbes.com