Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Taylor Attends Trial Hearing

Former Liberian president Charles Taylor appeared in court Tuesday for the first time since the start of his trial for atrocities committed during Sierra Leone's bloody 10-year civil war.

Wearing a blue suit and yellow tie, Taylor appeared 20 minutes late at a procedural hearing during which judges for the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone explained why they have agreed to postpone hearing the first prosecution witnesses until Aug. 20.

Taylor has pleaded not guilty to 11 charges that he controlled and armed rebels who murdered, raped, mutilated and enslaved civilians during Sierra Leone's civil war that ended in 2002.

He was due to enter pleas to two slightly amended charges later Tuesday.

The trial got under way June 4 for just one day and sat for a second day later in the month, but Taylor boycotted both sittings after firing his court-funded attorney and complaining he was not getting a fair trial.

First prosecution witnesses were due to be heard Tuesday, but prosecutors and a court official responsible for ensuring Taylor gets a fair trial filed a motion last week asking for the witness testimony to be delayed until August to give Taylor's new defense team - which has not yet been appointed - time to prepare.

Explaining the decision to grant the postponement, presiding judge Julia Sebutinde of Uganda blamed officials in the court's registry for not appointing new defense attorneys in time for the trial to start and said Taylor "should not be penalized for the laxity of the registry."

She said that ordering an interim lawyer to defend Taylor for a week of hearings that had been scheduled to begin Tuesday "would indeed amount to a violation of Mr. Taylor's fair trial rights."

Taylor announced he had fired his attorney in a letter to the three-judge panel on the first day of hearings and demanded a more senior trial attorney, arguing that prosecutors had far more lawyers on their team.

Prosecutor Stephen Rapp dismissed Taylor's concerns as administrative issues "blown out of proportion in order to create a reason for what we view as obstructive conduct in this case."

Rapp added that Taylor was getting more money for his defense - up to $2 million for the trial - than any other suspect charged by the court.

Prosecutors say they will call dozens of witnesses who will directly link Taylor to Sierra Leone rebels.

They claim the Liberian leader shipped rebels arms, ammunition and supplies such as alcohol and drugs used to desensitize children forced to fight. In return he got diamonds, often mined by slave laborers.

Taylor Attends Trial Hearing - Forbes.com