Former Liberian President Charles Taylor, the first African head of state to stand trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity, stepped up to the podium today at The Hague to begin his defense testimony.
Like Yugoslavia’s Slobodan Milosevic before him, Taylor struck a defiant posture, painting himself as a leader besieged by jealous countrymen and vindictive foreigners determined to control his country.
“This whole case has been ‘Let’s Get Taylor!’ . . . People have me eating human beings,” the 61-year-old raged during an emotional appearance.
Taylor faces charges — including murder, rape, sexual slavery and conscription of child soldiers — as part of his efforts to manage hostilities in neighboring Sierra Leone. In particular, Taylor is charged with trading arms for diamonds and planning atrocities committed by the Revolutionary Armed Front, which achieved infamy through the widespread use of machetes to amputate limbs.
An estimated 200,000 people died during Sierra Leone’s vicious decade-long civil war. Survivors include thousands of amputees and former child soldiers struggling to cope with the physical and emotional scars on the country’s brutal conflict.
Taylor and his defense team have based their case not on whether the crimes occurred, but rather on whether the prosecution can prove that Taylor orchestrated them. Prosecutors are relying on the often-gruesome testimony of dozens of witnesses, including former Liberian officials and security personnel, to prove Taylor directed the hostilities for personal gain.
Taylor’s testimony is expected to continue for several weeks.