Charles Taylor Faces Court in Sierra Leone

A soldier stands guard in front of the Special Court for Sierra Leone in Freetown, where Liberia's former president Charles Taylor is jailed. (Photo: Issouf Sanogo / AFP-Getty Images)

The giant wheel of justice has routed Charles G. Taylor, the former president of Liberia who had enjoyed asylum status in Calabar, Nigeria since 2003. Newly elected Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has finally requested that Taylor be handed over to Liberia so he can face trial in Sierra Leone on seventeen counts of war crimes against humanity in connection with his role in Liberia's decade-long civil war.

Because Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo had earlier stressed that he would transfer Taylor only to Liberia's elected leader, he seemed reluctant to give up Taylor to a Western-led U. N. court. However, mounting international pressure, especially from the Unites States, forced him to wash his hands of Taylor. In a Meeting with President George W. Bush last week, Obasanjo agreed that he had been "Negligent to hand over Taylor to face justice."

As Obasanjo traveled to meet with President Bush, Taylor mysteriously disappeared from his home in Calabar. Security at his compound reportedly had been lax. The whole world grew nervous, fearing that he could revamp a ploy to launch a fresh invasion of Liberia. His team of "Groana boys" and child soldiers had the impulse to mobilize. They are a seasoned dynamo in launching a reign of terror, a legacy that Liberians and their close neighbors remember well.

The 58-year-old fugitive was captured Wednesday near the Cameroon border by Nigerian security forces. The border is 930 miles from Calabar. Taylor was traveling with his wife and son in a jeep with diplomatic plates. He had a large amount of U.S. dollars stacked in his trunk, a local official said.

Taylor is the third of 15 children, descendents of freed U.S. slaves who founded the Republic of Liberia in the 19th century. He attended school in the United States, where he was involved in radical student politics, embracing Marxism and Pan-African doctrines. He graduated from Bentley College, Massachusetts, with a degree in economics. In 1980, he was part of Liberian President Samuel Doe's administration before being exiled to the United States.

In 1985, Taylor escaped jail in Massachusetts, where he was awaiting extradition for having swindled $900,000 from the Liberian government. He returned to West Africa to launch a rebellion against Doe from the Ivory Coast.

At Taylor's arrest last week near the border with Cameroon, security personnel cuffed and took him to the airport on deportation orders from President Obasanjo. "President Obasanjo has ordered the immediate repatriation of Charles Taylor to Liberia … to help the government of Liberia which had requested custody of the former president," Nigeria's Information Minister Frank Nweke said. Witnesses at Nigeria's Maiduguri Airport watched as the "third most wanted war crimes suspect in the world," dressed in an immaculate white safari suit and led by 20 soldiers, walked onto the tarmac and boarded a presidential jet. "We have instructions to transport him directly to Monrovia," a security authority said.

While Taylor was in flight, U.N. peacekeepers were on emergency alert at Monrovia's Robertsville International Airport. After Taylor's plane landed, combat ready peacekeepers executed a mandate to arrest and transport him to Sierra Leone to face trial at a U.N. sponsored court, where Cell 6B awaited him.

Thousands awaited his arrival at Robertsville Airport including Momo Johnson, who is no fan of Taylor. "I hope he never sets foot on this soil. Let them just take him straight to Freetown," said Johnson.

Joshua Saye, a former rebel in Taylor's camp was dismayed, "I cannot stand to see this kind of humiliation of our man, the Great Gbankay Taylor in handcuffs on the Liberian soil. Let him not cry. We are still with him in spirit," he said.

Taylor's formidable support in Liberia is a force that Johnson Sirleaf will have to reckon with. Although children are busy selling photos of Taylor in handcuffs at 10 cents each, their faces depict mixed feelings about his capture.

News of Taylor's arrival in Freetown, Sierra Leone, spread like wild fire during harmattan, the dry and dusty wind that blows out of the Sahara along the northwest coast of Africa. The "Lord of War" who had once destabilized the entire region had come to answer for his brutal crimes. Because of security concerns, however, the government of Sierra Leone has requested that Taylor be transferred to the International Criminal Court at The Hague. Jenkins Johnston, a lawyer in Sierra Leon said, "With the bulk of UN forces gone, I do not think we should take the risk of putting our armed forces to the test so soon, even as we struggle with our fragile peace. Please take Mr. Taylor somewhere else for him to face trial!"

Taylor could have his day in court on neutral ground, as the power of justice takes its course. "We still expect a resolution from the Security Council that will allow for a change in venue to a more conducive environment. We have said and will continue to stress that in any proceeding the United Nations must ensure that Mr. Taylor is allowed to maintain his dignity and the right to a vigorous self-defense," Johnson Sirleaf said in a radio broadcast to the nation on Thursday. "This is consistent with the principle that a person is deemed innocent until proven guilty," she added.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said, "Taylor's detention strikes an important blow to impunity … those who suffered in the war can continue their life in the knowledge that he is no longer among them and he is not in a position to harm them."

Roland Bankole Marke is the author of "Teardrops Keep Falling," "Silver Rain and Blizzard," and "Harvest of Hate." His work has appeared in several publications, including online journals.

View the Worldpress Desk’s profile for Roland Bankole Marke.