Defense lawyers made a final bid Thursday to discredit witnesses against former Liberian President Charles Taylor as his lengthy trial for war crimes in neighboring Sierra Leone entered its last days.
Taylor's trial ends Friday after 3 1/2 years, when prosecutors and defense lawyers offer their final rebuttals. The three international judges then begin considering their verdict, which could take several months.
Taylor, the first African head of state to face an international tribunal, has denied responsibility for atrocities committed by rebels during Sierra Leone's civil war, and has pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of murder, rape, sexual enslavement and recruiting child soldiers. Taylor faces a maximum life sentence if convicted.
In Thursday's presentation at the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone, the defense argued that former rebels who testified for the prosecution had come under pressure to implicate Taylor in the 1991-2002 war, and urged the judges to disregard their stories.
"If this court was to place any reliance at all on witnesses of this sort, then the tide of justice in this international court is very low indeed," defense counsel Terry Munyard said.
Munyard singled out former rebel command Isaac Mongor, who testified in 2008 that Taylor had been "the brains behind" a rebel invasion of Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown, and had aided in the shipment of weapons. Munyard reviewed the court transcript to show Mongor acknowledging that he mentioned Taylor only after repeated questioning by prosecution investigators.
Mongor's account was replete with "contradictions, inconsistencies, lies and implausibility," Munyard said.
"Put simply, it stinks," the lawyer said. "He is but one example. There are others."
Prosecutors say Taylor financed, supported and commanded the rebels in exchange for reciprocal support in his own conflicts in Liberia and for payment in Sierra Leone's illegally mined diamonds and natural resources. Taylor headed his own Liberian rebel force until he became the country's president in 1997.
During his own seven months on the stand, Taylor described himself as a statesman and peacemaker. He said he ended his initial alliance with the main rebel force, the Revolutionary United Front, in 1992. The RUF was infamous for its brutality, especially for amputating limbs, ears and lips of civilians to instill fear.