My friend Pieter van den Blink from the Dutch newspaper "Vrij Nederland" called me this morning and asked me if I was keeping a journal about the Charles Taylor trial. I wasn't, but he made me think it would be a good idea.
This blog is an attempt at that, and a way to keep together my thoughts and communications related to the trial as it unfurls. There are other places on the web where the trial is being followed, but many of these are very technical, as you'd expect. (re: www.trial-ch.org, www.charlestaylortrial.org). Please feel free to post comments and links.
I'm a photographer and film maker, and have spent the last eight years living and working in West Africa. Of that, I've spent the last four years working on a book project about Liberia. I never met Charles Taylor, but in a small way he has cast his shadow over me, as he has to a much larger degree over Liberia and other parts of West Africa.
I was present at the Hague on 4th June 2007. I went to witness the opening of the trial and to finally see Taylor. He never turned up, but instead I sat there watching a piece of court room theatre as his senior council, Karim Khan, baited the presiding judge Julia Sebutinde with the reasons for his absence. She was clearly not in command of the situation and Khan took full advantage, stating that Taylor was not receiving adequate support from the Special Court to mount a defence. The whole thing turned into a bit of a farce, and at one stage Khan dramatically turned round to leave the courtroom, only to find the door he'd gone for was locked. He came back as if this was all planned, made a few more statements, and then headed for the real exit.
What a palaver.
As Khan left the stage, half of the attendant journalists watching scrambled out to try and catch him. This meant that Stephen Rapp, the prosecutor, ended up giving his opening speech to a half-emptied galllery. It was no suprise that Taylor's 'no show' and accusations of being inadequately represented was the news headline. The 11 charges of war-crimes and crimes against humanity were relegated to third paragraphs.
Taylor 1, Special Court 0.
The poor registrar, Herman Von Hebel got a real kicking from the judge and was treated like a naughty school boy. Apparently it was all his fault that the taylor camp was not happy. It all seemed a bit unfair to lump him with the blame. It's a bit like saying Taylor was wholely responsible for what happened in Liberia.
The long and short of it, is that I never got to see Taylor. He made a quick appearance on the 3rd July to hear the court's reasons for postponing the proceedings and to address scheduling and procedural issues.
Next up is 20th August when the case is resceduled to start.