The Hague: Charles Taylor claimed Tuesday he was indicted for war crimes as part of a U.S. "regime change" plan to gain control of West African oil reserves, in a typically defiant performance.
The former Liberian president wrapped up 13 weeks in the witness box by questioning the fairness of his trial by the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
"I am convicted already," Taylor told the three international judges, in his final day of direct testimony in his own defense.
Prosecution lawyers were expected to begin cross examining Taylor later Tuesday. It was still unclear when the next defense witness will take the stand or who will that be.
The tribunal is trying the 61-year-old former warlord on allegations he controlled and supported rebels who murdered and mutilated thousands of civilians during Sierra Leone's 1992-2002 civil war.
Taylor's epic testimony — more than 250 hours on the stand — chronologically reviewed his life, from his mixed parentage and boyhood in Liberia to university in the United States, his leadership of a Liberian rebel movement, presidency and — in his version — peace-seeking West African leader.
The final days of his account had little bearing on the 11 charges he faces — and denies — including murder, rape, sexual slavery and recruiting child soldiers in neighboring Sierra Leone.
Instead, he has given his version of events that led to his resignation as Liberian president in August 2003, subsequent exile in Nigeria and arrest nearly three years later.
Taylor told the three-judge panel Tuesday that Americans believed he was a destabilizing factor in West Africa, a region Washington saw as a possible future source of oil.
Taylor said the U.S. standpoint was that, "We cannot have anyone in Liberia that we don't think is going to dance to our tune."
The tribunal prosecutor who indicted Taylor was an American, David Crane.
After Crane unsealed the indictment in June 2003, Taylor went into exile in Nigeria. Taylor said Nigeria's then-president Olusegun Obasanjo had assured him the U.N. Security Council would put the indictment on ice if he left Liberia, but said Obasanjo eventually "cracked" under international pressure to give him up.
Taylor denied reports that he was arrested early in 2006 while trying to flee Nigeria with millions of dollars in cash. "It is all lies," he said, telling judges he was only planning a visit to Chad and was carrying around US$50,000 to pay hotel and other bills.
As his testimony concluded, Taylor rejected allegations — not part of the indictment against him — that he harbored al-Qaida terrorists while he was still in office, calling them yet another U.S. attempt to undermine his administration.
"I am associated with al-Qaida and providing sanctuary in Liberia and the United States government would just overlook it? Never ever," Taylor said. "This shows how desperate they have been to destroy me."
Taylor likely will face weeks of cross examination as prosecutors attempt to pick holes in his claims that he did not support Sierra Leone rebels whose signature atrocity was to hack off the limbs of villagers.
Taylor's is the last trial at the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Eight other rebel leaders have been tried, convicted and sentenced to prison terms ranging from 15 to 52 years.
First Published: Tuesday, November 10, 2009, 23:54