Apr 26, 2012 -
News this morning that an international court has convicted former Liberian president Charles Taylor of wars crimes for his brutal atrocities in neighboring Sierra Leone. It was a longtime coming.
My involvement with his case dates back to 1997, when I became chairman of the Africa Subcommittee. Over the years, I held hearings with his victims, battled a State Department that once ran interference for Taylor, passed congressional resolutions, wrote op-eds, blogged, and pressed a U.S. President, perhaps to his annoyance, hoping to end Taylor's killing.
Many Americans remember the movie "Blood Diamond," with its drugged out child soldiers committing unspeakable acts of mutilation, rape and pillage. That was pretty much the violence that Taylor fueled. Children were forced to participate in "mayhem days" -- sprees of killings until participants collapsed from exhaustion. Taylor-backed thugs used razor blade slits near their temples to put cocaine directly into their bloodstreams.
• Sentencing is next month. Anything short of life would insult the many dead and maimed. Taylor must never walk free, and threaten West Africa, which he would.
• The trial was long and expensive. Taylor was allowed to testify for 50 days. Absurd.
• Kudos to Tony Blair who, in 2006, offered Taylor a permanent home in a British cell. Few others wanted him. It will be far less cozy than his Hague accommodations, which include Internet and conjugal visits.
• Taylor has power based on his charisma. That'll go away when he trades his Savile Row suits for prison garb.
• Getting one warlord doesn't assure peace, but it makes it possible. Today Liberia and Sierra Leone are struggling, but at peace.
Liberia has many challenges, but it has traded a convicted war criminal for a Nobel Peace Prize winner, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Taylor's conviction boosts all Liberians working for a better future.
And the President I badgered? It was President Bush. As I approached him in a White House receiving line, he preempted me --"Yes, yes, we'll get Charles Taylor." It's a good day for all.