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Charles Taylor appeals war crimes conviction

Tuesday - 1/22/2013, 9:44am  ET

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor, center rear, two security guards, rear left and right, and Taylor's defense team wait for the start of the court session at the Special Court for Sierra Leone in Leidschendam, western Netherlands, Tuesday Jan. 22, 2013. Taylor appealed against his conviction for supporting rebels in Sierra Leone' s brutal civil war. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, Pool)

MIKE CORDER
Associated Press

LEIDSCHENDAM, Netherlands (AP) -- Prosecutors urged judges Tuesday to reject former Liberian President Charles Taylor's appeal against his war crimes conviction and 50-year prison sentence, saying the court should hold "lords of war" as responsible for atrocities as the machine gun-wielding killers they support.

Taylor was found guilty in April 2012 of aiding and abetting Sierra Leone rebels, becoming the first former head of state since World War II to be convicted by an international war crimes court. He was convicted of 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, torture and the use of child soldiers.

But as Taylor watched silently from his seat in the courtroom Tuesday, one of his lawyers, Christopher Gosnell, said judges at his trial had a "deep and fundamental" misunderstanding of the notion of "aiding and abetting." He compared Taylor's actions with those of other governments that provide support to rebel groups.

Taylor's defense lawyers have put forward 45 reasons to appeal his conviction and sentence, while prosecutors argue the Special Court for Sierra Leone should have found Taylor guilty of ordering and instigating crimes.

Prosecution lawyer Nicholas Koumjian said Taylor's lawyers want to water down years of international jurisprudence with their argument that he should not be convicted of aiding and abetting atrocities because a greed for diamonds and not blood lust led him to support rebels responsible for murdering and mutilating their enemies in Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war that ended in 2002 with some 50,000 dead.

Prosecutors want Taylor's 50-year sentence -- already effectively a life sentence for the 64-year-old former president -- raised to 80 years to send a message to leaders who facilitate atrocities.

"Those are the promoters of war, the lords of war that sell arms to groups engaged in these conflicts," he said.

Koumjian's comments aimed to counter Taylor's arguments that he should not have been convicted because his support for rebels was not deliberately designed to have them kill and maim.

Gosnell said for judges to convict Taylor of aiding and abetting crimes, his help must be "connected to a specific crime and there must be a substantial contribution to that crime."

Instead, he said trial judges applied a standard "so broad that it would in fact encompass actions that are today carried out by a great many states in relation to their assistance to rebel groups or to governments that are well known to be engaging in crimes," Gosnell said.

In their written appeal, Taylor's lawyers said "the Trial Chamber's approach extends criminal liability far beyond its proper bounds as recognized in international law."

Taylor's lawyers also argued that his conviction was based in part on uncorroborated hearsay evidence that should not have been admitted. They have asked judges to overturn all of Taylor's convictions.

The appeals chamber is expected to take months to reach its judgment.


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