Merchant of Death
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Blood from Stones

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Johnson-Sirleaf, Obasanjo Due in Washington-What About Taylor?
Liberia's new president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Nigerian president Obasanjo are both due in Washington the week of March 20. Already there is Congressional consternation over the fact that Johnson-Sirleaf has not lived up to her promise to request the extradition of Liberian former strongman Charles Taylor. Obasanjo maintains that he would had Taylor over to Liberia if Liberia's new government publicly requests such an action.

So far, Johnson-Sirleaf has not done so, citing possible instability in the wake of such a request. The counter-argument is that Liberia at this moment enjoys far more support and attention from the international community than it will in the forseeable future. This means Johnson Sirleaf is in a stronger position now, with thousands of UN peacekeepers deployed and money flowing in, than she will be in a month or six months, or a year.

The Bush administration has been largely mute on the issue, except to reiterate pro forma statements that Taylor must be brought to justice. However, the administration moved to reprogram several million dollars to support the Special Court for Sierra Leone, where Taylor is indicted and would stand trial. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) and others made it publicly and strongly clear to the administration that the money must be spent as appropriated, not as the White House thought it should be spent, and seem to have won the battle.

There is now a growing bipartisan group in both houses of Congress who are moving toward conditioning millions of dollars in U.S. aid on Johnson-Sirleaf's making a request for Taylor's extradition. Without the aid, the new Liberian government will not survive. It is not clear yet if specific timetables will be laid out for Johnson-Sirleaf by Congressional leaders during her visit. What is clear is that there is an emerging consensus that Taylor's extradition is a precondition for ongoing U.S. aid.

If Johnson-Sirleaf were to ask for Taylor's extradition, it would test Obasanjo's promise at a time when he is facing great internal tension, rising threats from armed groups and religious violence. No time is a good time for any of this. But it is hard to see how waiting will improve the situaiton. Acting on Taylor would set a strong precedent for the rule of law in a region that is sorely lacking in such precedents.
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