Merchant of Death
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Blood from Stones

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Taylor Finally at the Hague
Charles Taylor, former president of Liberia accused of systematic and massive crimes against humanity, has arrived in the Hague to stand trial for his atrocities. He will likely be staying at the Milosevic suite, but perhaps will stay alive through the trial.

The trip from Freetown, Sierra Leone, where the charges against him were lodged by the U.N.-back Special Court for Sierra Leone, marks the end of one phase of the saga that saw Taylor flee Liberia, receive asylum in Nigeria, attempt an escape and then be held under shaky security in Sierra Leone.

The Special Court will still conduct the trial, not the ICC, and that will be the next phase of Taylor's tumble from power. The ICC is simply lending its secure facilities to hold Taylor who, after all, escaped from a U.S. prison in Massachusetts before starting his murderous exploits in Africa that plunged an entire region into chaos.

A friend of Hezbollah, al Qaeda, Viktor Bout and other terrorist and criminal organizations, Taylor presided over wars and conflicts that devastated an entire region, and cost hundreds of thousands of lives. He enjoyed the friendship and complicity of Gadaffi in Libya, Compaore in Burkina Faso and several other heads of state. He befriended Pat Robertson, Jesse Jackson and others across the Christian spectrum with his ability to appear to be a simple Baptist minister.

Many in the human rights community wanted the trial to remain in Freetown to show that African countries can judge their own.

It is a nice idea. But given Taylor's signficant offshore financial empire and other holdings, and his demonstrated ability to recruit armed thugs and create chaos made the risk too high.

The corruptability of the guards, Taylor's ability to threaten the families of guards, witnesses and lawyer from prison and the proximity of loyal armed groups and complicit heads of state all made the chances of his facing justice from a Freetown prison to low to bet on.

Taylor's transfer to ICC facilities became possible when the British late last week agreed to hold him if he is convicted. The issue of where he would spend his prison time had bogged things down for several weeks, as the Dutch did not want that responsibility. When the British stepped forward, the final roadblock was removed.

Taylor's trial will be the most important of a generation for ending the impunity for war crimes that has plagued Africa and other regions. Last week one of Taylor's key henchmen, Gus Kouwenhoven, has been convicted of weapons trafficking and sentenced to eight years in prison. The prosecution is appealing, asking for more time for human rights abuses.

This may mean the traditional wall of impunity is developing chinks. It does not signal an end to the rapacious "Big Men" of Africa, but it could show that, if pushed far enough, people will demand and receive justice, even if delayed and incomplete.
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