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Former Liberian President Charles Taylor is guilty of "aiding and abetting" forces in Sierra Leone that committed war crimes and other atrocities during a war that lasted more than a decade and left more than 50,000 people dead, the Special Court for Sierra Leone ruled today.
Taylor, the first head of state since just after World War II to be judged by an international tribunal, "knew that his support" would assist and encourage fighters who were committing war crimes, the tribunal ruled. In return, he received so-called blood diamonds from Sierra Leone.
The court proceeding in The Hague began at 5 a.m. ET, and it wasn't until after 7 a.m. ET that the judge finished reading through the judge's findings and their verdicts.
Update at 7:15 a.m. ET. Guilty Of Aiding And Abetting On All 11 Counts.
After asking Taylor to stand, Judge Richard Lussick said the court "finds you guilty of aiding and abetting the following crimes ... and planning the commission of the following crimes":
-- Acts of terrorism.
-- Violence to life, health and physical well-being.
-- Sexual slavery.
-- Outrages upon personal dignity.
-- Violence to life.
-- Inhuman acts.
-- Conscripting children under the age of 15.
Taylor's sentencing hearing is set for May 16. He's to be sentenced on May 30.
On Morning Edition, NPR's Eric Westervelt spoke with Steve Inskeep about the case against Taylor.
Update at 11:30 a.m. ET. Rulings Show High-Level Leaders Will Be Held Accountable, Prosecutor Says:
Eric reports that chief prosecutor Brenda Hollis told him after the verdicts were handed down that this is an important day, "because it shows that while high-level leaders will be held to account for their crimes, that accounting will be done in a fair proceeding before independent and impartial judges."
Here's our original post and earlier updates:
Verdicts are being handed down this hour against former Liberian President Charles Taylor, who stands accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity for allegedly arming fighters in neighboring Sierra Leone in exchange for "blood diamonds."
During a brutal war that ended 10 years ago, about 50,000 people died in Sierra Leone. Taylor, who faces 11 charges, has been on trial at the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague, Netherlands. "The historic verdicts at the Special Court for Sierra Leone," says The Associated Press, "will mark the first time an international tribunal has reached judgment in the trial of a former head of state since judges in Nuremberg convicted Karl Doenitz, a naval officer who briefly led Germany after Adolf Hitler's suicide."
As the AP adds:
"Prosecutors cast Taylor, 64, as a ruthless leader who as president of neighboring Liberia funneled weapons, ammunition and other equipment to Sierra Leone rebels in return for diamonds mined by slave laborers in Sierra Leone.
"The rebels from the Revolutionary United Front and Armed Forces Revolutionary Council, groups notorious for hacking off limbs, noses and lips of their enemies. Most of their surviving leaders already have been convicted and imprisoned by the court.
"In seven months on the witness stand testifying in his own defense, Taylor portrayed himself as a statesman and regional peacemaker."
We will update this post with the news as soon as it comes in. Also:
-- NPR's Eric Westervelt is due to discuss the case on Morning Edition.
-- The BBC is live blogging and streaming video from the court here.
Update at 6:45 a.m. ET. "Aiding And Abetting" Proved, Court Finds:
The court finds the prosecution has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Taylor aided and abetted some of the crimes he's accused of, the judge says, by providing, arms, ammunition and guidance to forces in Sierra Leone.
The court has also concluded, however, that the prosecution did not prove that Taylor is individually criminally responsible for some of the crimes.
Judge Richard Lussick continues to read through the findings.
Update at 6:15 a.m. ET. Judge Continues:
Judge Richard Lussick is still reading through the court's findings — but hasn't yet gotten to its judgments. As the BBC notes, he's starting "to get a croaky throat after reading aloud for more than an hour."
Update at 5:45 a.m. ET. Reading Of Findings Continues:
The lead judge continues to read from the court's findings — but has not yet gotten to its judgments against Taylor. Note: The trial has stretched over more than three years and there have been 420 "trial days."
Update at 5:15 a.m. ET. Reading Out The Charges:
The court session is starting with a reading of the charges against Taylor and the court's conclusion that atrocities — murder, rape, sexual enslavement, the conscription of child soldiers and other crimes — did occur in Sierra Leone. It could be an hour or more, though, before the judgments against Taylor are announced and we learn whether he has been judged to be accountable.
Correction at 1:43 p.m. ET. An earlier version of this post said Taylor was tried at the International Criminal Court. He was actually tried at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, a U.N.-backed international court of war crimes and crimes against humanity.