However, he stopped short of admitting any wrongdoing, apologizing for his actions, or expressing remorse.
In a landmark ruling in April, judges at the Special Court for Sierra Leone found Mr. Taylor guilty of 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, and conscripting child soldiers.
Judges at the U.N.-backed court said his aid was essential in helping rebels across the border in Sierra Leone continue their bloody rampage during the West African nation’s decade-long civil war, which ended in 2002 with more than 50,000 dead.
It was the first time a former head of state had been convicted of war crimes since the World War II.
Mr. Taylor is due to be sentenced on May 30, with prosecutors demanding an 80-year prison term. Defence lawyers are planning an appeal — and arguing he should at least be given a sentence that leaves him some hope for life after release.
“I express my sadness and sympathy for crimes suffered by individuals and families in Sierra Leone,” Mr. Taylor said. He insisted his actions had actually been done to help stabilize the region and claimed he never knowingly assisted in the commission of crimes.
“What I did...was done with honour,” he said. “I was convinced that unless there was peace in Sierra Leone, Liberia would not be able to move forward.”
Taylor accused the prosecution of paying and threatening witnesses in his war crimes trial.
Taylor, who was convicted last month, also told judges in The Hague he was “no threat to society.”
It was the 64-year-old former president’s last chance to speak at the international court before he is sentenced later this month.
Delivering his statement from a witness box on Wednesday, Taylor - who insists he is innocent of all charges - said money had played a “corrupting, influential, significant and dominant role” in his trial.
Judges found that Mr. Taylor helped the rebels obtain weapons, knowing they would likely be used to commit terrible crimes, in exchange for payments of “blood diamonds” often obtained by slave labour.
Prosecutors said there was no reason for leniency, given the extreme nature of the crimes and Mr. Taylor’s position of power.
“The purposely cruel and savage crimes committed included public executions and amputations of civilians, the display of decapitated heads at checkpoints, the killing and public disembowelment of a civilian whose intestines were then stretched across the road to make a check point, public rapes of women and girls, and people burned alive in their homes,” said prosecutor Brenda Hollis in a pre-hearing brief.
Defence attorney Courtenay Griffiths argued for a sentence reflecting Mr. Taylor’s indirect role: he was found guilty only of aiding the rebels, not leading them as prosecutors originally charged.
He said Mr. Taylor’s conviction has been “trumpeted...as sending an unequivocal message to world leaders that holding office confers no immunity” from war crimes prosecution. But the reality is that while many Western countries have funded militias that have committed atrocities, no Western leader has ever been indicted by a war crimes tribunal, he said.
The lesson is, “if you are a small, weak nation, you may be subject to the full force of international law, whereas if you run a powerful nation you have nothing to fear,” Mr. Griffiths said.
Mr. Griffiths also said the 80-year sentencing demand is “manifestly disproportionate and excessive” for Mr. Taylor, who is 64.
In court, Ms. Hollis scoffed at that.
She said Mr. Taylor’s involvement in the crimes was “more pervasive than that of the most senior leaders” of the Sierra Leone rebels who have already been sentenced. The longest sentence so far, 52 years, was handed down to rebel leader Issa Sesay, who testified on Mr. Taylor’s behalf in 2010.
Mr. Taylor fled into exile in Nigeria after being indicted by the court in 2003 and wasn’t arrested for three years. While the Sierra Leone court is formally based in that country’s capital, Mr. Taylor’s trial is being staged in Leidschendam, a suburb of The Hague, Netherlands, for fear holding it in West Africa could destabilize the region.
By Mark Doyle World affairs correspondent, BBC News
For a 64-year-old man facing the possibility of spending the rest of his life in jail it was a remarkably composed performance.
Taylor calmly set out what he said was the “political context” of his plight - and even politely excused the judges for perhaps not understanding it.
The context was a “conspiracy” led by the former US President George W Bush. It was carried out by the President’s “attack dogs” - members of the prosecution who used to work for the various security arms of the Washington administration.
Taylor once again declared his innocence - he would never support rebels who committed atrocities. He said he had tried to bring peace, not war, to Sierra Leone.
The prosecution had earlier referred to the two faces of Charles Taylor - a man who talked of peace but in fact waged war. We saw the calm and reasonable face today.
Nothing the judges have said so far indicates they believe that side of Charles Taylor’s story.
“Witnesses were paid, coerced and in many cases threatened with prosecution if they did not give statements,” he said.
He also questioned why former US President George W Bush, who he alleged had admitted to ordering torture, was not being brought to face a court, asking: “Is he above the law?”
He said he condemned atrocities across the world, and had the “deepest sympathy” for victims in Sierra Leone, but stopped short of expressing remorse or apologising for his part in the conflict.
Later, he asked the court to consider his age when making their decision.
“I’m a father of many children, grandchildren and great-grand.
“I say with respect: Reconciliation and healing, not retribution, should be the guiding principles in your honors’ task.”
At the end of his address, Mr Taylor also congratulated one of the judges, Julia Sebutinde of Uganda, the first African woman to sit at the International Court of Justice.
Prosecutors have said that Taylor’s ill health and age, or the fact that he has a family, should have no impact on the sentence.
In written filings, prosecutors said a sentence of 80 years would reflect the severity of the crimes and the central role that Taylor had in facilitating them.
“The purposely cruel and savage crimes committed included public executions and amputations of civilians, the display of decapitated heads at checkpoints... public rapes of women and girls, and people burned alive in their homes,” wrote prosecutor Brenda Hollis.
But defense lawyers said the recommended sentence was “manifestly disproportionate and excessive”, and that Taylor had only been found guilty of an indirect role - aiding the rebels, rather than leading them.
They said their client should not be made to shoulder alone the blame for what happened in Sierra Leone’s war.
The court should not support “attempts by the prosecution to provide the Sierra Leoneans with this external bogey man upon whom can be heaped the collective guilt of a nation for its predominantly self-inflicted wounds,” his lawyers wrote.
During the 1991-2002 Sierra Leone civil war, Taylor supported Revolutionary United Front rebels who killed tens of thousands of people.
The war crimes included murder, rape, the use of child soldiers and the amputation of limbs. In return, Taylor received “blood diamonds”.
The sentence is due to be handed down on 30 May.
Taylor is widely expected to appeal against any prison sentence and the hearing could continue for several more months.
Under a special arrangement with the international court, any prison term Taylor does receive will be served in Britain.