He sat there waiting for the final judgment. Yes, he had long known that it would come to this and he would be doomed. Ghankay lowered his eyes below his chest, with apparently unconcerned as he heard the judge shuffled papers on the bench to read the verdict that he knew would deny him the freedom.
The roomful of spectators waited with impatience, some in particular who had pointed fingers during the trial that Ghankay Taylor, a leader of Liberia, was responsible for their suffering. Several of the men and women had lost their limbs and had testified that it was the work of people sponsored by Ghankay Taylor. Ghankay’s protests had meant nothing and from all indications he would be done when he was thrown in jail and the keys thrown away.
He came from his reverie when he heard the mournful voice of the judge, say:
“The court finds you, Ghankay Taylor, guilty of aiding and abetting the tragedy in Sierra Leone.” That was the conclusion, and he felt insulted about it, despite the enormity of the judge’s words.
The judge went on: “In a few days’ time from today, you’ll be sentenced to serve your time, and may God’s kindness descend on your soul and give you the means to examine your actions and support that have led to the deaths of thousands and the suffering of many thousands more.”
Looking suddenly aged, Ghankay Taylor could not hide his emotions, though he was a man who would not break down so easily. But he checked himself and took a defiant composure that shrugged of what had happened to him.
Breaking down, he knew would give his enemies the chance needed to deride him, and to taunt him to say, “I told you so,” for Ghankay had always convinced himself since the year of December 24, 1989, that the war he waged against Samuel Doe was a just war, despite its resultant suffering and devastation.
So the final judgment came after six years of back and forth trial, and now he knew that his misfortunes as a former president of Liberia had ended on a sad note.
Ghankay bowed his head and what appeared like a painful smile came across his face. Was he surprised at what had happened to him? Did he not inform the court, when the trial was in the second year, that he would not have justice? Now that his guilt had been pronounced, what was the difference he had expected?
Now they would throw him into the slammer, and maybe forget about him, leaving him to rot and die like the others.
Ghankay’s heartbeat increased as his mind centered on two unfortunate leaders in recent memory who had gone before him in shame. The first was Saddam Hussein of Iraq; he read the report, was hunted down and hanged like a dog in his own country.
Muamar Gaddafi was next and what was sad about his story was that he had then transformed himself and was cooperating with the rest of the world to fight against violent groups, when circumstances led to his downfall and his body violated in Libya. Sadly both Hussein and Gaddafi’s children became victims in the course of their tragedies.
Then tears filled his eyes, for he was aware of the tragic end of his son, Chucky, who was also hunted down and now residing in a prison somewhere in the United States for 99 years.
Then the time came for the final judgment and he heard that he would be concealed from the world for 50 years. The news came when he thought there could be some people still living that would have understood the revolution he led and its consequences. He once told a friend, “They call their own a revolution and call us terrorists.” Despite the challenges, Ghankay was like that in his final days, a man who saw the world better than his peers.
Though his chances of ever regaining the freedom he had known was long gone, he could not fail to laugh when he heard that his guilty verdict and sentencing to half a century in jail would serve as a strong message against such behavior in the future. To Ghankay the world had not learned enough to understand things that were responsible for the suffering of those doomed to perish.
“What behavior?” he had asked at the judge when he was allowed to respond in his own defense, “Can any of the witnesses who testified say that he/she saw me do those falsehoods they claimed I was responsible for?” Like a defense counsel, Ghankay had moved back and forth, his eyes directed at the judge.
The roomful of spectators remained silent, with a small section in the room filled with his sympathizers.
His defense team, seated at the far corner in the room, decided to let Ghankay conduct his own defense, in an attempt to put some sense in his accusers. And in a solemn voice Ghankay narrated to the large gathering in the courtroom in The Hague the tragedy of his life, his country and the reasons he took up the challenge.
“We declared independence when much of Africa was still under the yoke of colonialism,” he said, “and we spearheaded the formation of the Organization of African Unity that has helped to unite Africa, despite the persistent actions of wicked men to divide and rule Africans.”
The courtroom remained silent; the drop of a pin could have been heard. The judge, glasses on his nose, had his arms folded across his chest, looking at a man that many claimed and testified was a monster personified in human form. The evolving drama was full of excitement but it was clear that a probe behind it would expose the agony, fear, anger, hopelessness and frustration.
“After more than one hundred years,” he said, walking back and forth, “our country is,” his voice broke, choked with emotion, “not developed, lacking the most basic necessity for life; and after poor and dangerous leadership, my people were torn asunder by a despot,” that part was drowned by the judge’s banging gavel, as spectators responded as many objected in boos while minority of the voices expressed appreciation with cheers, and both groups were warned of the consequences.
“This court,” the judge said, “cannot allow anyone to bring its reputation into disrepute and therefore be warned and the case will continue without any interruption from any of you.”
That settled the matter, and with a sweep of his head, Ghankay shrugged his shoulders and directing attention to the judge, he said, “My downfall is the end of the right for African leaders to choose what is right for their people.” Lifting his right hand, he mopped his face with a white handkerchief, and resumed his summation of what he described as a plot by evil men to destroy him.
“Today,” he said in sadness, “I’m a doomed man of no consequence, and like the Christ I am being sacrificed for my people, but at the plot instigated by my enemies.” Ghankay’s eyes were red, but he was determined not to give the impression that the tragic consequence of his struggle to reclaim Liberia from the throes of what he said was despotism was over; and therefore, he turned around swiftly, and pointing at the judge, said, “This is the end.”
Seeking an apparent dramatic effect on the judge, Ghankay folded his hands behind his back, marched across to the defense table and with remarkable dexterity, brought his hands in front of him to grab a bunch of papers and shuffled them on the defense table before seating himself.
Across from him, directly to the right of the prosecution’s table, sat relatives and friends who had traveled from Liberia and the United States to give him moral support.
He wanted to look them in the face and encourage them, but the time was different, as he was being prepared for his doom.
Ghankay remembered back in Africa, particularly in Liberia, when it became necessary that he resigned his post as the legitimate President of Liberia and went to a false exile in Nigeria; and before he left, he told his countrymen:
“I’m not leaving because I’m afraid to fight; I’m leaving so that the killings will end, so that you will live.” Those words presently came to his assistance, and began to haunt him.
“I’m being sacrificed,” Ghankay said, “I’m like a lamb for the slaughter.”
That day, more than six years ago, he had watched as many Liberians wept for him; and it was then that he realized how his people loved him. Though he had indicated at the time, “God willing,” amid thunderous cheers, “I’ll be back” – that prophecy would not see fulfillment. In the end, Ghankay admitted grudgingly that the world was overshadowed by evil men, who had no interest in the suffering of others, and whatever that existed was meant to give the impression that someone cared.
Presently, as the bailiff told him to go and not look back, he could feel perspiration forming on his forehead. There was so much a man could take. All he had done was lead a revolution to remove a despot, but now he was being sent to his doom for another’s crime.
“Where is justice,” he said, eyes lowered below his chest.
He did not deny his relations with Foday Sankoh and his marauding soldiers of the Revolutionary United Front, but that he aided and abetted their actions, was far from the truth.
As Ghankay walked to his doom, he could not imagine a world where individuals had no choices for their nations’ and peoples’ sake. He had fought a good fight, and whether his fight caused thousands to die, the world had indicated they did not care. He could be satisfied if he were being judged for his actions in his native Liberia, but now he knew the world did not care about those whose lives wasted on the Liberian theater.
Remembering his parting words to the Americans the day he set out for his Nigerian asylum, Ghankay repeated it to himself: “They should call off their dogs,” now that he was being thrown in the slammer.
He knew he would soon be forgotten, and lost to oblivion. And that was the part, like a cancerous tumor, that defeated his resolve to remain optimistic.