The World’s Jason Margolis was recently in Liberia and he asked people there how they felt about the war crimes prosecution of Charles Taylor. Anchor David Baron speaks with Margolis to find out about the reaction in Liberia.
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DAVID BARON: The World’s Jason Margolis was recently in Liberia and he asked people there how they felt about the war crimes prosecution of former president Charles Taylor. Now, Jason, Taylor has been tied to atrocities in his own country. I imagine there’s a lot of bad feelings about that period in the country’s history, so how did you go about even asking what I imagine is a very sensitive question?
JASON MARGOLIS: Well, I spoke with a lot of people when I was in country for about two weeks. You know, just casual conversations. But I also visited what’s called an [INDISCERNABLE] society and basically they’re tea houses. Sort of a equivalent of Starbucks in Monrovia.
BARON: A place to hang out.
MARGOLIS: A place to hang out. And it’s where the intellectuals hang out. And what they do is they debate a certain topic. The person who runs the tea house will put on the board, today we’re debating this new bridge, this road, et cetera. And because I was a guest, he said I could choose the topic, so I chose the Charles Taylor trial. So he advertised it for 24 hours, he made sure he had people representing both sides and about 40 people came and the overwhelming sentiment was people who felt very strongly in favor of Charles Taylor.
BARON: In favor of him that he’s not guilty of war crimes?
MARGOLIS: That he’s not guilty. Just listen to this. You’ll get the idea. Just listen to this one person I met.
MALE SPEAKER: Mr. Taylor, he was created by God for a purpose. We are asking them to release Mr. Taylor and we know when it comes to the law, Mr. Taylor will be free. The people loved their president. Charles Taylor is the only president who the [INDISCERNABLE] and he loved [INDISCERNABLE]
BARON: Created by God for a purpose. Is that what he said, that people loved him?
MARGOLIS: Yes, he did. I was very confused cause to me as a Westerner you read the headlines, you think, well, of course, this guy did really bad things, and we want here in the United States and Europe, we want a symbol. Someone we can prosecute and say yes, this guy’s responsible and we find them guilty, we put them in jail, and we feel a little better. But you have to understand contextually some people saw Charles Taylor as a savior.
BARON: Well, so, is that what we’re hearing is basically he was a rebel leader. He took over the country. Perhaps the people you were talking to were those who were kind of part of his ethnic group or political group, but others who were persecuted would have a very different attitude.
MARGOLIS: That’s right, but in my two weeks there I really only met a couple of people who said yes, Charles Taylor is a bad guy. Just listen to this next clip. I think the idea, why they’re so upset about it, is you from the west, you come here and you judge what our president did.
MALE SPEAKER: You invent a crime and you attack him for it. The issue of concern is Charles Taylor. If a [SOUNDS LIKE] new strategy to have Africa controlled in this millennium and the [INDISCERNABLE] is just a show of power.
BARON: Well, I can certainly understand the people of Liberia resenting outsiders coming into what is a sovereign nation and judging it by outside standards and imposing their views of right and wrong. But the civil war in the period under Charles Taylor, there was a lot of killing and maiming going on. Is it that they want to get beyond that period?
MARGOLIS: You know, it was very confusing as an outsider. You’re right, there was killing, there was maiming. The evidence is pretty overwhelming that this is a bad guy. He did bad things. The best I can summarize it. I met this one man. I spent several days with him. He had lost his father in the war. He had lost his son. He had lost everything. And I said to him who do you hold accountable for this? And he basically, he said I don’t care. I just want to live my life. I just want to live in peace.
BARON: Well, it will be interesting to see what happens when the verdict comes down. The World’s Jason Margolis who was recently in Liberia. Thanks.
MARGOLIS: You’re welcome.
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