22 May The Special Court for Sierra Leone Jumps Three Sharks and a Turtle
That’s my basic reaction to the release of the full judgment in the Taylor trial, which checks in at an utterly absurd 2,499 pages. (The judgment is downloadable, assuming you have a very fancy computer, here.) 2,499 pages is clearly a new record for a judgment of an international tribunal, especially in a case with one defendant. By way of comparison: the IMT judgment, which concerned 24 defendants, is little more than 100 pages, while all twelve NMT judgments, which concerned 185 defendants, run a little more than 3,000 pages.
I will have more to say after I’ve had time to read (some of) the judgment in detail, but I have one concern worth mentioning now: namely, my worry that the length of the judgment will have a direct impact on the length of Taylor’s sentence — an impact unrelated to the facts found by the Trial Chamber, the nature of the crimes of Taylor was convicted, and the mode of participation on which his convictions are based (aiding and abetting and planning, both forms of accessorial liability). My initial and somewhat impressionistic sense is that Taylor deserves a sentence between 30 and 35 years, given (1) that the SCSL’s longest sentences to date have been 50 and 52 years, and (2) that the defendants who received those sentences were convicted as principals, not accessories. That assessment puts me squarely in the middle of the experts I’ve informally polled about what they think Taylor’s sentence should be — some have gone as high as 40, others have gone as low as 25. All agree, however, that the 80-year sentence requested by the prosecution would be completely disproportionate in light of the SCSL’s previous sentences. It is nevertheless difficult to imagine the Trial Chamber imposing such a “lenient” sentence on a defendant whose judgment — for him alone — is almost 2,500 pages long. The sheer mass of the judgment would seem to require a longer sentence, even if that sentence would be inconsistent with the facts and law found by the Trial Chamber. I hope I’m wrong about that; I hope the judges will be able to separate the amount of work that has gone into the judgment from their objective assessment of Taylor’s culpability. But I fear the former will bleed into the latter. After all, judges are not machines.