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Charles McArthur Ghankay Taylor (born 28 January 1948) served as President of Liberia from 2 August 1997 to 11 August 2003. He was once one of Africa's most prominent warlords during the First Liberian Civil War in the early 1990s and was elected president at the end of that conflict. He was subsequently forced into exile, and is currently being held in the United Nations Detention Unit on the premises of the Penitentiary Institution Haaglanden in The Haguemarker, and on trial by the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

Early years

Charles McArthur Taylor was born in Arthingtonmarker, a town near Monroviamarker, on 28 January 1948 to Nelson and Bernice Taylor. His mother was a member of the Gola ethnic group. According to most reports his father was an Americo-Liberian, although other sources claim he was actually Afro-Trinidadian. As a young man Taylor was very interested in the Slave Trade and American-Liberian Relations. Taylor was a student at Bentley Collegemarker in Walthammarker, Massachusettsmarker, from 1972 to 1977, earning a degree in economics. Taylor took the name 'Ghankay' later on, possibly to please and curry favor with the indigenous people.

In 1979, he led a demonstration at the Liberian Mission to the United Nations in New York City, protesting then-president of Liberia William Tolbert who was on a state visit to the U.S. at the time. Tolbert publicly debated Taylor, but Taylor made the mistake of insinuating he would seize the Liberian Mission by force, which led to his arrest by New York police. He was later released and invited back to Liberia by Tolbert. Taylor supported the 12 April 1980 bloody coup led by Samuel Kanyon Doe, which saw the murder of William Tolbert and the seizure of power by Doe (the first president of non Americo-Liberian descent). Taylor was appointed to a high position in Doe’s government in the General Services Agency of Liberia, a position that left him in charge of purchasing for the Liberian government, but was sacked in May 1983 for embezzling almost $1,000,000 and sending the funds to an American bank account.

He fled the country, only to be arrested in 24 May 1984, by two US Deputy Marshal in Somerville, Massachusettsmarker, on a warrant for extradition to face charges of embezzling $922,000 of government funds, intended for machinery parts. Citing a fear of assassination by Liberian agents, it was announced by Taylor's lawyer, former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark, that Taylor would fight extradition from the safety of jail. He was detained in a House of Corrections in Plymouth, Massachusettsmarker. On 15 September 1985, Taylor and four other inmates escaped from the jail by sawing through a bar covering a window in an unused laundry room. After dropping 12 feet to the ground by means of a knotted sheet, the five inmates climbed a fence. Shortly thereafter, Taylor and two other escapees were met at nearby Jordan Hospital by Taylor's wife, Enid, and Taylor's sister-in-law, Lucia Holmes Toweh. A getaway car was driven to Staten Islandmarker, where Taylor then disappeared. The first escapee to be caught was apprehended on 18 September in Brockton, Massachusettsmarker; eventually all four of Taylor's fellow escapees would be tracked down, and Enid Taylor and Lucia Holmes Toweh were ordered held without bail on 23 September for driving the getaway car. Taylor managed to flee the United States and shortly thereafter it is assumed he went to Libyamarker where he underwent guerrilla training under Muammar al-Gaddafi, becoming Gaddafi's protegé. Eventually he left Libya and used the training he gained there to begin a civil war in Liberia. However, Prince Johnson, a Liberian senator and disgruntled associate of Taylor, claimed before the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) on 27 August 2008 that the United States released Taylor from jail in 1985 to engineer the overthrow of president Samuel Doe. The claim is widely credited.

Rise to power

In December 1989, Taylor launched a Libyan-funded armed uprising from Côte d'Ivoiremarker into Liberia to overthrow its government. His forces, known as the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), soon controlled most of the country. Then-president Samuel Doe was overthrown and tortured to death the following year by Prince Johnson, a former senior commander of Taylor's NPFL who broke away and formed the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia, INPFL. Doe's fall led to the political fragmentation of the country into violent factionalism. In mid-1990, Johnson's supporters split from Taylor's group and captured Monroviamarker for themselves, depriving Taylor of outright victory.

The civil war turned into an ethnic conflict, with seven factions fighting for control of Liberia's resources (especially iron ore, diamond, timber, and rubber).

After the official end of the civil war in 1996, Taylor became Liberia's president on 2 August 1997, following a landslide victory in July, in which he took 75 percent of the vote. Taylor's toughest competitor, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, only collected 10 percent of the vote. Taylor's victory has been widely attributed to the belief that he would resume the war if he lost. He famously ran on the slogan "He killed my ma, he killed my pa, but I will vote for him." The elections were overseen by the United Nation's peacekeeping mission, UNOMIL (1993-1997), along with a contingent from ECOWASmarker.

In office he ran down the Armed Forces of Liberia, letting go 2,400-2,600 former personnel, many of whom were ethnic Krahn brought in by former President Doe, in December 1997-January 1998, and building up instead the Anti-Terrorist Unit, the Special Operations Division of the Liberian National Police, and the Special Security Service, which guards Liberia's presidents. Peace never returned to Liberia after his election, and during his entire reign, he was forced to fight against pockets of insurgency against his government, with about 60% of the country in the hands of insurgents by 2003.

As president he was known for his flamboyant style and overtly quasi-religious hypocrisy. Upon being charged by the UN of being a gun-runner and diamond smuggler during his presidency, he publicly appeared in all white robes and begged God for forgiveness (while denying the charges). He has also been paraphrased to have said that “Jesus Christ was accused of being a murderer in his time”.

Numerous allegations have been leveled at Taylor since he took office in 1997, including continuing to assist rebel forces in Sierra Leonemarker with weapon sales in exchange for diamonds, and helping in acts of atrocities against civilians that have left many thousands dead or mutilated, with unknown numbers of people abducted and tortured. Moreover, he has been criticized for the widespread conscription of children as soldiers in the war in Sierra Leone.

End of rule

In 1999, a rebellion against Taylor began in northern Liberia, led by a group calling itself Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD). This group was frequently accused of atrocities, and is thought to have been backed by the government of neighboring Guineamarker.

In early 2003, with LURD in control of northern Liberia, a second rebel group, called the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) and allegedly backed by the Ivorian government, emerged in southern Liberia and achieved rapid successes. By the summer, Taylor's government controlled only about a third of Liberia: Monrovia and the central part of the country.

On 7 March 2003, the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) indicted Taylor, charging him with crimes against humanity, an indictment which still stands. In 2003, Liberian forces killed Sam Bockarie, a leading member of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in Sierra Leone, in a shootout under Taylor's orders. Some have claimed that Taylor ordered Bockarie killed in order to prevent Bockarie from testifying against him at the SCSL.

In June 2003, a United Nations justice tribunal issued a warrant for Taylor's arrest, charging him with war crimes. The UN asserts that Taylor created and backed the RUF rebels in Sierra Leone, which are accused of a range of atrocities, including the use of child soldiers. The prosecutor also said Taylor's administration had harbored members of Al-Qaeda sought in connection with the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenyamarker and Tanzania.

The indictment was issued at Taylor's official visit to Ghanamarker. With the backing of the then South African president Thabo Mbeki, and against the urging of Sierra Leonemarker president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, Ghana declined to detain Taylor, who returned to Monrovia.


During his absence for the peace talks in Ghana, it was alleged that the US urged the vice president, Moses Blah, to seize power. Upon his return, Taylor briefly dismissed Blah from his post, only to reinstate him a few days later. Meanwhile, the rebel group LURD initiated a siege of Monrovia, and several bloody battles were fought as Taylor's forces defeated rebel attempts to capture the city. The pressure on Taylor increased further as U.S. President George W. Bush stated that Taylor "must leave Liberia" twice in July 2003. On 9 July, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo offered Taylor safe exile in his country, but only if Taylor stayed out of Liberian politics.

Taylor insisted that he would resign only if American peacekeeping troops were deployed to Liberia. Bush publicly called upon Taylor to resign and leave the country in order for any American involvement to be considered. Meanwhile, the African states, in particular the Economic Community of West African Statesmarker (ECOWAS), under the leadership of Nigeria, sent troops under the banner of 'ECOMIL' to Liberia. Logistical support was provided by a California company called PAE Government Services Inc., which was given a $10 million contract by the US State Departmentmarker. On 6 August, a 32-member U.S. military assessment team were deployed as a liaison with the ECOWAS troops.

On 10 August, Taylor appeared on national television in Liberia to announce that he would resign the following day and hand power to the nation's vice-president, Moses Blah. He harshly criticized the United States in his farewell address, saying that the Bush administration's insistence that he leave the country would hurt Liberia.

On 11 August, Taylor resigned, leaving Blah as his successor until a transitional government was established on 14 October. At the handover were Ghanaian President John Kufuor, South African President Thabo Mbeki, and Mozambicanmarker President Joaquim Chissano, representing African regional councils. The U.S. brought Joint Task Force Liberia's Amphibious Ready Group of three warships with 2,300 Marines into view of the coast. There was however, eventually no tangible aid or solid assistance from the Americans. Taylor flew to Nigeria, where the Nigerian government provided houses for him and his entourage in Calabarmarker.


In November 2003, the United States Congress passed a bill that included a reward offer of two million dollars for Taylor's capture. While the peace agreement had guaranteed Taylor safe exile in Nigeria, it also required that he not attempt to influence Liberian politics, a requirement his critics claim he has disregarded. On 4 December, Interpolmarker issued a "red notice," suggesting that countries have the international right to arrest him. Taylor was placed on Interpol's Most Wanted list, noted as possibly being dangerous, wanted for "crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Convention." Nigeria, where Taylor was residing, initially stated that they would not submit to Interpol's demands, unless Liberia wanted to try him; in that case Nigeria would return Taylor to Liberia for trial.

On 6 March 2004, the United States presented a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council seeking a freeze of Taylor's assets, as well as those of his family and allies.

On 17 March 2006, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the new democratically elected President of Liberia, submitted an official request to Nigeria for Taylor's extradition. This request was granted on 25 March, whereby Nigeria agreed to release Taylor to stand trial in the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Nigeria agreed only to release Taylor and not to extradite him, as no extradition treaty exists between the two countries.

The Nigerian government announced on 28 March that Taylor had disappeared from his residence in Calabarmarker, Nigeria. On 29 March 2006, Taylor was arrested in Gamboru, along Nigeria's northeastern border with Cameroonmarker. Nigerian authorities put him on a plane bound for Liberia and then handed him to the UN in Sierra Leonemarker. On 30 March, the Special Court requested permission to use the premises of the International Criminal Court in The Haguemarker to carry out Taylor's trial, although the Special Court will still conduct the proceedings of the trial. In Taylor's absence, the trial began on 4 June 2007. He pleaded not guilty.

Disappearance and arrest

According to a statement released on 28 March 2006, by Nigeria's government, Taylor disappeared from the seaside villa where he had been living in exile. This was three days after the Nigerian government said it would end his asylum and allow him to face an indictment by the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

One week prior to his disappearance, Nigerian authorities took the unusual step of allowing local press to accompany census takers into Taylor’s seaside Calabar compound. An article subsequently appeared on the BBC web site.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo was scheduled to meet with United States President George W. Bush less than 48 hours after Taylor was reported missing. Speculation ensued that Bush would refuse to meet with Obasanjo if Taylor were not apprehended. Less than 12 hours prior to the scheduled meeting between the two heads of state, Taylor was reported apprehended and en route to Liberia.

On 29 March 2006, Taylor tried to cross the border into Cameroonmarker, but he was arrested by the security forces in the border town of Gamboru in northeastern Nigeria. His Range Rover with Nigerian diplomatic plates was stopped by border guards, and Taylor's identity was eventually established. State Department staff privately noted that significant amounts of cash and heroin were found in the vehicle.

Significant debate ensued among Liberian authorities regarding responsibility for former-president Taylor's arrest. Taylor was arrested and handcuffed by unarmed Liberian National Police upon arrival at Roberts International Airportmarker in Harbelmarker, Liberiamarker. Liberian National Police then immediately surrendered Taylor into UN custody. Irishmarker UNMIL soldiers then escorted Taylor aboard a UN helicopter to Freetownmarker, Sierra Leonemarker, to answer an indictment by the War Crimes Tribunal.


(Trial progress is available directly from: the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone)
Taylor was held in a UN jail in Freetown, while waiting for his extradition. He is to be tried under the auspices of the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL). The prosecutor originally indicted Taylor on 3 March 2003 on a 17 count indictment for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the conflict in Sierra Leone. But, on 16 March 2006, a SCSL judge gave leave to amend the indictment against Taylor. Under the amended indictment, Taylor is charged with 11 counts. At Taylor's initial appearance before the court on 3 April 2006, he entered a plea of not guilty.

In early June 2006, the decision on whether to hold Taylor's trial in Freetown or in The Haguemarker had not yet been made by new SCSL president George Gelaga King. King's predecessor had pushed for the trial to be held abroad because of fears that a local trial would be politically destabilizing in an area where Taylor still had influence. The Appeals Chamber of the Special Court dismissed a motion by Taylor's defense team, who argued that their client could not get a fair trial there and wanted the Special Court to withdraw the request to move the trial to The Hague. On 15 June 2006, the British government agreed to jail Taylor in the event that he is convicted by the SCSL. This removed an obstacle after the Dutch government stated they would host the trial but would not jail him if convicted, and a number of European countries refused to host him. British Foreign Minister Margaret Beckett stated that new legislation would be required.

On 16 June 2006, the United Nations Security Council agreed unanimously to allow Taylor to be sent to The Hague for trial; on 20 June 2006, Taylor was extradited and flown to Rotterdam Airportmarker in the Netherlands. He was taken into custody in the UN war crimes tribunal's detention centre, located in the Scheveningen section of The Hague. The Association for the Legal Defense of Charles G. Taylor was established in June 2006 to assist in his legal defense.

When Taylor's trial on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity opened 4 June 2007, Taylor boycotted the proceeding and was not present. Through a letter which was read by his lawyer to the court, he justified his absence by alleging that at that moment he was not ensured a fair and impartial trial.

On 20 August 2007, Taylor's defense obtained a postponement of the trial until 7 January 2008. A key insider witness who testified against Taylor went into hiding after being threatened for giving evidence at the former Liberian president's war crimes trial, the chief prosecutor said 28 February 2008.

Coincidentally, during Taylor's trial Taylor's son Charles Taylor, Jr. was simultaneously prosecuted in the United States by the U.S. Department of Justice's Domestic Security Section for torture acts he had committed during the civil war in Liberia.


At the war crimes trial, Joseph "Zigzag" Marzah, a former military commander, testified that Charles Taylor celebrated his newfound status by ordering human sacrifice, including the killings of Taylor's opponents and allies that were perceived to have betrayed Taylor and having a pregnant woman buried in sand while alive. Marzah also accused Taylor of forcing cannibalism on his soldiers, in order to terrorize their enemies.

Taylor and Pat Robertson

According to a 2 June 1999, article in The Virginian-Pilot, Taylor had extensive business dealings with American televangelist Pat Robertson. According to the article, Taylor gave Robertson (who also had business dealings with dictator Mobutu Sese Seko of Zairemarker) the rights to mine for diamonds in Liberia's mineral-rich countryside. According to two Operation Blessing pilots who reported this incident to the state of Virginiamarker for investigation in 1994, Robertson used his Operation Blessing planes to haul diamond-mining equipment to Robertson's mines in Liberia, despite the fact that Robertson was telling his 700 Club viewers that the planes were sending relief supplies to the victims of the genocide in Rwandamarker. The subsequent investigation by the state of Virginiamarker concluded that Robertson diverted his ministry's donations to the Liberian diamond-mining operation, but Attorney General of Virginia Mark Earley blocked any potential prosecution against Robertson, as the relief supplies were also sent.

Taylor and Kilari Anand Paul

Taylor has obtained spiritual and other advice from the evangelist Kilari Anand Paul.


Charles Taylor has a son, a U.S. citizen named Charles McArther Emmanuel. Emmanuel was arrested in the U.S. and accused of participating in torture in Liberia; U.S. citizens may be tried for committing torture in other countries. In October 2008 Chuckie Taylor received convictions stemming from his overseas tortures of other people.Emmanuel was tried, and convicted of his charges. He was sentenced to 97 years for torture and murder.

In popular culture

The character Andre Baptiste, Sr. from the movie Lord of War is partly based on Charles Taylor.

Charles Taylor appears in Russell Banks´ book The Darling.

Taylor appears in Abigail Disney's documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell.


  1. US freed Taylor to overthrow Doe, Liberia's TRC hears
  2. Adebayo, Liberia's Civil War, International Peace Academy, 2002, p.235
  3. " Shock testimony at Taylor trial. Al Jazeera.
  4. " Top aide testifies Taylor ordered soldiers to eat victims." CNN.
  5. Sizemore, Bill. "Robertson, Liberian Leader Hope to Strike Gold in Coastal Africa." The Virginian-Pilot. 2 June 1999. ( Copy found at [1].) Charles Taylor...
  6. " Ex-prisoner: Taylor's son laughed at torture." CNN. 30 September 2008.
  7. Couwels, John. " Ex-Liberian president's son convicted of torture." CNN. 30 October 2008.
  1. The Liberian Civil War by Mark Huband, 1998

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