Born in Arthington, Montserrado County, Liberia, Taylor earned a degree at Bentley College in the United States before returning to Liberia to work in the government of Samuel Doe. After being removed for embezzlement, he eventually arrived in Libya, where he was trained as a guerilla fighter. He returned to Liberia in 1989 as the head of a Libyan-backed resistance group, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, to overthrow the Doe regime, initiating the First Liberian Civil War. Following Doe’s execution, he gained control of a large portion of the country and became one of the most prominent warlords in Africa. Following a peace deal that ended the war, Taylor terrorized the population into electing him president in the 1997 general election.
During his term of office, Taylor was accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity as a result of his involvement in the Sierra Leone Civil War. Domestically, opposition to his regime grew, culminating in the outbreak of the Second Liberian Civil War in 1999. By 2003, he had lost control of much of the countryside and was formally indicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone. That year, he resigned as a result of growing international pressure and went into exile in Nigeria. In 2006, the newly elected President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf formally requested his extradition. Upon his arrival in Monrovia, he was transferred to the custody of the United Nations Mission in Liberia and immediately flown to Sierra Leone. He is currently being held in the United Nations Detention Unit on the premises of the Penitentiary Institution Haaglanden in The Hague, where he is on trial before the Special Court for Sierra Leone for his role in the civil war.
Charles McArthur Taylor was born in Arthington, a town near Monrovia, on 28 January 1948 to Nelson and Bernice Taylor. He took the name ‘Ghankay’ later on, possibly to please and gain favor with the indigenous people. His mother was a member of the Gola ethnic group. According to most reports, his father was an Americo-Liberian. Taylor was a student at Bentley College in Waltham, Massachusetts, from 1972 to 1977, earning a degree in economics.
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 when Taylor insinuated that he would seize the Liberian Mission by force, he was arrested by the New York Police Department. He was later released and invited back to Liberia by Tolbert.
Taylor supported the 12 April 1980 coup led by Samuel Doe, which saw the murder of Tolbert and seizure of power by Doe and Justin, a CPC banker. 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. However, he was sacked in May 1983 for embezzling almost $1,000,000 and sending the funds to an American bank account.
Taylor fled to the United States but was arrested on 24 May 1984 by two US Deputy Marshals in Somerville, Massachusetts, 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, Taylor sought to fight extradition from the safety of jail with the help of his attorney, former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark. He was detained in a House of Corrections in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
On 15 September 1985, Taylor and four other inmates allegedly escaped from the Plymouth facility, a maximum security prison, 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 Island, where Taylor then disappeared. All four of Taylor’s fellow escapees, as well as Enif and Toweh, were later apprehended.
Taylor managed to flee the United States and shortly thereafter it is assumed that he went to Libya, where he underwent guerrilla training under Muammar al-Gaddafi, becoming Gaddafi’s protégé. Eventually, he left Libya and traveled to Côte d’Ivoire, where he founded the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL).
In December 1989, Taylor launched a Libyan-funded armed uprising from Côte d’Ivoire into Liberia to overthrow the Doe regime, leading to the First Liberian Civil War. By 1990, his forces soon controlled most of the country. That same year, Prince Johnson, a senior commander of Taylor’s NPFL, broke away and formed the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL). In September 1990, Johnson captured Monrovia, depriving Taylor of outright victory. Doe was captured and tortured to death by Johnson and his forces, resulting in a violent political fragmentation of the country. The civil war turned into an ethnic conflict, with seven factions fighting for control of Liberia’s resources (especially iron ore, diamonds, timber, and rubber).
According to a 2 June 1999, article in The Virginian-Pilot, Taylor had extensive business dealings with American televangelist Pat Robertson during the civil war. According to the article, Taylor gave Robertson the rights to mine for diamonds in Liberia’s mineral-rich countryside. According to two Operation Blessing pilots who reported this incident to the Commonwealth of Virginia for investigation in 1994, Robertson used his Operation Blessing planes to haul diamond-mining equipment to his new 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 Rwanda. The subsequent investigation by the Commonwealth of Virginia 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.
After the official end of the civil war in 1996, Taylor ran for president in the 1997 general election. He famously campaigned on the slogan “He killed my ma, he killed my pa, but I will vote for him.”  The elections were overseen by the United Nations’ peacekeeping mission, United Nations Observer Mission in Liberia, along with a contingent from the Economic Community of West African States. Taylor won the election in a landslide, garnering 75 percent of the vote. Taylor’s toughest competitor, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, collected only 10 percent of the vote. Taylor’s victory has been widely attributed to the belief that he would resume the war if he lost.
During his time in office, Taylor ran down the Armed Forces of Liberia, dismissing 2,400-2,600 former personnel, many of whom were ethnic Krahn brought in by former President Doe. In its place, he installed the Anti-Terrorist Unit, the Special Operations Division of the Liberian National Police (LNP), which he used as his own private army.
Numerous allegations were leveled at Taylor during his presidency, particularly regarding his involvement in the Sierra Leone Civil War. He was accused of aiding the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) through weapon sales in exchange for blood diamonds. Due to a UN embargo against arms sales to Liberia at the time, these weapons were largely purchased on the black market through arms smugglers such as Viktor Bout. Furthermore, he was charged with aiding and abetting RUF atrocities against civilians that left many thousands dead or mutilated, with unknown numbers of people abducted and tortured. Moreover, he was accused of assisting the RUF in the recruitment of child soldiers. In addition to aiding the RUF in these acts, Taylor reportedly personally directed RUF operations in Sierra Leone.
Taylor obtained spiritual and other advice from the evangelist Kilari Anand Paul. As president, he was known for his flamboyant style. Upon being charged by the UN of being a gunrunner and diamond smuggler during his presidency, he publicly appeared in all white robes and begged God for forgiveness, while at the same time denying the charges. He was also reported to have said that “Jesus Christ was accused of being a murderer in his time.”
Rebellion and indictment
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 Guinea. This uprising signaled the beginning of the Second Liberian Civil War.
By early 2003, LURD had gained control of northern Liberia. That year, a second Ivorian-backed rebel group, Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL), 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) issued a sealed indictment for Taylor. Earlier that year, Liberian forces had killed Sam Bockarie, a leading member of the 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, the Prosecutor to the Special Court unsealed the indictment and announced publicly that Taylor was charged with war crimes. The indictment asserted that Taylor created and backed the RUF rebels in Sierra Leone, who were accused of a range of atrocities, including the use of child soldiers. The Prosecutor also said that Taylor’s administration had harbored members of Al-Qaeda sought in connection with the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
The indictment was unsealed during Taylor’s official visit to Ghana, where he was participating in peace talks with MODEL and LURD officials. With the backing of the then-South African president Thabo Mbeki and against the urging of Sierra Leone 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 American government urged 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.
In July 2003, LURD initiated a siege of Monrovia, and several bloody battles were fought as Taylor’s forces halted 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 that month. 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, several African states, in particular the Economic Community of West African States (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 Department. 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 to announce that he would resign the following day and hand power to Vice President 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, with Blah serving as president until a transitional government was established on 14 October. At the handover were Ghanaian President John Kufuor, South African President Thabo Mbeki, and Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano, all 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. Taylor flew to Nigeria, where the Nigerian government provided houses for him and his entourage in Calabar.
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 that his critics claimed he disregarded. On 4 December, Interpol issued a red notice regarding Taylor, suggesting that countries had a duty to arrest him. Taylor was placed on Interpol’s Most Wanted list, declaring him wanted for crimes against humanity and breaches of the 1949 Geneva Convention, and noting that he should be considered dangerous. Nigeria stated it would not submit to Interpol’s demands, agreeing only to deliver Taylor to Liberia in the event that the President of Liberia requested his return.
On 17 March 2006, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the newly 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 existed between the two countries.
Disappearance and arrest
Three days after Nigeria announced its intent to hand him over to Liberia, Taylor disappeared from the seaside villa where he had been living in exile. One week prior to his disappearance, Nigerian authorities had taken the unusual step of allowing local press to accompany census takers into Taylor’s seaside Calabar compound.
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo was scheduled to meet with President 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, Taylor tried to cross the border into Cameroon through 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 later reported that significant amounts of cash and heroin were found in the vehicle.
Upon his arrival at Roberts International Airport in Harbel, Liberia, Taylor was arrested and handcuffed by LNP officers, who then immediately transferred custody of Taylor to the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). Irish UNMIL soldiers then escorted Taylor aboard a UN helicopter to Freetown, Sierra Leone, where he was delivered to the SCSL.
The SCSL 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. On 16 March 2006, a SCSL judge gave leave to amend the indictment against Taylor. Under the amended indictment, Taylor was 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 Hague had not yet been made by the new SCSL president, George Gelaga King. King’s predecessor had pushed for the trial to be held abroad because of fear 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 also 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 United Kingdom in the event that he is convicted by the SCSL. This fulfilled a condition laid down by the Dutch government, who had stated they were willing to host the trial but would not jail him if convicted. British Foreign Minister Margaret Beckett stated that new legislation would be required to accommodate this arrangement. While awaiting his extradition to the Netherlands, Taylor was held in a UN jail in Freetown.
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 Airport in the Netherlands. He was taken into custody and held in the detention centre of the International Criminal Court, 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 opened 4 June 2007, Taylor boycotted the proceeding and was not present. Through a letter which was read by his attorney 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 now led by Courtenay Griffiths obtained a postponement of the trial until 7 January 2008. During the trial, the chief prosecutor alleged that a key insider witness who testified against Taylor went into hiding after being threatened for giving evidence against Taylor. Furthermore, Joseph “Zigzag” Marzah, a former military commander, testified that Charles Taylor celebrated his new-found status during the civil war by ordering human sacrifice, including the killings of Taylor’s opponents and allies that were perceived to have betrayed Taylor, and by having a pregnant woman buried alive in sand. Marzah also accused Taylor of forcing cannibalism on his soldiers in order to terrorize their enemies.
In January 2009, the prosecution finished presenting its evidence against Taylor and closed its case on 27 February 2009. On 4 May 2009, a defense motion for a judgment on acquittal was dismissed, and arguments for Taylor’s defense began in July 2009. Taylor testified in his own defense from July through November 2009. The defense rested its case on 12 November 2010, with closing arguments set for early February 2011.
On 8 February 2011, the trial court ruled in a 2-1 decision that it would not accept Taylor’s trial summary, as the summary had not been submitted by the January 14 deadline. In response, Taylor and his counsel boycotted the trial and refused an order by the court to begin closing arguments. This boycott came soon after the 2010 leak of American diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks, in which the United States discussed the possibility of extraditing Taylor for prosecution in the United States in the event of his acquittal by the SCSL. Taylor’s counsel cited the leaked cable and the court’s decision as evidence of an international conspiracy against Taylor.
On March 3, the appeals court of the SCSL overturned the trial court’s decision, ruling that as the trial court had not established that Taylor had been counseled by the court and personally indicated his intent to waive his right to a trial summary, Taylor’s due process rights would be violated by preventing him from submitting a trial summary. The appeals court ordered the trial court to accept the summary and set a date for the beginning of closing arguments. On March 11, 2011, the closing arguments ended and it was announced that the court would reach a verdict months later.
In 1997, Taylor married Jewel Taylor, with whom he has one son. She filed for divorce in 2005, citing her husband’s exile in Nigeria and the difficulty of visiting him due to a UN travel ban on her. The divorce was granted in 2006. Jewel Taylor currently serves as the senior senator from Bong County.
Phillip Taylor, Taylor’s son with Jewel, remained in Liberia following his father’s extradition to the SCSL. He was arrested by Liberian police officials on 5 March 2011 and charged with attempted murder in connection with an assault on the son of an immigration officer who had assisted in Charles Taylor’s extradition. At the time of his arrest, he had been attempting to cross the border into Côte d’Ivoire.
Taylor has another son, a U.S. citizen named Charles McArther Emmanuel, born to his college girlfriend. Emmanuel was arrested in 2006 after entering the US and was charged with three counts, including participation in torture while serving in the Anti-Terrorist Unit in Liberia during his father’s presidency. The law that prosecuted Taylor was put in place in 1994, before “extraordinary rendition” in an attempt to prevent US citizens from committing acts of torture overseas. To date, this is the only prosecuted case. In October 2008, Emmanuel was convicted on all three counts and sentenced to 97 years in prison.[