Image: Charles Taylor
Michael Kooren  /  AP
Former Liberian President Charles Taylor is seen in court as his trial reopens at the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague, Netherlands, on Friday.
updated 1/30/2009 11:35:14 AM ET 2009-01-30T16:35:14

A man who had both hands hacked off during Sierra Leone's civil war testified Friday as the last prosecution witness in the war crimes case against Charles Taylor.

The former Liberian president's defense lawyer said he now plans to call for Taylor's acquittal. If judges refuse, Courtenay Griffiths told The Associated Press he will likely call Taylor as his first defense witness, but only after a delay to allow him to prepare his case.

"He can't wait (to testify)," Griffiths said.

Taylor has pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity including murder, torture and using child soldiers.

Prosecutors accuse him of masterminding crimes in Sierra Leone from his power base in neighboring Liberia, where he was a warlord who rose to become president from 1997-2003.

Alusine Conteh, the stumps of both arms wrapped in white bandages, told judges that rebels hacked off his hands in January 1999 as rival armed factions battled for control of the Sierra Leone capital of Freetown.

Such amputations were the calling card of rebels during Sierra Leone's 11-year conflict.

Second hand traded for son's
Conteh, 59, said rebels hacked off his left hand with an ax in front of his wife and 4-year-old son. When the child screamed at them, the rebels got ready to amputate one of his hands, Conteh told judges.

"I said I would rather you cut off my second hand," he said. "I placed my hand (on a slab) and they hacked it twice."

Conteh was the last of 91 witnesses called by prosecutors. Many were victims of atrocities by rebels allegedly supported by Taylor during a conflict fueled by so-called "blood diamonds."

Others were from Taylor's inner circle who testified about his links to Sierra Leone's rebels, particularly the notorious Revolutionary United Front.

Trail resumes after six month boycott
The trial started in June 2007 but was halted for six months after Taylor boycotted the opening, saying he could not get a fair trial, and then fired his lawyer. It resumed in January 2008.

Earlier this month, Taylor's son, Charles McArthur Emmanuel, was sentenced to 97 years imprisonment by a court in Miami for torturing people when he led his father's Anti-Terrorist Unit in Liberia.

Taylor is being tried by the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone in a courtroom rented from the International Criminal Court because of fears that holding the case in Sierra Leone could spark fresh unrest in the West African nation.

Griffiths said that as well as seeking an immediate acquittal he will ask judges for a six-month adjournment to allow him time to travel to Africa to prepare his defense.

More on: Charles Taylor | Sierra Leone

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