Image: Former Liberian President Charles Taylor
AFP - Getty Images
Former Liberian President Charles Taylor sits in the courtroom of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, during his war crimes trial on July 13. Taylor faces 11 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the 1991-2002 civil war in Sierra Leone.
updated 7/21/2009 11:47:44 AM ET 2009-07-21T15:47:44

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor said Tuesday that a key prosecution witness at his war crimes trial was a low-level official who "went crazy" years before testifying against him.

Taylor used his fifth day on the witness stand at the Special Court for Sierra Leone to try to discredit witness Varmuyan Sherif, who told judges he was a close Taylor aide.

Sherif said last year he saw Taylor smuggle weapons and ammunition to rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone in rice sacks in defiance of an arms embargo.

He said Taylor was "the father" of the Revolutionary United Front, a Sierra Leone rebel group notorious for hacking off the limbs of civilians in a campaign of terror prosecutors say Taylor steered from his presidential mansion in Liberia.

Part of inner circle?
Prosecutors billed Sherif as the first member of Taylor's inner circle to testify as his trial opened.

But Taylor insisted Sherif was responsible only for his presidential motorcade and later "lost his mind."

He said Sherif was a former enemy commander who was only given a job in an act of reconciliation among former warring factions after Taylor won 1997 presidential elections.

"I would be cuckoo to take an enemy soldier and tell him to go and take arms to anyone," Taylor said.

He added that Sherif later suffered a mental breakdown.

"He went crazy," Taylor said. "Varmuyan was on the streets, naked and eating from garbage."

Accused of murder, rape
Sherif also accused Taylor of using child soldiers in fighting formations called Small Boys Units. Taylor has repeatedly denied that allegation since taking the stand, though he concedes that some children tagged along with their elder brothers as they went into battle zones.

The court has charged Taylor with 11 counts of murder, rape and recruiting child soldiers by the Sierra Leone militias he is accused of arming and supporting. He is the first African head of state put on trial at an international war crimes court.

On Monday, Taylor forcefully rejected allegations he had stashed millions of dollars in foreign bank accounts.

"I challenge the United Nations and any human being on this planet to bring one bank account" to the court. "Bring the millions here, please," he said.

Taylor claims to be penniless and is being represented by a court-funded legal team that prosecutors say costs $130,000 a month.

More on Charles Taylor

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