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Charles Taylor

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Charles Taylor
(Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

Who is he?:

The former president of Liberia from 1997 to 2003, the year he was indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity for his involvement in the Sierra Leone Civil War. Accused on violating an arms embargo to supply rebels with weapons in Sierra Leone in exchange for blood diamonds. Went into exile in Nigeria until President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf requested his extradition in 2006, after which he disappeared and was discovered trying to cross into Cameroon. He was sentenced to 50 years in prison in May 2012 by the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

Birthdate:

Jan. 28, 1948, in Arthington, near Liberia's capital Monrovia. One of seven children, his father was a teacher and judge descended from Liberia's original 19th-century settlers and his mother was a native Gola tribeswoman. Got kicked out of private school in his teens, and came to the U.S. to study in his early 20s. He received an economics degree from Bentley College in Waltham, Mass., in 1977.

Personal life:

Married Jewel Howard, a Liberian senator, in 1997. The two divorced in 2006, and she still serves in the government. Taylor's son, Chuckie, by his college girlfriend Bernice Emmanuel, had his name changed by his mother in his youth because she was fearful that the future Liberian president would try to claim custody of him. After moving to join his father later in life, Chuckie Taylor would head his father's infamously brutal Anti-Terrorist Unit. Chuckie was arrested in Florida in 2006 and convicted on charges of conspiracy and torture; he was sentenced to 97 years in prison. Phillip Taylor, the son of Charles and Jewel, was arrested in 2011 and charged with attempted murder while trying to cross the border into the Ivory Coast.

Political affiliation:

The National Patriotic Party, formed in 1997 by members of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, of which Taylor was the leader. The party scored majorities in the country's House and Senate in 1997 when Taylor ran for president and won 75 percent of the vote. After Taylor's 2003 resignation, the party tried again to win the presidency, but its candidate, Roland Massaquoi, won just 4.1 percent of the vote.

Career:

While in college, Taylor joined the Union of Liberian Associations and eventually became its chairman, leading a protest in New York City against then-Liberian President William Tolbert's visit in 1979 and debating the president. He returned to Liberia in the spring of 1980, when Tolbert would be murdered in a coup led by army sergeant Samuel Doe; this launched a period of strife between native Liberians and descendants of colonists. Doe appointed Taylor to head up the General Services Agency, but was accused of embezzlement in 1983. He was arrested in the U.S., yet escaped and disappeared for four years. Taylor returned to Liberia on Christmas Eve, 1989, leading a guerrilla force called the National Patriotic Front of Liberia and vowing to overthrow Doe. This sparked civil war, followed by a 1995 peace agreement and Taylor's 1997 election as president.

Future:

Taylor was found guilty of aiding and abetting war crimes at The Hague. The 11 charges included acts of terrorism, murder, rape, sexual slavery, pillaging, conscripting child soldiers, and enslavement. On May 30, 2012, he was sentenced to 50 years behind bars. Taylor denied the charges and claimed that he was a victim, saying that his actions were comparable to the war on terror actions of U.S. President George W. Bush. An MDC party spokesman in Zimbabwe said Taylor’s jailing served as “a reminder to the dictators of Africa that the long arm of the law will reach them."

Quote:

"I did not and could not have committed those acts against the sister republic of Sierra Leone. I think this is an attempt to continue to divide and rule the people of Liberia and Sierra Leone. So most definitely I am not guilty."
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