The Charles Taylor-Al Qaeda Connection

The possibility that Charles Taylor had Al Qaeda connections is not new. David Crane, a prosecutor for the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone, made that claim a year ago. Washington Post correspondent Douglas Farah has been on the story for a while, and has even written a book about it (among many other things). But now that the Special Court is actually gearing up to try Taylor, the details of the connection have gained a little more traction in this AP story.

Specifically, the charge is that some of the perpetrators of the embassy bombings in 1998 went to West Africa in order to convert Al Qaeda cash into untraceable diamonds. Beyond just fomenting the civil war that made the illicit diamond trade possible, Taylor is accused of actually harboring specific Al Qaeda members in Monrovia in June-July 2001. Crane has not claimed that diamond money was used to fund the 9/11 attacks, and, according to the AP story, “U.S. government officials say they have found little or no evidence to support those allegations,” i.e. those of a CT-AQ connection.

I haven’t read Farah’s book, but looking at his testimony before Congress, “little or no evidence” sounds like pretty thin gruel. The connection is there, and it changes everything with respect to what should be done with Taylor. Nigeria needs to punt him, and after he’s tried in Sierra Leone, the U.S. should get a crack at him. It’s exactly the sort of thing that a real war on Al Qaeda should involve. But Nigeria isn’t likely to cough Taylor up without U.S. pressure, so the question becomes: will the U.S. apply it? Clearly there are elements of Congress who want Taylor brought to justice, and Crane himself is DOD. But there are apparently “officials” with no interest in shaking that particular tree—maybe because they prefer to think of Liberia as a “solved” problem, maybe because the U.S. support of Taylor during the Doe years will be embarrassing. They’ll need better reasons than those to keep sitting on their hands, though.

There’s no doubt that pressure to try Taylor would increase if this story got any sort of major media coverage. A link between Al Qaeda and the former leader of a country with strong U.S. ties seems like it should be big news, but have you seen it on the front page, or on TV? Me neither.