JUDY WOODRUFF: For the first time since World War II, a head of state has been convicted of war crimes. The verdict came today at The Hague in the Netherlands against Charles Taylor, former president of Liberia.
We begin with a report from Alex Thomson of Independent Television News.
ALEX THOMSON: It took Judge Richard Lussick well over two hours to read out his verdict. But that's after a trial that lasted five -- yes, five -- years.
JUDGE RICHARD LUSSICK, Special Court for Sierra Leone: The trial chamber unanimously finds you guilty of aiding and abetting the commission of the following crimes and planning the commission of the following crimes.
ALEX THOMSON: Murder, rape, using child soldiers, mutilation, sex slavery.
Charles Taylor, the former Liberian leader, planned and aided hundreds of thousand of these offenses over a three-year war fought by his militias in neighboring Sierra Leone. Charles Taylor used diamond money to fund his proxy forces fighting in Sierra Leone.
So the court found there was no evidence that Charles Taylor was the commander of the forces in Sierra Leone that committed these atrocities, but there was clear evidence that he'd aided, abetted and planned what they did in that country.
BRENDA HOLLIS, prosecutor: Today is for the people of Sierra Leone who suffered horribly at the hands of Charles Taylor and his proxy forces. This judgment brings some measure of justice to the many thousands of victims who paid a terrible price for Mr. Taylor's crimes.
ALEX THOMSON: That price still very obvious in Sierra Leone today and in The Hague, too. Violent militias run by heads of state, human rights groups have been quick today to say it's a huge message that nobody is now above the law.
They're sincere, but entirely wrong, as defense counsel Courtenay Griffiths Q.C. pointed out.
COURTENAY GRIFFITHS, attorney for Charles Taylor: Have we forgotten Nicaragua? Have we forgotten El Salvador? Have we forgotten the mujahideen in Afghanistan? Whether you're the president of the United States or the prime minister of Britain, if you engage in such covert activities and crimes are committed, yes, haul in before an international court.
ALEX THOMSON: But limited justice, it will be argued, is better than no justice at all, and, in that regard, a little history was made here today.