It was almost worthy of a Woody Allen flick: after three years in relative obscurity, the trial of Charles Taylor was all over the headlines, and it was Mia Farrow who put it there. Farrow had sworn that the former Liberian president—whose alleged support for Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front led to his arrest and indictment on eleven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity—wooed Naomi Campbell with a small taste of the RUF’s spoils. So the supermodel, her former agent and Farrow all took the stand. Suddenly the world was watching—but the spectacle only distracted from the questions that will decide Taylor’s guilt or innocence.
The press was spellbound: the supermodel brought “a whiff of unusual glamour” to the Special Court for Sierra Leone, swooned the New York Times. Campbell was cagey—whether out of fear for her family or her reputation, she refused to say that Charles Taylor had sent or even promised her the now nearly proverbial “dirty-looking stones,” which she says she promptly palmed off on an acquaintance and forgot about.
Those who know the history of the conflict well question whether they were ever worth remembering. Lansana Gberie is a Sierra Leonean reporter whose work with Partnership Africa Canada introduced the term “blood diamonds” into the global lexicon, and certainly no friend of Charles Taylor. “The focus on Campbell’s testimony, if that is meant to explain the ‘blood diamonds’ issue,” Gberie wrote in an e-mail referring to the diamonds Taylor allegedly traded for arms and affection, “is frankly misleading and reductive. The new sensationalism is rather obscene.”
Gberie points out that “Liberia, over which Taylor lorded, is also a producer of rough diamonds. And if the diamonds were, as claimed by Campbell, small dirty-looking pebbles, then they could just as well have come from there.”
So the diamonds would seem to add little to the case against Taylor. The prosecution actually rested its case more than a year ago; it was allowed to place Campbell and company on the stand only because it seemed the new witnesses might impeach the credibility of Taylor’s own testimony (Taylor repeatedly denied ever having laid a hand on a diamond).
“When it comes to linking Taylor to the crimes he’s accused of,” said Jennifer Easterday, a trial monitor with the University of California, Berkeley’s War Crimes Study Center, “I think there have been many other witnesses who have provided testimony that will ultimately be more important to the prosecution’s case.”
In the end, the spectacle only diverted attention away from the dilemmas of credibility and historical authority that have come to shape the trial. Campell’s testimony actually interrupted that of defense witness Issa Sesay, the former interim leader of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). In February 2009, the Special Court convicted Sesay on sixteen of seventeen counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international humanitarian law.