Thursday, August 12, 2010

Taylor’s Celebrity Enabler

The war crimes trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor has dragged on since July of 2009, nearly forgotten by all but his many victims and supporters until a burst of celebrity brought the trial back into the spotlight.

Supermodel Naomi Campbell had tried her best to avoid testifying at Taylor’s trial about a troublesome gift Taylor allegedly gave her, but in the end, the Special Court for Sierra Leone at The Hague issued a subpoena she couldn’t ignore. This trial is intended to bring justice to a man who had brought turmoil to the entire West African region. He is charged with numerous crimes – from enslavement to rape to torture to murder. Yet Campbell had no desire to provide testimony that could help bring Taylor to justice.

Taylor had reportedly given Campbell what are called “blood diamonds” because they are mined with the blood, sweat and tears of those who were forced to locate them and give them to the Revolutionary United Front of Sierra Leone, which Taylor is accused of funding and from which he reportedly profited. Linking him to the transfer of uncut diamonds helps to connect the inhumanity of the forced diamond mining to his ability to bestow these gems to whomever he fancied or wanted to reward.

Now one might have concluded before the trial that Campbell had nothing pertinent to add and that she wanted to avoid any damaging linkage to Taylor for the sake of her career. However, the testimony proves otherwise.

Campbell, actress-activist Mia Farrow and Campbell’s former agent Carole White all testified and gave conflicting accounts of Taylor giving diamonds to Campbell through his emissaries. Yet they all agree that Campbell was given rough stones or a stone that she knew had value.

Campbell and Farrow testified that Campbell was awakened by a knock on her door from men who gave her a pouch with something of value. Campbell said they were “very small dirty-looking stones,” while Farrow recalls Campbell bragging the next morning at breakfast about being given a huge diamond by Taylor. White said Campbell had been expecting the diamonds and was excited.

Campbell said there were two or three stones, and White said there were five or six. Farrow said Campbell told her she received a diamond, not stones.
Campbell said she didn’t know the stones were diamonds because she was used to seeing them “shiny in a box.” White said Campbell was disappointed that the diamonds were neither shiny nor large.

Campbell acknowledged at her breakfast the next day that the stones were from Charles Taylor after Farrow and White said that’s who they were from. Farrow and White both say Campbell already knew who gave her the stones.

Campbell said she didn’t want to keep the stones so she gave them to the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, which is corroborated by both Farrow and White, although White said Campbell had to be talked into the donation. Jeremy Ractliffe, head of the Fund was said to be reluctant to take the diamonds.

Clearly, Campbell knew this gift valuable, and she certainly would not have opened her door to strangers at night nor taken something from them. She certainly must have known what the gift was and who it was from. Being charitable, you could assume that she was ignorant of world events and was unaware of how such diamonds were obtained. Nevertheless, by now she would have known the importance of what she was given, and one would think she would want to bring to justice a man who had caused the misery of so many people for those “small dirty-looking stones.”

At best, she came off looking like a vapid airhead who would accept bling from anyone willing to gift her, and at worst, she looks like a greedy, jewelry-hungry woman who only cares for what she can get no matter how it was obtained. Either way, she is not a woman who has any apparent care for the misery fellow members of the African Diaspora have suffered, and even at this late date, cares more for her own image than for what she could do to help those whose lives have been destroyed by Charles Taylor and his compatriots.

In the end, if her image is damaged and she is no longer the darling of the fashion world, it will be her own fault. No one could blame her for Taylor giving her a gift she did not solicit, but she failed to seize the opportunity to give the gift of justice to those Taylor has harmed. As the saying goes: to whom much is given, much is expected. Too bad no one implanted that concept firmly in her mind and heart along the way to stardom.