Supermodel Takes The Stand At The Hague

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Prosecutors claim former Liberian president Charles Taylor traded in arms and diamonds to fuel the 11-year Sierra Leone civil war. More than three years since the war crimes trial against Taylor opened, supermodel Naomi Campbell’s sometimes testy testimony drew sudden international interest. Brenda Hollis, the chief prosecutor at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, discusses the long trial and Campbell’s testimony. Also joining the conversation is ABC News’ chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross, who has been covering the Taylor trial.


I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Later in the program we check in with some of our favorite magazine editors about what's on their minds. It's our magazine mavens. We've got the editors of Ms., Seventeen and Heart and Soul in the house. And an economist weighs in on that conventional wisdom about how hard it supposedly is for black women to find the right guy. He has unpacked the numbers and he says, ladies, do not believe the hype. We will tell you more later in the program.

But first, to a deadly serious topic: The international war crimes trial that recently drew attention because of testimony from both supermodel Naomi Campbell and actress Mia Farrow. That celebrity involvement may have brought that bloody civil war in Sierra Leone back into the headlines. But we think it's fair to say that eight years since the war more or less ended, for the millions still trying to recover, the effects of that war are never far from their minds and are still being felt.

Just as a reminder, tens of thousands of people died and many more were brutally maimed and intentionally maimed in that 11-year long conflict, including children. Behind the conflict, according to international prosecutors, stood the former Liberian President Charles Taylor. Prosecutors say he traded in weapons and diamonds to help the Sierra Leone rebels keep up their deadly fight while amassing wealth for himself.

In 2006, Taylor was extradited from exile in Nigeria. He has been charged with 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other international violations. And that brings us to Naomi Campbell. Last week, more than three years since the trial opened, Ms. Campbell testified about a gift of diamonds allegedly given her by Mr. Taylor back in 1997. It was after a gathering hosted by Nelson Mandela in South Africa.

Ms. Campbell is believed to have accepted from two men, who knocked on her door, a bag of diamonds or one big diamond, depending on who you ask. Prosecutors say it's evidence of Charles Taylor's trade in blood diamonds for the sake of continuing the civil war in Sierra Leone.

Ms. NAOMI CAMPBELL (Fashion Model): I saw a few stones in there and they were very small, dirty-looking stones. The next morning at breakfast, I told Ms. Farrow and Ms. White what had happened. And one of the two said, well, that's obviously Charles Taylor. And I just said, yeah, I guess it was.

MARTIN: This week Mia Farrow also testified at The Hague about a conversation she had with Ms. Campbell the following morning.

Ms. MIA FARROW (Actor): She was quite excited and said, in effect, oh my god, in the middle of the night last night, or last night, I was awakened by knocking at the door and it was men sent by Charles Taylor and he sent me, as I recall, a huge diamond.

MARTIN: We wanted to talk more about the trial and the impact of Ms. Campbell's and Ms. Farrow's testimony, so we've called Brenda J. Hollis. She is the chief prosecutor at the special court for Sierra Leone. She has worked on a number of high profile cases, including that of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. She joins us now from her offices at The Hague. Welcome. Thank you so much for joining us, madam prosecutor.

Ms. BRENDA J. HOLLIS (Chief Prosecutor): My pleasure.

MARTIN: The prosecution first opened the case on June 4th, 2007. It's been a little over three years since then. I think many people might be wondering why does a trial of this nature take so long?

Ms. HOLLIS: Well, of course part of the reason this trial has taken the length that it has taken is because of delays which have been granted to the defense so that they could prepare to present their own case. But in addition to that, these cases are very complex cases.

And unlike the crimes we're accustomed to in our domestic jurisdictions, which might be a single murder with three or four witnesses, these are crimes with three large categories which the prosecution must prove.

First of all, that the underlying acts or crimes themselves were committed, such as the murders, the rapes, the enslavement. But also that these acts or underlying crimes were actually crimes against humanity or war crimes or other serious violations of international humanitarian law, and that's another entire set of proof requirements that we have to meet.

MARTIN: Can you remind us of what the prosecution alleges in the way of the use of diamonds in exchange for arms?

Ms. HOLLIS: You may recall that our case is basically that Mr. Taylor received diamonds from Sierra Leone that he used both for his own personal enrichment and also as a way of procuring arms and ammunition for the rebels in Sierra Leone.

MARTIN: May I ask you, and I understand that there are certain boundaries that you can't cross in terms of what you can discuss. But as you probably know, there's been a lot of media attention involving the testimony of Naomi Campbell and Mia Farrow and Ms. Campbell's former agent. What has been, in your view, the most significant witness testimony so far?

Ms. HOLLIS: Well, I really couldn't speak to that because of our code of conduct and that really would be making an assessment on my part, which is really for the judges to determine.

MARTIN: I see. I appreciate that clarification. And, finally, may I ask, what is the next step in the trial?

Ms. HOLLIS: Well, you may know, we had a status conference, and at that status conference, the judges determined that they would give the defense until the 12th of November to complete their evidence. Now, assuming that their evidence is completed on the 12th of November, then the question would be if there will be a rebuttal case by us.

The next step after such a case would be written and oral argument or submissions by the parties, and then the trial chamber would deliberate on the evidence before it and would arrive at a judgment on the merits. Or in other words, has the prosecution proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty of some or all of the charges.

MARTIN: Brenda J. Hollis is the prosecutor for the special court for Sierra Leone. She joined us from her offices at The Hague. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

Ms. HOLLIS: Thank you.

MARTIN: Next, we turn to an investigative reporter who's been tracking the case against Charles Taylor and the strange involvement of Naomi Campbell in the prosecution's effort. Brian Ross of ABC News. He's with us now. Welcome, thanks so much for joining us.

Mr. BRIAN ROSS (Correspondent, ABC News): Thank you, Michel, for having me.

MARTIN: And I should say, it was the unwilling involvement of Naomi Campbell. She made it very clear she wanted nothing to do with this case.

Mr. ROSS: That is absolutely the case. For months, they had tried to get her to agree to cooperate, even give a statement and there were no phone calls returned by her or by her lawyers. And, really, it was only after ABC News began to push on this and the producer I work with, Anna Schecter, hooked up with Mia Farrow. We began to get a full picture of the importance that Campbell's testimony might have in this trial.

MARTIN: And, in fact, she told your team an untruth, is that fair to say?

Mr. ROSS: She did. She lied to us. She said there were no diamonds and then stormed out of an interview we had done during Fashion Week earlier this year, knocking the camera out of the hands of our camera producer.

MARTIN: We actually have that exchange. Let's play it.

(Soundbite of archived interview)

Unidentified Woman: You received a diamond from Charles...

Ms. CAMPBELL: I didn't receive a diamond and I'm not going to speak about that, thank you very much. And I'm not here for that.

Unidentified Woman: Did you have dinner, though, with Charles Taylor?

Ms. CAMPBELL: I had dinner with Nelson Mandela, thank you very much.

Unidentified Woman: And did his men bring you a diamond?

Ms. CAMPBELL: Thank you so much. Goodbye.

(Soundbite of crashing equipment)

MARTIN: How did her involvement become clear to begin with?

Mr. ROSS: We had heard just a passing reference that there may have been diamonds and they actually asked Taylor about that. And I said we've got to pursue that, because we have been covering and following the trial and it wasn't getting much traction. There were few reporters covering it. But once the Naomi Campbell role became involved and sort of took on a life of its own. But in that case they were having a hard time proving that Charles Taylor had put his hands on any of these so-called blood diamonds.

And so the fact that Naomi Campbell may have received diamonds from him through his representatives became very important not only in contradicting his statements, but in showing that at that time, when he supposedly gave her the diamonds back in 1997, he was supposedly in South Africa using diamonds to pay for weapons to go to the Sierra Leone rebels.

MARTIN: So, just to clarify, the importance of this is that it ties the transmission of diamonds directly to him.

Mr. ROSS: It does. It puts his hands on diamonds, which he had denied straight out. And it was the only evidence they have of direct evidence because the Taylor defense has been, well, you describe all these atrocities and all these conditions, we don't dispute that happened, but you have no proof that Mr. Taylor was in any way involved. And this turns out to be the one sort of hard piece of evidence that directly connects him.

MARTIN: Is his personal involvement necessary to establish that this trafficking took place at his direction and for his benefit?

Mr. ROSS: Well, for the questions of his guilt or innocence, it certainly is. Everyone knows what happened. There's no dispute of that. In fact, his lawyers essentially stipulated we don't need to have any of this proven. We all agree there were terrible things that happened. But just that Charles Taylor wasn't involved.

And they have anecdotal information that he may have said things, but this directly - if it's borne out - ties him to using the diamonds, which supposedly he then took to South Africa to buy more weapons for the rebels to carry out this horrible maiming and killing of innocents in Sierra Leone which, it's alleged, he was trying to stir up as a way perhaps to extend his power in that region.

MARTIN: We heard earlier, Naomi Campbell's testimony on the stand, which she does acknowledge under oath that she did receive these stones. But there still is some difference of opinion between her, Mia Farrow and her former agent. What is that disagreement about, the nature of that interaction over those stones?

Mr. ROSS: Well, she said on the stand that she didn't really know who they were from. Yet according to Mia Farrow and Carole White, who saw her the next morning at breakfast, she said Charles Taylor's men came to me in the room in the middle of the night and gave me these diamonds. And in fact, her former agent, with whom she has an ongoing dispute, Carole White, testified at the trial in The Hague that Naomi had told her the night before, he's going to give me diamonds. Taylor's men are going to send me diamonds.

And Carole White said she had been flirtatious with Charles Taylor. All things that she denied. So I would say her credibility was called into serious question by her former agent and by Mia Farrow, an activist who at that time was considering herself one of Naomi's friends.

MARTIN: It's a difficult question and I apologize for asking you to speculate about this, but did you get any sense from watching her testimony or when you talked to her, when your team talked with her that she understands the gravity of the matter at hand here?

Mr. ROSS: Not in the least for somebody who says that, you know, she was raising money for the victims of the Haitian earthquake as a humanitarian, but she had no appreciation, it seems to me, for the importance of this trial. This is being closely watched in Africa. Can a man, who's a dictator who's accused of essentially stirring up this horrible civil war, be brought to justice? Is there a way for that to happen or does he get away with it?

And her position was it was an inconvenience and it interrupted, apparently, her vacation in Sardinia, which she returned to immediately after testifying and we saw pictures on the day Mia Farrow was testifying of Naomi Campbell on the speedboat off the coast in Sardinia, in fact, with Leo DiCaprio, who played the lead in the movie "Blood Diamonds," based on the real events.

MARTIN: Well, there you go. Was there testimony about what happened to this gift?

Mr. ROSS: She said she gave them to the person who ran the Nelson Mandela children's fund. Now, they told us they had no record of receiving any blood diamonds. And it turns out, the man who was then the director has now acknowledged in the statement that he took the diamonds from Naomi Campbell, but kept them for himself. That's where they've been sitting for the last 13 years in this person's home, I guess.

MARTIN: Brian Ross is the chief investigative correspondent for ABC News. He joined us from their studios in New York. Brian Ross, thank you so much for speaking with us.

Mr. ROSS: Thank you, Michel.

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