Simon Says

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NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small


Naomi Campbell, the British supermodel, says people are always giving her gifts in the middle of the night - that's why she wasn't surprised in 1997 when a couple of men knocked on her door after she and a group of people that included Quincy Jones, Mia Farrow, British socialite Jemima Khan and Liberia's President Charles Taylor had dinner with President Nelson Mandela in Pretoria, South Africa.

Ms. Campbell the men announced: a gift for you, then gave her a scruffy pouch with what she calls a few small dirty-looking stones. They were uncut diamonds.

Charles Taylor's on trial for war crimes at the U.N. special court at The Hague, charged with murder, rape, dragooning child soldiers, and massacring civilians in a civil war largely financed by dirty looking stones, often known as blood diamonds.

Naomi Campbell denies the testimony of others, including Mia Farrow, that she later gushed about the diamonds and said they were a gift from President Taylor. She told the court this week she didn't know who Charles Taylor was, didn't think the stones were diamonds, saying, I'm used to seeing diamonds shining in a box.

Now, at first I found Ms. Campbell's testimony incredible, but my wife assures me this kind of thing happens all the time - unidentified men always knock on our door in the middle of the night to put grubby pouches in her hands and say: a gift for you. My wife opens the pouches in the morning, finds a few grimy stones and puts them in our fish's bowl. When I asked why I haven't heard men banging on our door to give her extravagant gifts, she reminds me that I sleep through sirens, car alarms and the sounds of our children yelling for milk. You work so hard, darling, she says; I didn't want to disturb you.

When I told my wife some of those stones might be fantastically precious uncut diamonds. She said she doesn't want men knocking on our door with uncut diamonds saying: a gift for you. She wants men showing up who will say: I'm here to clean your closets.

At some point on a ride on the famously luxurious Blue Train the next day, Naomi Campbell gave at least three of what she called those dirty looking pebbles to the man who ran Nelson Mandela's children's fund, who's kept them in a safe until recently turning them over to the court.

Charles Taylor's been on trial for two years, but it took the appearance of a single British celebrity to remind the world of the slaughter of thousands of people in Liberia and Sierra Leone with which Charles Taylor is charged. An old photograph from that dinner appeared this week, with Naomi Campbell standing between Charles Taylor and President Mandela and surrounded by the activist celebrities there. Their smiles proved nothing.

But Charles Taylor wasn't seated at that dinner as a stranger. He was a well-known Libyan-trained professional thug who'd served time in a U.S. prison for embezzlement and shot his way to power in Liberia with the campaign slogan: He killed my ma, he killed my pa, but I will vote for him, which is not as lyrical as yes we can.

Naomi Campbell may have been the only person to get a mint on her pillow that night, but every celebrity at that table gave Charles Taylor the fleeting gift of respectability.

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Simon Says

Simon SaysSimon Says

NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small

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