Prosecutors at the U.N. Special Court for Sierra Leone at The Hague interrupted the trial of former Liberian leader Charles Taylor last week with some comic relief. They put supermodel Naomi Campbell on the stand to tie Taylor to the trade of "blood diamonds."
Note to prosecutors: If your case hinges on a supermodel -- one who says she never heard of "a country called Liberia" until she met Taylor at a 1997 charity dinner hosted by then-South African President Nelson Mandela -- you probably are in over your head.
It also can't help when she denies receiving any rocks from Taylor, and then coverage of the trial focuses on a celebrity catfight with Mia Farrow.
Aren't you glad, American taxpayer, to know that you helped bankroll this exercise?
I don't mean to trivialize the import of what prosecutors are trying to do. Taylor is accused of war crimes -- murder, amputation, sexual slavery -- committed by militias under his control. As many as 200,000 people died in Sierra Leone's civil wars, which prosecutors contend were fueled by Taylor, his thugs and his money. Witnesses have told of savage murders, rapes, mutilations, decapitations, even cannibalism. Taylor has dismissed the charges as lies.
Given the severity of the 11 counts, you want the prosecutors to be righteous, the four judges to be focused and the defendant to be fearful of a guilty verdict.
But this is a U.N. trial, so forget all that. Think slow, costly and self-laudatory. Since the trial began in January 2008, Taylor has enjoyed a full life. He fathered a daughter, born in February. He converted to Judaism.
While prosecutors charge Taylor with having squirreled away millions, the court declared Taylor "partially indigent." So in 2007, the court agreed to pay $100,000 per month for Taylor's defense costs and related expenses.
As the International Enforcement Law Reporter noted, the then-prosecutor supported the move, noting, "It is important that justice be done and be seen to be done."
I got the runaround from the State Department to the simple question: How much of the trial's $20 million tab will be paid for by U.S. taxpayers?
As Doreen Carvajal reported in The New York Times in June, even France and Italy have complained about the cushy treatment of Taylor and other defendants. The court paid $16,000 for a family visit for one accused warlord's wife and five children -- including "air fare from Kinshasa, two hotel rooms for 15 nights, temporary medical insurance, passport and visa fees and a daily 'dignity allowance' of $24 for adults and $12 for children."
The court granted another defendant $26,180 for "the entitlement of his children to visit their father" this year.