In an historic ruling today, an international court convicted former Liberian president Charles Taylor of aiding and abetting war crimes. The crimes in question—which include the mass murder and slaughter of civilians, mass rape, and the use of child soldiers—were committed during the civil war of Liberia’s neighbor, Sierra Leone, throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. (Taylor aided rebels in that war; he is the first head of state convicted by an international court since the Nuremberg trials.) Understandably, all of the news today is focused on Taylor.
Monrovia, Liberia—The sirens usually sound on Monrovia’s Tubman Boulevard in the early evening. In the Sinkor district of the Liberian capital SUVs belonging to NGOs, motorbikes, and local jalopies pull over to either side of the road to make way for the absurdly over-sized motorcade that follows. There are men with guns in pickups, cars and four-wheel drive vehicles, perhaps an ambulance, and U.N. personnel in bulky Nissan Patrols.
Monrovia, Liberia, September 9, 1990: Many Liberians once thought that President Samuel Doe was invulnerable, protected by powerful black magic. But, in the video, he is slumped on the floor, his hands tied behind his back, naked except for blood-stained underpants. A crowd of young men in fatigues surround him, some carrying machine guns, one holding a microphone in front of Doe’s face. As Doe cries, a fighter strokes his head gently and then grins at the man sitting behind a conference table in a black executive chair, underneath a picture of Jesus. This man is clearly in charge.
Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa By Jason K. Stearns (PublicAffairs, 380 pp., $28.99) The history of Congo is the history of mass murder. What is going on today—with rebels, government soldiers, and armed groups from neighboring countries raping and slaughtering Congolese civilians—is a continuation of the ruthlessness that has been embedded in this country for more than a hundred years.
I met war photographer and filmmaker Tim Hetherington two years ago in New York. I was working at The New York Times and, one evening, went to the Umbrage Gallery in Brooklyn to the launch of a retrospective of Tim’s work from Liberia. Amid the pale walls and bottled beers, in the center of the room, a tall, dark-haired man held court in an understated manner. Later, I emailed Tim—explaining my own more modest photographic work—and asked to meet him for a drink. To my surprise, he accepted. After that evening in the Meatpacking District, we corresponded.
The United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) yesterday elected Iran to a four-year term, beginning in 2011, as a member of the Commission on the Status of Women. Lucky Iran! Or is it lucky women? Other members elected were Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, and Zimbabwe, joining Belarus, China, Cuba, and Libya. A full report can be read in today’s “EYE on the UN.” So is not the U.N. a horrible joke?
I used to be the foreign editor of In These Times in Chicago. I didn’t particularly enjoy the job, because I have never been fascinated with the world outside of the United States. I am not sure whether I could find Honduras or Liberia on a map, and I have never mastered the current spelling of Chinese names.
Editor’s Note: Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout was convicted last November of four counts of conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and provide material support to terrorists. Last week, Bout’s lawyer filed papers requesting that the judge dismiss the indictment—and cited this January 2006 TNR article as a reason. “As a result of the embarrassing New Republic disclosure of the incompetence—or worse—of the Departments of Defense and State in their dealings with Bout, someone in the government decided it was time to ‘get’ Viktor Bout,” the lawyer wrote.
The Life of Graham Greene Volume III: 1955-1991 By Norman Sherry (Viking, 906 pp., $39.95) I. In William Golding's wittily acerbic novel The Paper Men, the famous English novelist Wilfred Barclay is doggedly pursued by a young American professor of English, Rick L. Tucker, who sees him as the perfect vehicle for the creation of a dazzling academic career. From party to party, from country to country, impervious to rebuffs, irrepressible and indefatigable, Tucker stalks his quarry.
Even for the Clinton administration, it was an extraordinary lie. “The United States did not pressure anybody to sign this agreement,” State Department spokesman Philip Reeker proclaimed at a press briefing in early June. “We neither brokered the Lomé peace agreement nor leaned on Sierra Leonean President Kabbah to open talks with the insurgents... It was not an agreement of ours.” Observers were stunned.