Once again, HBO defies the ideological consensus of the liberal media, including PBS. Just a week ago, the premium cable network aired a documentary that had the audacity to portray a Maoist combatant in Nepal in a favorable light. Now it has scheduled (Wednesday , September 29, 8pm) a documentary about a war crimes trial in Sierra Leone that dares to ask the question whether justice was being served, even if chief prosecutors—Americans one and all—are cocksure in their conviction that it was.
War Don Don (Sierra Leone pigeon for “The war is over”), was directed by Rebecca Richman Cohen, a former law student who was part of the defense team for a man accused of war crimes in Sierra Leone. She soon learned about the trial of Issa Sesay, a military leader of the RUF, a rebel group infamous for amputating the limbs of civilians and other atrocities. The film begins with David Crane, one of the chief prosecutors, describing his duty in Manichean terms:
…This is a tale of horror, beyond the gothic into the realm of Dante’s inferno…. These dogs of war, these hounds from hell… These were the leaders, the commanders of an army of evil, a corps of destroyers and a brigade of executioners bent on the criminal takeover of Sierra Leone, once the Athens of West Africa. Today, due to these indictees, a sodden backwater, marred and broken, lapping against the shores of civilization.
When I was giving my opening statement, I can remember looking directly at Issa Sesay. I didn’t see anything. It’s the first time in my life that I actually looked into the eyes of a human being and realized they have no soul. The hairs on the back of my neck actually bristled. From my point of view it was almost a religious experience.
Slowly but surely, we learn that Issa Sesay was anything but what Crane described. The tribunal was unable to establish any link between him and the atrocities. Furthermore, the film makes fairly clear that the RUF was not organized on a chain of command basis. This was a rebel movement that contained both freedom fighters and common criminals. Despite Crane’s dogmatic assertion that the movement was nothing more than a criminal enterprise, the film supplies evidence that it was corruption, dictatorship and poverty that created the conditions that led to the formation of the RUF.
War Don Don makes a good companion piece to Philippe Diaz’s The Empire in Africa, a penetrating analysis of how British and American money interests, particularly in the diamond trade, led to the civil war with its tragic consequences. This movie is available from Netflix and highly recommended.
The moral posturing of people like David Crane is all the more disgusting in light of the war crimes associated with the “war on terror” over the past 9 years or so. Ironically, the Americans were able to convict a top commander of the RUF for crimes that were out of his control, while there has never been a top member of the American military brass in Iraq or Afghanistan who has been court martialed for the crimes of men and women who were under their control. As has been the case since WWII, war crimes tribunals are only carried out by the victors, not the losers. Crane previously held the post of director of the Office of Intelligence Review in the Pentagon, something that surely qualified him for being put on trial rather than serving as a prosecutor in a war crimes tribunal.
The chief defense counsel was Wayne Jordash, a British attorney of African descent who believes:
You have to have some empathy with the human condition… If everything seems hopeless, if you seem so poor, if there is no prospect of becoming richer so that you can support your family and provide yourself with the basics, then the choice between picking up a gun or remaining in the dust, I’m not sure that should be so difficult for people to understand.
At some point in the movie, he stresses the need to get away from good-evil dichotomies in understanding what happened in Sierra Leone, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that the dichotomy does apply to a side-by-side comparison between him and David Crane.
The kangaroo court in Sierra Leone cost the USA 225 million dollars, much of which went to paying off witnesses for the prosecution. It continues now with the prosecution of Liberia’s Charles Taylor, who like Slobodan Milosevic or Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir, functions in the demonology of Western media fixated on such individuals in a manner reminiscent of the “minute of hate” in Orwell’s 1984.
One of the people most associated with this demonization project is the Hollywood celebrity Mia Farrow who has been testifying in the trial of Charles Taylor. Her testimony against the model Naomi Campbell, who supposedly received diamonds from Taylor (he is accused of buying guns with the proceeds of diamond smuggling), has made a big splash in the gossip columns of newspapers around the world.
I recommend that my readers have a look at what I wrote about Ms. Farrow (and her son) in a post titled Darfur, microcredit loan-sharks and Woody Allen’s creepy son. Subsequent to writing this article, I learned that she advocated hiring the infamous Blackwater Corporation, guilty of countless war crimes in Iraq, to intervene in Darfur. Such are the blind spots of American liberalism that such an outrageous suggestion can be made. Of course, that is what happens when you live in the heartland of imperialism. You lose the capacity to think critically and begin to operate on the basis of jungle savagery. Beneath the pieties of a David Crane or a Mia Farrow are the fangs of a viper.
Put “War Don Don” on your calendar if you have HBO or know a friend who does. It is not to be missed.