In Brooklyn, I watched on my laptop, awake and jet lagged at 5 am. I streamed the trial and incessantly refreshed Twitter and Facebook, eager to hear updates from Monrovia and Freetown.
In Liberia, just as the verdict was announced, a rainbow-like halo formed around the sun, several friends and colleagues said. Many Liberians interpret this as an sign of the death of an important person.
Taylor might be dead in the water, but for some, the trial is a political farce aimed at making a fool of a beloved leader, while George Bush, Ellen Johnson, and General Butt Naked walk the streets with impunity. For now, things are still calm, it seems.
Ever since Charles Taylor was extradited to the Hague in 2006, there have been two trials going on. One – the criminal inquiry into whether he is guilty of the 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity relating to his involvement in the decade-long civil war in Sierra Leone in the 1990s. For many, including the thousands of victims in Sierra Leone, the fact of the trial was only an important precursor to establishing his obvious guilt; a fair process to add the stamp of legitimacy to the inevitable outcome. Today, as they watched Taylor be convicted of aiding and abetting war crimes on all counts, they have seen justice done.
The second – the one popularly discussed in Liberia, which has watched its former president become the first African head of state to be convicted for war crimes – is the trial of the system of international criminal justice itself. Here, and perhaps here alone, many people believe Taylor is innocent and his conviction an injustice. The fact that guilt for joint criminal enterprise and command responsibility of the RUF– more serious charges than aiding and abetting – could not be proved against Taylor, for them is only a cursory nod to his general innocence. His trial is the product of an ornate plan designed by the international community to humiliate Liberia and cement its status as a pawn at their mercy. Vox pops by the Liberian press on the streets of Monrovia report views that his trial has been “nothing but a western conspiracy” and that “there has been no tangible evidence provided” in court.
CNN ran some of my photos from Liberia yesterday. When I struggle to explain why many Liberian still love Taylor, their views on international justice, or the complex understanding of the role America has played in their past and recent history, I find myself thinking back to the day I took this last photo of the Atlantic Ocean from the rooftop of the Ducor: a magnificent storm was brewing.
I’m not yet convinced that it has passed.