David Crane

FIRST GLIMPSE —David Crane is shown with a copy of his new book. He will sign copies at a 4 p.m. event in Waynesville Wednesday, Jan. 15.

When David Crane was heading to West Africa as the chief prosecutor for international war crimes uncovered in Sierra Leone, he took to heart the advice of then-Secretary of State Colin Powell.

“You’re going over there to make history,” Powell told him. “Keep a diary.”

That’s exactly what Crane did. Though his tenure as chief prosecutor lasted between 2000-2003, it took years to once again face the horrors behind the illegal blood diamond trade that led to unthinkable crimes against humanity that included murder, rape and mutilation.

“One of the very common conditions that result from being in a situation such as this is PTSD,” Crane said of the post-traumatic stress disorder he suffered. “I have it. Most everyone in my office has it. It’s the normal response to human conditions literally beyond belief. As I told the tribunal, ‘You will have to believe the unbelievable.’”

Crane was in Freetown, Sierra Leone for more than three years with a team that investigated and brought to justice some of the most horrendous war criminals of this century. He kept a diary he wrote in every day, and now those memories have been included in a book “Every Livin Thing: Facing Down Terrorists, Warlords and Thugs in West Africa — A Story of Justice” that was published in November 2019.

“From the diaries, I was able to take richness and detail that comes out in the book,” he said. “I even wrote down the weather.”

There have been 13 chief war crime prosecutors in global history, and Crane said his will be the first book that captures the real-time events of the work.

Several publishing companies were vying for the rights to the book, he said, and he ultimately went with Carolina Academic Press out of Durham. As part of the deal, he gets 15 percent of the book royalties, and if the story is made into a movie, he gets 50 percent of the proceeds on the movie deal.

He will spend part of 2020 on book tours. The book’s formal release will be in Washington, D.C., this February at an American Bar Association-sponsored event centered on international law and victims of torture where several Congressmen will provide keynote addresses.

He also has appearances scheduled in Canada, New York, London and the Hague, for the European book launch.

The story

When Crane and his team were in Freetown, the capital and largest city in Sierra Leone, it was called “the white man’s grave.”

“At the time we were there, it was listed as worst place to live in the world. At any given time, there was malaria, typhoid or a combination of both,” he said. “We all got parasites, and it’s a horrific thing. The tumble flies plant larva in your skin, and you wake up with sacs growing off you. We had the household staff iron everything because that kills the eggs. If you cut yourself, you were required to immediately go to the UN dispensary for disinfection. A German attorney cut himself, had to be Medivaced out. He almost lost his hand.”

In addition to detailing how justice prevailed, Crane’s book weaves in the highs and lows of those prosecuting the crimes — the times the team would break down in tears and the times when they would laugh out loud.

“It’s a good news story because the good guys win,” he said. “In the movie ‘Blood Diamond,’ the bad guys won but all those who created those conditions were the ones we put in jail. What you are reading in this book is the real blood diamond story. And after reading it, you won’t buy a diamond again.”

The strategy

As part of his interviews for the job of chief prosecutor in a world tribunal set up to hold war criminals accountable in West Africa, Crane set forth a simple but powerful strategy — to prosecute those who bore the greatest responsibility of crimes against humanity; to be part of a regional effort to restore peace and to work with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission established in the country.

Research teams helped the prosecutorial staff connect the dots between the blood diamond trade that was funding civil wars in the region and tied leaders to the highest leaders in the nation, including the president of Liberia, Charles Taylor. Crane takes particular delight in having a hand in putting the man responsible for such inhumanity behind bars for life.

A large part of Crane’s job at the tribunal was visiting heads of state around the world to solicit funding for the tribunal, something that cost about $25 million a year. Funds were used not only for investigative and legal staff, but to build the tribunal courthouse.

Tribunal investigators were among the first to document ties between Al Qaeda and South Africa, something the U.S. government continued to deny. Even though Congress eventually voted with near unanimity to help fund the tribunal efforts, the book states, the Bush administration drug its feet on not only funds, but in calling for Taylor to be turned over to the court for trial.

Crane’s book is available on Amazon.

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