Shirley Henderson/AP
Charles McArthur Emmanuel

US Court Convicts Charles Taylor’s Son of Torture in Liberia

October 31, 2008 07:15 PM
by Denis Cummings
Charles McArthur Emmanuel was convicted by a U.S. federal court under a 1994 law that allows U.S. courts to prosecute Americans who commit torture in foreign countries.

Charles Taylor’s Son Convicted

Charles McArthur Emmanuel, son of former Liberian president Charles Taylor, was found guilty Thursday by a federal jury in Miami of torture, firearms and conspiracy charges. Emmanuel, who is also known as Charles “Chuckie” Taylor, Jr. and Roy M. Belfast Jr., is an American citizen who committed his crimes in Liberia.

Emmanuel led a Liberian anti-terrorist unit known as the “Demon Forces” between 1999 and 2002, training paramilitary soldiers to silence opposition and fight enemy armies. During this time, Emmanuel allegedly killed three captive rebels at a checkpoint, and ordered the killing and torture of thousands of others.

Witnesses at the trial said Emmanuel tortured his political prisoners, many of whom were held at a base called Gbatala, using molten plastics, electrical shocks, hot irons, bayonets and biting ants. One witness, a former prisoner at Gbalata, showed jurors scars on his arm caused by molten plastic dripped on him, and testified, “I want the world to know what happened to me so it will not happen again in the future.”

Emmanuel faces life in prison for his crimes; his sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 9. He is the first man to be tried under the Extraterritorial Torture Statute, a law enacted in 1994 that gives U.S. courts the right to prosecute Americans or foreign nationals in the United States for torture or atrocities.

The Emmanuel trial is considered a landmark case for Extraterritorial Torture Statute. Prosecutors and human rights groups hope that Emmanuel’s conviction will lead to the Extraterritorial Torture Statute being used in future cases.

“It is truly historic,” said south Florida Attorney General Alexander Acosta. “It’s the first case of its kind, but it won't be the last of its kind.”

Background: The Extraterritorial Torture Statute

The Extraterritorial Torture Statute was created in 1994, but this is the first time that it has been used. Human Rights Watch examined the law before the Emmanuel trial and called for it to be used more often in the future.

“For the United States to play its role in ensuring justice for the victims of atrocities,” wrote Human Right Watch’s Elise Keppler, Shirley Jean and J. Paxton Marshall, “it is vital that such prosecutions become a much more regular occurrence.”

They found that there are many obstacles facing prosecutors—including cultural and geographic barriers, difficulty in collecting evidence, and difficulty in finding witnesses willing to testify—but they believe that these obstacles can be overcome.

“Congress and the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security are well placed to intensify scrutiny of the challenges and to strengthen law and practice to surmount them,” they conclude. “This is essential if perpetrators of heinous abuses are to be held to account and if the case against Chuckie Taylor is to be more than an anomaly in US practice.”

Key Players: Charles and ‘Chuckie’ Taylor

Charles Taylor

Charles Taylor was one of Africa’s most prominent and vicious warlords during his reign in Liberia. The U.S.-educated Taylor was head of a rebel group, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), that waged war against the government from 1989 to 1997, when he won the Liberian presidential election.

“Charles Taylor’s presidency, which lasted from 1997 to 2003, was characterized by intolerance of dissent and harassment of the press, civil society and political opposition,” writes Human Rights Watch. “Forces under Taylor’s command have also been implicated in supporting and participating in armed conflicts, cross-border raids and human rights abuses in neighboring countries, including Sierra Leone, Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire.”

In 2003, the Special Court for Sierra Leone and a UN tribunal charged Taylor with crimes against humanity and war crimes. He resigned from office and lived three years in exile before being arrested. He is currently on trial before a UN tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, facing 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international humanitarian law.

Charles McArthur Emmanuel

Emmanuel was born in Boston in 1977, the son of one of Charles Taylor’s girlfriends. In 1997, Emmanuel took the name “Chuckie Taylor” and joined his father in Liberia. Six years later, when Taylor was removed from power, Emmanuel fled to Trinidad.

He tried to return to the United States in 2006 and was arrested at Miami International Airport for holding a passport with a false identity for his father. “And he was dealt with there and then,” Syracuse University Law Professor David Crane explained to Voice of America. “The US Justice Department realized they had a little monster on their hands—someone who tortured people as head of the anti-terrorism unit—and charged him with five counts related to that torture.”

Related Topic: Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf

Liberia today is a more peaceful country governed by Harvard-educated economist Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who became Africa’s first elected female president in 2006. Johnson-Sirleaf has been involved in Liberian politics since the 1970s, spending time in prison and in exile, and running unsuccessfully against Taylor in 1996.

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