MIAMI – The son of former Liberian President Charles Taylor conducted a brutal campaign of torture and killings as chief of a notorious security unit known in the war-torn west African nation as the "Demon Forces," a prosecutor said Tuesday in closing arguments of the son's U.S. trial.
The monthlong trial of Charles McArthur Emmanuel, also known as Charles "Chuckie" Taylor Jr., is the first test of a 1994 law allowing the prosecution of U.S. citizens and others for alleged acts of torture and abuse committed overseas.
Emmanuel, born in Boston in 1977 while Taylor was a university student there, shot at least three victims and ordered dozens of others tortured because they were perceived to be rebels or otherwise a threat to his father's government, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Rochlin.
Jurors heard from several victims and witnesses who said Emmanuel, 31, either committed torture and killings himself or ordered others to do so between 1999 and 2002 as head of Taylor's Anti-terrorist Unit. Many were brought before President Taylor at the official Whiteflower residence in Monrovia, Liberia, and accused of being rebels.
The African witnesses recounted harrowing tales of being burned with molten plastic, lit cigarettes, candles and electrical devices. The also testified to being stabbed with bayonets, bitten by ants shoveled on their bodies and imprisoned for weeks in small water-filled pits covered by iron bars and barbed wire.
"The defendant acted with specific intent to cause severe pain and suffering," Rochlin told the jury.
Emmanuel's attorney said some of the victims who testified were opponents of the ex-president's government who might have been motivated by a political vendetta. Others, he suggested, would say anything to escape Liberia and win political asylum in the U.S., Europe or Canada.
"They all have a strong motive to get out of west Africa, to better the lives of their families and themselves," public defender Miguel Caridad said. "My client has not been proven guilty of anything."
The former president is currently on trial at a special U.N.-backed court in the Netherlands on charges of orchestrating violence in neighboring Sierra Leone's bloody civil war, which ended in 2002. Many of the victims in Emmanuel's case were refugees from Sierra Leone who were opponents of Taylor's forces there.
Jurors were expected to begin deliberations later Tuesday. Emmanuel faces a possible life sentence if convicted.
Emmanuel is being tried in Miami because he arrived at the airport in March 2006 from Trinidad carrying a U.S. passport he obtained after falsifying his father's name on an application. Emmanuel pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 11 months in that case, claiming at a sentencing hearing that the torture case is a politically motivated attempt "to make me pay for being the son" of the former president.
Elise Keppler, senior counsel at Human Rights Watch's International Justice Program, said the Miami trial is a critical forum for west African abuses to become known. No tribunal exists in Liberia to prosecute past crimes during some 14 years of conflict.
"Chuckie Taylor's trial for torture is hugely important for victims in Liberia," Keppler said. "This is one of the few prosecutions to date for atrocities committed during Liberia's wars."