Published July 15, 2010
MIAMI – A federal appeals court Thursday upheld the torture convictions and 97-year sentence imposed on the son of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, who led a notorious paramilitary unit during his father's bloody rule.
In an 87-page ruling, a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also affirmed the constitutionality of a 1994 law allowing prosecution for overseas torture that was used for the first time against Charles McArthur Emmanuel, also known as Chuckie Taylor.
Emmanuel, a 33-year-old U.S. citizen born in Boston while his father was a student there, was convicted in 2008 of torturing or ordering the torture of dozens of the Taylor government's political opponents with numerous gruesome techniques. These included electric shocks; bayonet stabbing; burning with cigarettes, clothes irons, melted plastic and scalding water; shoveling of biting ants on people's bodies; and imprisoning people in water-filled holes covered by iron bars.
"The facts of this case are riddled with extraordinary cruelty and evil," U.S. Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus wrote in the ruling.
Emmanuel's attorneys had argued that the torture law under which he was prosecuted is far broader than the international treaty authorizing it, known as the Convention Against Torture. They also claimed U.S. law making it an additional crime if a firearm is involved should not apply to actions in Liberia, and contended his trial was filled with errors and sentence far too lengthy.
The appeals panel rejected all of those arguments, specifically holding that Congress had the power to criminalize torture and torture conspiracy committed overseas under the torture treaty.
"We are satisfied that the Torture Act is a valid exercise of congressional authority," the judges concluded.
"Those who suffered at the hands of Mr. Taylor can today rest assured that he remains convicted of torture and related crimes, and that he will remain in prison for a very long time," said Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice.
Emmanuel was tried in Miami because he was arrested at the airport in 2006 after using a false name for his father on passport application. He had been tracked for years by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, initially for possible illegal arms violations, and was the model for one of the African characters in the 2005 film "Lord of War."
He led his father's Anti-Terrorist Unit from 1997 to 2003, when Taylor was driven from power under U.S. pressure. The elder Taylor is on trial in The Hague, Netherlands before a special tribunal on war crimes committed in Sierra Leone.
After his criminal trial, Emmanuel was sued by five Liberian torture victims who were awarded $22.4 million in damages. At that trial, Emmanuel labeled as "deceptive and propaganda" charges from opponents and the U.S. that he was "this poster boy for human rights abuse."
Emmanuel is currently serving his sentence at a federal prison in Kentucky.