MIAMI – Former Liberian President Charles Taylor's son watched and laughed as prisoners were sodomized, forced to play torture games and burned with molten plastic, a former West African captive testified Tuesday.
The trial of Charles McArthur Emmanuel marks the first test of a 1994 law that makes it a crime for a U.S. citizen to commit torture overseas. Emmanuel was born in Boston and spent most of his life in Orlando before moving to Liberia when he was a teenager to be with his father.
Prosecutors say Emmanuel headed the "Demon Forces," an elite paramilitary anti-terrorist unit in his father's government in west Africa from 1999-2002, and used any means necessary to silence Taylor's opponents. The unit trained soldiers and tortured prisoners, prosecutors said. Former prisoner Rufus Kpadeh testified in federal court Tuesday that victims were forced to sodomize each other as Emmanuel laughed.
"I want the world to know what happened to me so it will not happen again in the future," said Kpadeh, who rolled up his tunic sleeves to show jurors scars from where he was burned with flaming-hot plastic.
Kpadeh also testified he and other prisoners were forced to live in crammed dirt pits for nearly two months in 1999, where soldiers forced them to eat cigarette butts and drink urine. At other times, soldiers shoveled stinging ants into the pit and forced them to play "stone soccer," kicking large stones until their bare feet were bruised and bleeding.
Emmanuel, 31, has pleaded not guilty to the torture charges, which carry a combined possible sentence of life in prison. He is also charged with conspiracy for the shootings of three people at a bridge checkpoint in Liberia in 1999.
Emmanuel was caught at Miami International Airport in 2006 trying to re-enter the U.S. from Trinidad, carrying a U.S. passport he obtained after falsifying his father's name on an application.
Defense attorneys said during opening statements Monday that the torture allegations were a lie. They said Emmanuel's alleged victims fabricated the stories for financial gain and political asylum.
Witnesses for both sides are being flown in from Liberia and other African nations, with special plans being made to ferry them to and from court under federal protection. The identities of the torture victims had been kept secret before trial, which is expected to last six to eight weeks.
Kpadeh said he was arrested in 1999 when Emmanuel's soldiers found a card in his bag that showed he belonged to a nonviolent political party. He and his family had fled their Liberian village after it was attacked by rebels.
Charles Taylor is currently on trial at a special U.N.-backed court in The Hague, Netherlands, on charges of orchestrating violence in neighboring Sierra Leone's bloody civil war, which ended in 2002.