A federal jury on Thursday convicted the son of former Liberian President Charles Taylor in the first case brought under a 1994 U.S. law allowing prosecution for torture and atrocities committed overseas.
Charles McArthur Emmanuel, also known as Charles "Chuckie" Taylor Jr., was convicted of torture, firearms and conspiracy charges on the second day of jury deliberations. He faces life in prison, with sentencing set for Jan. 9.
Prosecutors said the 31-year-old Emmanuel was involved in killings and torture as head of an elite antiterrorist unit in his father's government known as the "Demon Forces." From 1999 to 2002, Emmanuel's job was to use his paramilitary soldiers to silence opposition to Taylor and train soldiers for conflict in neighboring African countries, according to trial testimony.
Charles Taylor is on trial before a United Nations tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for allegedly overseeing the murder, rape and mutilation of thousands of people during Sierra Leone's bloody 10-year civil war.
Witnesses described torture
A succession of African witnesses told the jury about Emmanuel's involvement in horrific acts, including at least three killings and torture using electric shocks, lit cigarettes, molten plastic, hot irons pressed to flesh, stabbings with bayonets and even biting ants shoveled onto people's bodies.
Many of the victims were accused of being anti-Taylor rebels or sympathizers and were kept prisoner at a base known as Gbatala, where inmates were often kept in pits partially filled with water and covered with iron bars and barbed wire.
"I want the world to know what happened to me so it will not happen again in the future," former prisoner Rufus Kpadeh testified during the trial. He showed jurors scars on his arms from molten plastic that was dripped on him.
Emmanuel did not testify in his own defense. His court-appointed lawyers suggested that many of the witnesses lied on the stand in a bid to win political asylum in the U.S. or to settle political vendettas against Taylor and members of his government.
Defense lawyer Miguel Caridad said he was "disappointed" by the verdict.
"It's tough to defend a case where everything happened across the ocean," Caridad said.
Prosecutors planned a news conference later in the day to discuss the case. The verdict was hailed by the Human Rights Watch organization, which pushed hard for Emmanuel's prosecution and has spent years documenting crimes and violence in west Africa.
"Today's verdict is a milestone for ensuring justice for atrocities," said Elise Keppler, senior counsel for Human Rights Watch's International Justice Program. "Prosecutions for human rights violations committed abroad can play a vital role in ensuring perpetrators of the worst crimes are held to account."
A native of Boston
Emmanuel is a U.S. citizen who was born in 1977 in Boston to a girlfriend of Taylor, who was a college student there at the time. Emmanuel's mother later married a man named Roy Belfast, who moved the family to Orlando. Emmanuel became known then as Roy Belfast Jr.
Court records show Emmanuel was involved in a long string of crimes, eventually leaving the U.S. to join his father in Liberia in 1997 and using the name Chuckie Taylor. After the elder Taylor left office in August 2003, Emmanuel fled to Trinidad and eventually decided to return to the U.S.
The torture trial took place in Miami because Emmanuel arrived here in March 2006 with a passport he obtained after giving a false name for his father on its application. Emmanuel pleaded guilty to passport fraud and was sentenced to 11 months in prison, then stood trial on the torture indictment.
Taylor came to power in 1997 after a long civil war and resigned under pressure from the Bush administration in August 2003. At the time, Taylor was one of Africa's most infamous warlords, allegedly involved in recruitment of child soldiers and arms sales for so-called conflict or "blood" diamonds.