U.S. seeks 147-year sentence in torture case

/ Source: The Associated Press

U.S. prosecutors want a Miami judge to sentence the son of former Liberian President Charles Taylor to 147 years in prison for torturing people when he was chief of a brutal paramilitary unit during his father's reign.

Charles McArthur Emmanuel, also known as Charles "Chuckie" Taylor Jr., is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 9 by U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga. His conviction was the first use of a 1994 law allowing prosecution in the U.S. for acts of torture committed overseas.

A recent Justice Department court filing describes torture — which the U.S. has been accused of in the war on terror — as a "flagrant and pernicious abuse of power and authority" that warrants severe punishment of Taylor.

"It undermines respect for and trust in authority, government and a rule of law," wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Caroline Heck Miller in last week's filing. "The gravity of the offense of torture is beyond dispute."

Convicted in October
A jury convicted Emmanuel in October of torture and torture conspiracy involving seven victims and use of a firearm in a violent crime. His attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

Emmanuel, a U.S. citizen born in Boston, was head of the Antiterrorist Unit in Liberia from 1997 to 2003, when his father left power. Trial testimony described the ATU, also known as the "Demon Forces," as an elite battalion used to silence opponents of the president, train fighters for other African conflicts and conduct brutal interrogations of prisoners.

Witnesses described horrific torture techniques involving electric shocks, molten plastic, lit cigarettes, hot clothes irons, bayonets and even biting ants shoveled onto people's bodies. Prisoners were often kept in water-filled pits covered by heavy iron grates and barbed wire.

Emmanuel had argued in previous court papers that he was being unfairly prosecuted for acts similar to those committed by U.S. personnel in Iraq and elsewhere.

The administration of President George W. Bush has been criticized by some around the world and in Congress for using aggressive interrogation techniques. Justice Department memos were seen as providing legal underpinnings for some of the techniques.

However, administration officials have blamed abuses at places such as Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison on a small number of soldiers or agents and insisted there has been no systematic mistreatment of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan or the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Dad on trial in The Hague
Elise Keppler, senior counsel at Human Rights Watch, said Monday that the organization has long pressed for investigations and prosecution of those responsible for torture around the world. The Emmanuel conviction is a big step forward, she said.

"This whole process has sent a message that when it comes to the most serious crimes, there cannot be impunity," Keppler said. "Without a penalty that fits the gravity of the crime, it risks sending a message that these crimes will be tolerated."

As his son awaits sentencing in Miami, Charles Taylor remains on trial in The Hague, Netherlands, before a United Nations tribunal on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity during neighboring Sierra Leone's bloody 10-year civil war.