"Chuckie" Taylor, the son of former Liberian warlord Charles Taylor was sentenced on Friday to 97 years in prison for mutilations and executions carried out in Liberia, in the first US prosecution for torture committed abroad.
"Chuckie" Taylor, who was born in the US as Charles McArthur Emmanuel, was convicted by a federal court in Miami for torture and conspiracy to commit torture in October last year. The son of Liberia's former warlord Charles Taylor's conviction marked the first use of a 1994 law allowing prosecution in the US for torture committed overseas.
Emmanuel was born in Boston and spent most of his life in Orlando. When his father seized power in Liberia in 1997, he moved to the west-African country and was made the head of the notorious Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU), known in Liberia as the Demon Forces, while in his early 20s.
The widely feared Demon Forces used brutal tactics to silence Taylor's opponents. They cut a swathe of terror across Liberia from 1997 through at least 2002, when they tortured, raped and burned people alive.
Chuckie headed the camp where his forces kept prisoners in water-filled pits covered with iron bars and barbed wire. He personally brutalised seven prisoners by pressing hot irons on their flesh, shocking them and shovelling stinging ants on one naked victim who was forced into a dirt pit.
Chuckie claims to be innocent and said his torture case is a politically motivated attempt to make him pay "for being the son of Taylor."
Chuckie's father, Charles Taylor senior, is currently on trial at the special UN-backed court for Sierra Leone in The Hague, on war crimes charges of orchestrating violence in Sierra Leone's bloody civil war. Emmanuel's crimes took place between 1999 and 2002 in Liberia, with the objective to intimidate and silence his father's opponents by any means necessary.
After years of war, Liberia has not tried cases involving serious crimes and no international tribunal is mandated to prosecute past crimes in Liberia. Even Charles Taylor is merely accused of crimes in neighbouring Sierra Leone. Chuckie's case is the first criminal case dealing with Liberia's brutal past.
Dealing with Liberia's haunting past
Liberia is recovering from years of conflict that saw horrific human rights violations. Arbitrary killings, use of child soldiers, rape and sexual violence, separation of families and looting and destruction of properties have scarred the west-African country. Out of a population of 3 million, an estimated 300,000 Liberians were killed, with as many as 1.5 million displaced.
The only mechanism in place to confront these dark pages of Liberia's past, is a a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The TRC, which is currently wrapping up its work, investigates the gross human rights abuses committed after the country descended into violence in 1979.
Most Liberians welcomed the TRC when it started public hearings on Liberia's fractious past in January 2008. Many thought it was the best opportunity for Liberians to come to terms with the massacres, rapes and torture which are still haunting them. But instead, the TRC leaves many Liberians frustrated as the hearings are often the arena in which denial resonates loudest.