"Charles Taylor's son watched and laughed as prisoners were sodomised, forced to play torture games, and burned them with molten plastic," a former Liberian captive told a Miami court on Tuesday. Stories of torture and fear in Liberia resonate in the courtroom during Charles 'Chuckie' Emmanuel's trial.
"I want the world to know what happened to me so it will not happen again in the future," said former prisoner Rufus Kpadeh, who rolled up his sleeves to show jurors scars from where he was burned with hot plastic. He was the first witness to testify against Charles McArthur Emmanuel, aka 'Chuckie Taylor', the son of Liberia's infamous warlord Charles Taylor. Kpadeh also testified that he and other prisoners were forced to live in crammed dirt pits for nearly two months in 1999.
Emmanuel faces torture allegations for heading the so-called "Demon Forces," an elite paramilitary antiterrorist unit in his father's government from 1999-2002. The Demon Forces used brutal tactics to silence Taylor's opponents. The unit trained soldiers and tortured prisoners. For example they allegedly 'cut a man's penis with a sharp knife before dumping him in a dirt pit', Justice Department prosecutor Christopher Graveline said in opening statements Monday.
"You will hear witness after witness tell about the fear they felt when they heard that name," the prosecutor said, referring to Emmanuel's epithet Chuckie. Emmanuel (31) is also charged with conspiracy for the shootings of three people at a Liberian checkpoint in 1999.
'Helping' his father
Emmanuel (31) has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which carry a possible sentence of life in prison. His defense lawyers said that the torture allegations were lies, fabricated for financial gain and political asylum. Their client was just 'an innocent man who helped protect his father's government against rebels seeking to overthrow it.'
Taylor's court-appointed defence attorney argued that witnesses wrongly accused Taylor of torture in an attempt to get out of the impoverished, violent African nation. He said some are seeking protected status such as asylum in the United States in exchange for their testimony against Taylor.
1994 torture law
The trial of Charles Emmanuel marks the first test of a 1994 law that makes it a crime for a US citizen to commit torture overseas. Emmanuel was born in Boston and spent most of his life in Orlando, before moving to his father in Liberia when he was a teenager.
The torture trial is expected to last up to eight weeks, said district judge Cecilia Altonaga. Prosecutors will call government agents as well some of the seven alleged victims cited in the indictment. Taylor's attorneys also plan to put on a defence, saying they will call witnesses to testify he did not commit any acts of torture.
Emmanuel's trial is taking place at the same time his father faces war crimes charges before a war crimes tribunal in The Hague. Charles Taylor is on trial at the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone on charges of orchestrating violence in Sierra Leone's bloody civil war (1991-2002).
Also read: Charles Taylor's son in torture trial in US