Liberia victims to face Taylor's son in US court
MIAMI—Five Africans who claim they were tortured and abused in Liberia when former President Charles Taylor ruled will come to a U.S. courtroom next week seeking millions of dollars from the man they say ordered the atrocities: Taylor's son, Charles McArthur Emmanuel.
Emmanuel, also known as Charles "Chuckie" Taylor Jr., was convicted in federal court in Miami last year of violating U.S. anti-torture laws as a high-level enforcer for his father. He is serving a 97-year prison sentence.
The five Liberian victims filed a lawsuit against him earlier this year, winning a default judgment in May that leaves only the question of damages for a trial that begins Monday.
"No amount of money could ever undo the wrongs Taylor Jr. committed or fully restore the lives he destroyed," said Piper Hendricks, an attorney for Human Rights USA who represents the victims. "However, a significant award would allow them to cover the financial burdens they face because of Taylor Jr. and stand a better chance of making the most of the lives they now lead."
Emmanuel, 32, did not initially contest the lawsuit but will appear in court and apparently act as his own lawyer in the bench trial next week before U.S. District Judge Adalberto Jordan. He has already been transferred from a federal prison in Marion, Ill., to Miami's downtown detention center and has filed several handwritten motions.
In one of them, he asks an attorney for the Liberians for details about the victims and their case, but says it's doubtful he'll take the witness stand next week.
"I will not be testifying in the December proceeding, nor do I have anything to disclose at this time," Emmanuel wrote. "That could change based upon the information requested."
The five Liberians did not request a specific amount of damages but cited numerous similar cases involving Haiti, El Salvador, Bosnia, Chile and other countries in which amounts awarded run into the tens of millions of dollars per person. They are bringing their case under the Alien Tort Statute, which can allow damages for violations of international law, and the Torture Victims Protection Act that permits damages for torture and illegal killings abroad.
Emmanuel, a U.S. citizen born in Boston, joined his father in Liberia in 1997 and eventually led the brutal Anti-Terrorist Unit or ATU, a paramilitary unit known as the "demon forces." It was used by Charles Taylor to silence opposition and train soldiers -- including children -- for combat in neighboring African countries, according to trial testimony.
Torture was a favorite tactic. Victim Rufus Kpadeh, who testified in the criminal case and is a plaintiff in the lawsuit, showed jurors scars on his arms where molten plastic was dripped on them. People were routinely held in water-filled pits covered with iron bars; had biting ants shoveled onto their bodies; were burned with cigarettes and hot irons; were raped at gunpoint; forced to play soccer barefoot with heavy rocks; and were shocked with electric probes.
It's not clear whether Emmanuel has any assets to pay damages. He was represented by a public defender in the criminal case.
"The opportunity to face the man who so gravely wronged them is reason alone to pursue the civil case," Hendricks said.
Last year's conviction was the first and only under a 1994 law allowing U.S. prosecution for torture and other atrocities committed overseas. The trial was held in Miami because Emmanuel was arrested here in 2006 on charges of falsifying his father's name on a passport application. Emmanuel is appealing his conviction.
The elder Taylor, meanwhile, is embroiled in a long-running trial before a United Nations tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, accusing him of war crimes and crimes against humanity for allegedly overseeing the murder, rape and mutilation of thousands of people during neighboring Sierra Leone's 10-year civil war. Taylor denies the charges and claims the U.S. orchestrated a scheme to drive him from power.