Torture Trial Begins For Ex-Liberian Leader's Son

Jury selection begins this week in Miami in the torture trial of Liberian President Charles Taylor's son — the first test of a 1994 law that makes it a crime for U.S. citizens to commit human rights violations overseas.

Charles "Chuckie" Taylor Jr., also known as Charles McArthur Emmanuel, was born in Boston in 1977. When his father took power in Liberia in 1997, Taylor followed and became the head of the paramilitary Anti-Terrorist Unit, or "Demon Forces," which became notorious for abuses against civilians.

Elise Keppler, senior counsel with Human Rights Watch, says the landmark case is important not just for Liberia, but for the United States.

"This trial is very significant in sending a signal that the U.S. government is looking to ensure that alleged perpetrators do not escape justice for torture when committed abroad," Keppler says. "But what we'll be looking for is that this law is applied much more actively in the future."

In 2006, federal authorities arrested Taylor as he tried to enter the U.S. from Trinidad a day after his father was arrested in Africa. He was initially held on a passport violation, but was later charged with torturing at least seven people in Liberia.

Taylor, 31, is accused of ordering the summary execution of four men and taking a direct hand in the torture of several others, according to the indictment. He allegedly took part in beatings and used molten plastic, scalding water and electric shocks to torture his victims.

Some of those men are expected to be among the witnesses slated to testify against Taylor. They are likely to speak from behind screens or in some other manner that will protect them from possible retaliation.

Taylor's lawyer, Miguel Caridad, told the Associated Press that he intends to challenge the witnesses' credibility.

"Might they exaggerate or fabricate torture at the hands of the defendant in order to seek and obtain asylum in the West?" Caridad says. "The question answers itself."

In pre-trial motions, Caridad also sought access to a classified list of interrogation techniques approved and used by the CIA, saying he believes that some of the acts his client is charged with are similar to interrogation techniques approved by the United States. U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga denied the request.

If convicted of the charges, Taylor may face life in prison. His trial also marks one of the first times anyone has been prosecuted for human rights violations in Liberia during Charles Taylor's regime.

During that time — and the several years of civil war that preceded it — tens of thousands of Liberians fled the country.

Many took refuge in the United States. Maryland lawyer Mohamedu Jones was among them.

"The particular allegations against Chuckie Taylor are just so heinous. A lot of folks that I've talked to are just simply pleased he's going to have to answer for his alleged crimes," Jones says.

As Taylor's trial begins in Miami, his father is standing trial thousands of miles away at a U.N. tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands. Charles Taylor is charged with committing war crimes in neighboring Sierra Leone during that country's civil war.

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