The son of former Liberian President Charles Taylor was indicted Wednesday on U.S. charges of committing torture as chief of a violent paramilitary unit during his father's regime, marking the first time a 12-year-old federal anti-torture law has ever been used, U.S. officials said.
Charles McArthur Emmanuel, also known as Charles "Chuckie" Taylor Jr. and Roy M. Belfast Jr., was charged in a three-count federal indictment with committing torture overseas as a U.S. citizen as well as conspiracy. He was born in Boston in 1977 to a former girlfriend of Taylor, who was a college student there at the time.
Because Emmanuel, 29, was born in the United States, prosecutors charged him under a 1994 law making it a crime for a U.S. citizen to commit torture or war crimes abroad. Emmanuel is already in custody in Miami awaiting sentencing for falsifying his father's name to get a passport he used to enter the United States from Trinidad in March.
"This marks the first time the Justice Department has charged a defendant with the crime of torture," Assistant Attorney General Fisher said in a statement. "Crimes such as these will not go unanswered."
Emmanuel headed the Anti-Terrorist Unit in Liberia after his father became president in 1997. The indictment says that on July 24, 2002, the unit and National Police abducted an unnamed man from his home, and Emmanuel was seen interrogating him at Taylor's presidential residence, known as Whiteflower.
Later, according to the indictment, the man was taken to another residence where Emmanuel and others allegedly burned him with a hot iron, forced him at gunpoint to hold scalding water, used electric shocks on his genitalia and other body parts and rubbed salt into this wounds.
Emmanuel's court-appointed lawyer, Miguel Caridad, declined comment on the new charges.
Human Rights Watch, a nonprofit international rights group, and Liberian witnesses have said the unit was involved in many other murders, torture, abuse of civilians, recruitment of child soldiers and looting.
Emmanuel's father, meanwhile, faces trial next spring in The Hague, Netherlands, on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for allegedly overseeing the murder, rape and mutilation of thousands of people during Sierra Leone's bloody 10-year civil war, many hacked to death with machetes. Taylor has pleaded not guilty.
Emmanuel pleaded guilty in September to lying on his passport application by listing his father as "Steven Daniel Smith" rather than Taylor or his stepfather, Roy Belfast. Emmanuel legally changed his name to Roy Belfast Jr. in 1990 and had a long criminal record as a child in the Orlando, Fla., area under that name, according to court documents.
Sentencing was scheduled for Thursday in the passport case, with prosecutors seeking a nearly two-year prison term.
In a written statement to the judge in passport case, Emmanuel said he falsified the name to get around a United Nations travel ban imposed on both him and his father. But Emmanuel said he was the victim of a "smear campaign" regarding the alleged Liberian atrocities, mentioning the 2005 Hollywood film "Lord of War" as an example.
"I am alongside my father depicted as a gold gun toting made man who lusts for girls with cowboy hats along with diamonds and money," Emmanuel wrote. "I wish not for these allegations, perceptions, and hypothefications to exist; clearly they are above the realm of reality."
Emmanuel joined his father in Liberia in 1997, three years after fleeing prosecution in Orlando on attempted robbery, aggravated assault and other charges, court documents show. Taylor had taken office that year after leading a rebel group against former President Samuel Doe during a seven-year civil war that claimed some 250,000 lives.
Taylor fled Liberia in 2003 after his indictment by the special Sierra Leone court. He was arrested in Africa one day before his son was apprehended March 30 at Miami International Airport.