Liberia victims face Taylor's son in US court

AP News
Posted: Dec 14, 2009 3:36 PM

A Liberian man testified Monday that he was held naked in a chest-high pit of filth in the jungle, one of several torture victims seeking damages from the son of former Liberian President Charles Taylor.

Charles McArthur Emmanuel, also known as Charles "Chuckie" Taylor Jr., was convicted last year in federal court in Miami of violating U.S. anti-torture laws and is serving a 97-year prison sentence. Five torture victims sued after his criminal conviction and won a judgment in May.

Now, U.S. District Judge Adalberto Jordan is considering whether to award damages, and if so, how much.

Emmanuel, a U.S. citizen born in Boston, joined his father in Liberia in 1997 and led the ATU, a paramilitary unit know as the "demon forces." The group was used by Charles Taylor to silence opposition and train soldiers _ including children _ for combat in neighboring African countries, according to trial testimony.

Emmanuel didn't testify at his trial, but on Monday denied the victims' claims.

Emmanuel's conviction was the first and so far 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.

One of the five victims, Rufus Kpadeh, said he was arrested in August 1999 because he belonged to a political party opposed to Taylor's presidency and was hauled before Emmanuel by armed soldiers.

"He wanted me to tell him I was a rebel so he could kill me," Kpadeh said. "I told him I had never fought in a war before and I am not a rebel."

Kpadeh said Emmanuel ordered soldiers to cut his genitals, then had him taken to a jungle prison where he was kept naked in a pit filled chest-high with filthy water. Kpadeh said his right arm suffered permanent nerve damage because he was forced to carry a log and his arms were bound at awkward angles.

"It was very painful. I suffered from that, and up to now, I still suffer," Kpadeh said, adding he worries constantly about his safety because "Chuckie and his dad have more loyalists in Liberia."

Emmanuel is acting as his own lawyer in the trial.

"It's not my nature to hide or concede any allegation or accusation against myself," Emmanuel said. "What's important is that I be able to defend myself."

The judge denied Emmanuel's request to delay the trial and reacted skeptically when Emmanuel listed numerous reasons why the default judgment should be overturned. Emmanuel also said he would not ask any questions or testify because of potential impact on his criminal case, which is on appeal.

"I just can't participate at this stage," he said.

The five Liberians did not request a specific amount of damages, but their legal papers cited 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. The lawsuit was filed 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.

A decision on damages is expected early next year.

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.