Thursday, July 5, 2007

U.S. Court Upholds Indictment of Alleged Liberian Torturer Chuckie Taylor, Orders Case to Move Forward

In a victory for torture survivors, the Southern District Court of Florida today upheld the December 2006 indictment against Chuckie Taylor for torture and conspiracy to commit torture. Relying in part on the amicus brief submitted by Human Rights USA on behalf of multiple human rights organizations, the court rejected the defendant’s claims that the criminal prosecution of torturers constitutes a violation of the U.S. Constitution and an improper intrusion on foreign sovereignty. The court denied Taylor’s motion to dismiss and ordered the criminal case against him to move forward.

This decision confirms the long-standing notion that every nation that has ratified the Convention Against Torture – including the United States – is responsible for enacting and enforcing criminal sanctions against torturers, wherever they may be found, and irrespective of where the acts of torture took place.

Chuckie Taylor is the son of former Liberian president Charles Taylor, who is himself currently facing charges of torture, unlawful killings, forced labor, abductions, use of child soldiers, and physical and sexual violence before the Special Court for Sierra Leone. After Charles Taylor, Sr. became President of Liberia in 1997, his son, Chuckie went to work for him as the head of the Liberian Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU).

The criminal charges filed against Chuckie stem from incidents that took place in 2002, while Chuckie headed the ATU. The specific incidents giving rise to acts of torture include “repeatedly burning the victim's flesh with a hot iron, burning various parts of his body with scalding water, including forcing the victim to hold scalding water in his hands at gunpoint, repeatedly electrically shocking the victim's genitalia and other body parts, and rubbing salt into the victim's wounds.”

This case represents the first time that U.S. prosecutors have sought to hold an individual criminally liable for torture. Taylor was indicted under the Torture Convention Implementation Act (18 U.S.C. §§ 2340-2340A), a 1994 federal statute making it a federal crime to commit, or attempt to commit, torture outside of the United States. Under the TCIA, individuals may be prosecuted if they are either U.S. citizens, or if they are found within the United States, regardless of their nationality. Having been born in the United States, Chuckie’s U.S. citizenship renders him subject to liability under the Act. Taylor was initially captured and detained in Miami in March 2006 for passport fraud.

If found guilty, Chuckie Taylor could be imprisoned for up to 20 years, fined, or both. The maximum sentences allowable under the are a life sentence, or the death penalty when an act of torture results in death.