Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Chuckie Taylor Appeals His Criminal Convictions and 97-Year Sentence

As we reported earlier, Human Rights USA welcomed an important victory for our clients in the $22.4 million civil judgment against Charles Taylor Jr., also known as “Chuckie” Taylor, for abuses they suffered at the hands of his forces in Liberia. Recently, there have also been some important developments in the U.S. government’s criminal case against Taylor Jr.

In 2008, Taylor Jr. was convicted of numerous crimes, including torture, conspiracy to commit torture, using a firearm during the commission of a violent crime, and conspiracy to use a firearm during the commission of a violent crime. His conviction was a watershed ruling in that it was the first conviction under the U.S. Torture Act (18 U.S.C. § 2340). Human Rights USA lent our international law and litigation expertise to the case, appearing as amicus curiae in the criminal trial. After receiving a sentence of 97 years in prison, Taylor Jr. filed an appeal and on May 10, 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit heard oral arguments.

Taylor Jr.’s defense attorney argued that the Torture Act is unconstitutional in that it exceeds Congress’ authority by adopting a broader definition of torture than is articulated in the United Nations Convention Against Torture (CAT). However, Judge Marcus questioned this assertion, citing the CAT provision that recognizes that implementing legislation might be broader. The prosecution argued that the language of the U.S. Torture Act was permissible because it bore a “reasonable relationship” to CAT.

Secondly, Taylor Jr.’s defense team argued that the conspiracy charges against him also exceed the limits of CAT, stating that the conspiracy provisions of the Torture Act are not present in the CAT. However, the prosecution asserted that the relevant provisions of the Torture Act are permissible because CAT obligates member states to assure that acts “which constitute complicity or participation in torture” are punishable under the state’s criminal law.

Lastly, Taylor Jr.’s defense attorney argued that the U.S. statute used to determine sentencing for using a firearm while committing a crime of violence does not apply extraterritorially, meaning it would not apply to Taylor Jr.’s crimes, which he committed in Liberia. The prosecution countered that the statute states it encompasses any crime which “may be prosecuted in the United States” as opposed to “committed in the United States,” which would indicate a more restrictive scope.

Defense counsel for Taylor Jr. also argued in briefs that the trial was fundamentally unfair and that the 97-year sentence was a result of a misapplication of murder and kidnapping sentencing guidelines. However, due to time constraints, oral arguments on these two matters were not heard.

At Human Rights USA we will continue to follow the developments in this groundbreaking case while we work to ensure that our clients are able to collect the civil damages they were awarded to address past and ongoing medical expenses, psychological harms, lost wages, destroyed property, other damages inflicted by Taylor Jr. and his forces.

Thanks to Michael Campagna and Susana Martinez, students at the University of Miami School of Law, for contributing to this summary.

Friday, May 21, 2010

No Safe Haven: Florida Grand Jury Indicts Former Guatemalan Special Forces Soldier for Lying About His Involvement in 1982 Massacre

MIAMI - A former Guatemalan special forces soldier was indicted today by a federal grand jury in Palm Beach County, Fla., for lying on his naturalization application about his participation in a 1982 massacre at a Guatemalan village known as Dos Erres as a result of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) efforts and commitment to deny human rights abusers and war criminals safe haven in the United States.

The one-count indictment charges Gilberto Jordan, 54, of Delray Beach, Fla., with unlawful procurement of U.S. citizenship. If convicted, Jordan faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and revocation of his U.S. citizenship. His arraignment is scheduled for May 26.

To learn more, follow this link ...

Monday, May 10, 2010

US Citizen Interrogated by Thai Officials for His Online Activities

Reporters Without Borders and the World Organization for Human Rights USA (“Human Rights USA”) are outraged that Anthony Chai, an American citizen from California, was interrogated by Thai officials in Thailand and again later in the U.S. for allegedly insulting the monarchy in 2006. Originally from Thailand, Chai was granted US citizenship in the late 1970s. He faces possible arrest if he returns to Thailand.

In 2006, Thai officials also contacted the company who hosted http://www.manusaya.com, the website where comments about the Thai king were traced to Chai’s business computer. It is believed that Chai’s IP address was provided by the web hosting company without his knowledge. In response, the U.S.-based hosting company shut down the website.

“We are concerned about the widespread impact of Thailand’s lese majeste laws, including the direct implications for nationals of other countries, especially at a time of political tension through out the country.” the organizations said. “Chai’s case seems to show that American authorities do not object to foreign officials interrogating US citizens on American soil . Even more scandalous, Thai officials can require American firms to comply with Thai laws even when operating in the US . This is contradictory to US law and protection of national business. We are urging the Department of Justice to take action regarding this case”, Reporters Without Borders and Human Rights USA declared.

Anthony Chai told Reporters Without Borders and Human Rights USA: ”According to one of the officials who came to interrogate me, he said he wanted to finish his report and to secure documents, booklets relating to the Thai monarchy. Fearing that I might not be able to go back to Thailand, I did cooperate with him, the Thai prosecutor and a palace representative fully. They were a party of three. I answered whatever he needed for his police report and gave him some literature and booklets regarding the Thai monarchy that my assistant and I had received in the mail during the past years. I was shocked to learn that Thai authorities have decided to file a lese majeste charge against me.”

The Fourth Amendment of the American Constitution states: “The right of people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Read more about the situation of freedom of speech and Thai lese-majeste law : http://en.rsf.org/thailand.html and http://en.rsf.org/surveillance-thailand,36673.html.

Reporters Without Borders is an international press freedom organization that defends the right to inform and to be informed. World Organization for Human Rights USA (“Human Rights USA”) is an American non-governmental organization working through impact litigation to ensure that U.S. laws are consistent with universal human rights standards.