Page last updated at 22:52 GMT, Thursday, 30 October 2008

Liberia ex-leader's son convicted

By Will Ross
BBC West Africa correspondent

Court illustration of Chuckie Taylor on trial in Miami, file pic from September 2008
Chuckie Taylor led a notorious anti-terror unit while his father ruled Liberia

A Miami jury has convicted the son of former Liberian President Charles Taylor for torture and conspiracy.

"Chuckie" Taylor - who was born in the United States as Charles McArthur Emmanuel - faces a possible life sentence for the crimes.

They were committed between 1999 and 2003, a period when he was in charge of a notorious Liberian military unit.

The case was the first test of a 1994 US law allowing the prosecution of citizens who commit torture overseas.

Charles Taylor is awaiting his fate at a court in The Hague - he denies 11 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Chuckie Taylor is due to be sentenced on 9 January.

Torturing group

Both father and son have fallen from positions of great power and, if Charles Taylor is found guilty, both would face the prospect of lengthy spells behind bars.

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor (file image)
Charles Taylor Snr faces war crimes charges in The Hague

When his father seized power in Liberia in 1997, Chuckie Taylor moved to the country and was made the head of the notorious Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU) while in his early 20s.

This elite pro-government military division was widely feared in Liberia and there is no doubt it was responsible for the torture of many people.

The crimes were especially brutal when the unit was cracking down on a rebellion which began in 1999.

At his US trial, Chuckie Taylor was accused of committing or conspiring to commit executions, imprisoning a group of individuals in a hole in the ground, burning victims and administering electric shocks.

The Miami jury made a direct link between some incidents of torture and the defendant, who is now 31.

Milestone for justice

Defence lawyers had said many of the witnesses lied in a bid to win political asylum in the US or to settle political vendettas.

We now look to the Department of Justice to bring more cases like this one
Elise Keppler
Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch, the US-based watchdog, described the verdict as a milestone for ensuring justice for atrocities.

"Never before has torture committed abroad been prosecuted in the United States," said Elise Keppler, senior counsel for Human Rights Watch's International Justice Program.

"We now look to the Department of Justice to bring more cases like this one."

A Liberian minister told the BBC the verdict sent a message that nobody - regardless of how powerful they are - can get away with unspeakable crimes.

Liberia is currently trying to heal from years of war and at nationwide hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, victims are recounting the heinous crimes that tore the country apart.

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