MIAMI (AFP) — A US jury on Thursday found the son of Liberian former dictator Charles Taylor guilty of torture, in the first-ever conviction under a law allowing US prosecution for human rights abuses overseas.
Charles McArthur Emmanuel, 31, a US citizen also known as "Chuckie Taylor," was found guilty in federal court in Miami, after two days of jury deliberations, of taking part in summary executions and torture in the west African nation, court sources told AFP.
Emmanuel was the head of Liberia's anti-terrorist services during his father's 1997-2003 rule in Liberia.
"He was declared guilty," said a spokeswoman for federal judge Cecilia Altonaga, who presided over the case.
"The judge set the sentence for January 9, 2009."
Emmanuel was convicted of five counts of torture, one count of conspiracy to torture, one count of using a firearm during the commission of a violent crime and one count of conspiracy to use a firearm during the commission of a violent crime.
He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
The trial is the first under a 1994 US law that allows prosecution of US nationals charged with torture outside the United States.
"Today's conviction ... sends a powerful message to human rights violators around the world that, when we can, we will hold them fully accountable for their crimes," US Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey said in a statement.
"Today's verdict is a milestone in ensuring justice for atrocities," said Elise Keppler, senior counsel for Human Rights Watch's International Justice Program.
"Never before has torture committed abroad been prosecuted in the United States. We now look to the Department of Justice to bring more cases like this one."
Emmanuel's notorious father is on trial for war crimes by the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone, in The Hague, Netherlands.
The first ex-African head of state to appear before an international tribunal, the elder Taylor faces 11 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The former president, whose trial began this year, is accused of controlling rebel forces in neighbouring Sierra Leone who went on a blood diamond-fueled rampage of killing, mutilation and rape during the 1991-2001 civil war there.
That civil conflict ravaged the country for 14 years and killed as many as a quarter of a million people.
Emmanuel, a US citizen born in Boston, Massachusetts, was taken into custody on March 30, 2006, while trying to enter the United States from Trinidad. He was initially charged with passport fraud and pleaded guilty. In December 2006, on the day before his sentencing, he was indicted on torture charges.
That indictment included graphic detail of brutal killings and tortures Emmanuel allegedly ordered and in some cases carried out between April 1999 and July 2003. One victim was allegedly placed naked in a pit as stinging fire ants were shoveled over him.
He was also alleged to have tormented his victims with melted plastic, electric shocks, scalding water and beatings with "sharp metal rods."
Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who last week was in the United States for a White House Summit on International Development, said during her visit that her traumatized country finally had begun to emerge from the ravages of the war years.
"We've been able to put our economic and financial house in order, tackle our debt, begin to rebuild our infrastructure, put our children back into school," she said in Washington.
"We feel that Liberia can become a post-conflict success story."
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