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Liberian Leader Taylor's Son Faces US Criminal Trial

The son of former Liberian leader Charles Taylor is facing trial in the U.S. for alleged human rights violations in the west African nation. VOA's Brian Wagner reports that a Miami court is expected to begin selecting a jury this week to try Taylor, who is an American citizen.

The charges against Chuckie Taylor include using cigarettes and an iron to burn victims, giving electric shocks and beating victims with firearms. The alleged crimes took place while the U.S.-born Taylor was in charge of a security force blamed for intimidating and silencing opponents of his father's administration.

U.S. prosecutors are expected to call a number of Liberians now living in the United States and Europe to testify about the alleged abuses during Liberia's civil war. The case relies on a 1994 U.S. anti-torture law that allows for suspects to be charged for crimes anywhere in the world.

"This statute since 1994 has never been used before. Nobody has ever been prosecuted under it. It allows for the prosecution of individuals who commit torture inside or outside the United States, whether they are American citizens or not," said Hadar Harris, Executive Director of the Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law at American University in Washington.

Until now, Harris says, federal prosecutors have declined using the law against other foreign torture suspects living in the United States. She says that employing it now against the son of a former president will generate international attention for the case.

Tania Bernath, a researcher on Liberia for Amnesty International, says many Liberians recall Taylor as the brutal head of an anti-terror squad. But she says people are less interested in the U.S. trial and more concerned with Liberia's own judicial efforts. "They demand justice, they want it done in their own system. But they also recognize there are significant challenges to getting it there."

Bernath says Liberia's government is studying a list of top suspects accused of killings and human rights violations to be sent to national courts.

Harris says there is debate about whether alleged torturers should be tried in courts at home or abroad. But she says the U.S. case against Taylor sends an important message to the world. "The United States should lead by example in terms of prosecuting individuals who have committed these kinds of abuses," she said.

Taylor also has been investigated by the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague, where his father, Charles Taylor, is being tried. The former president is facing charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for backing rebel forces in Sierra Leone.

David Crane, former chief prosecutor of the United Nations-backed court, indicted the former leader and 12 other key suspects. "But Chuckie Taylor was one of those individuals who did not bear the greatest responsibility. He was not an individual who created and sustained the effort that destroyed the nation of Sierra Leone."

Still, Crane says that Chuckie Taylor and his father could face an international trial for their alleged crimes in Liberia. He and a team of legal professionals are readying a proposal to the United Nations that would create a special tribunal for Liberia to prosecute key suspects in the nation's civil war.