In Liberia, many are welcoming the recent U.S. indictment of Charles Taylor Jr., son of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, on counts of torture. This is the first time the U.S. government has used its anti-torture law to bring charges against a U.S. citizen for abuses committed abroad. A lawyer representing one victim of the younger Taylor in a civil suit says he and his client will be watching the proceedings closely. Kari Barber reports from our West Africa bureau in Dakar.
Charles Taylor Jr., known as Chuckie, commanded the infamous Anti-Terrorist Unit during his father's presidency in Liberia. Witnesses say the unit was responsible for attacks on civilians and that Chuckie Taylor himself tortured prisoners and killed his own military trainees.
Victims in Liberia are speaking out about the abuses they say they incurred at the hands of the former president's son.
Adolphus Willie, who works as a shoeshiner, is quoted as saying he was arrested by Chuckie Taylor's men after trying to flee a gun battle between militias. He says he was put in water with feces and that Taylor himself forced him to stare into the sun for several hours.
One taxi driver says Taylor's unit accused him of being a rebel fighter. He says Taylor Jr. stripped him naked, wrapped him in a thin sponge and flogged him for hours with sticks and military belts.
Then, he says, he was detained for 10 months. He says he can still feel the pains in his back from the beatings.
Taylor was born in Massachussetts. In court in the United States, where he was indicted, Taylor denied any wrongdoing.
Liberian human rights activist Aloysius Toe says for those who believe they have been victims of torture, Taylor Jr.'s indictment gives hope that justice may be served.
He said, "The news of this indictment has given them some hope that indeed the man who inflicted harm upon them is not going to go unpunished."
"So yes there are a lot of people in Liberia currently who were victimized by acts of torture by Mr. Chuckie," he added.
For Liberians, Toe says, Taylor's indictment is a sign that the impunity enjoyed by many of Liberia's war criminals may be breaking down.
Matt Eisenbrandt is legal director at The Center for Justice and Accountability, a U.S. non-governmental organization that organizes civil suits on behalf of torture survivors. Since March, Eisenbrandt has been working on a case against Taylor on behalf of a client who says Taylor personally tortured him. Eisenbrandt says he and his client are eager to see the results of the U.S. grand jury indictment.
"We represent a person who was tortured directly by Chuckie Taylor, and we are thrilled to see that the U.S. government has for the first time indicted someone on torture charges. We are going to be monitoring that case closely, and our client is very interested in seeing him prosecuted criminally," he said.
Eisenbrandt says in the past torture victims living in the United States, like his client, could only press civil suits against their alleged torturers. Abusers would not face jail time under a civil suit.
Eisenbrandt says his phone line is open to those who claim Taylor, or other Liberians living in the U.S., have tortured them.
He said, "We know that there are other Liberian human rights abusers in the United States, and we are very receptive to anybody who wants to call and talk to us about mechanisms for accountability for what has happened to them."
Eisenbrandt says he has already received calls from many people who say they were victimized by Chuckie Taylor.
Chuckie Taylor, along with his father, Charles Taylor, was forced to flee Liberia in 2003. Taylor Jr. was arrested at Miami International Airport on passport-fraud charges in March when he tried to re-enter the United States.
Charles Taylor is facing war crimes charges and charges against humanity in a U.N.-backed special court for his involvement in Sierra Leone's civil war.