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Taylor Jr. to stand trial on charges of torture abroad

  • Story Highlights
  • Attorney warns prospective jurors: Allegations include forced sodomy, decapitation
  • Son of former Liberian strongman Charles Taylor to go on trial
  • Proceeding in federal court in Miami, Florida, will be first test of 1994 law
  • Law allows U.S. prosecution of torture committed overseas
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By John Couwels
CNN
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MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- Prospective jurors gasped last week at the gruesome details of torture described in a courtroom as attorneys navigated the jury selection process in Charles Taylor Jr.'s trial, which begins Monday.

Prosecutors Christopher Graveline, left, and Caroline Miller will prosecute a case that tests a 1994 U.S. law.

The trial of Taylor Jr. -- whose father, Liberian ex-President Charles Taylor Sr., is standing trial in The Hague, Netherlands, on war crime charges -- will present a unique challenge to prosecutors.

The case tests a 1994 United States law saying those accused of committing acts of torture overseas can be tried in a U.S. federal court.

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, where his father attended college, Charles "Chuckie" Taylor Jr. moved to Liberia when his father was named president of the country.

Taylor Jr., also known as Charles McArthur Emmanuel, pleaded guilty to passport violations and served 11 months in prison when he arrived in Miami from Trinidad.

In 2006, while awaiting sentencing on the passport violations, he was indicted by a grand jury and charged with conspiring to commit torture, committing torture and the use of a firearm while committing a violent act in Liberia.

Defense attorney John Wylie told prospective jurors they can expect to hear "allegations of burning people with clothes irons; allegations of shocking genitals with electrical charges; allegations of cutting genitals; allegations of forcing people to sodomize each other; allegations of cutting off people's heads and displaying the heads."

But, Wylie said, "Mr. Emmanuel pleads not guilty to all of these charges." He said the government has little physical evidence, such as DNA, to back up its allegations.

The indictment alleges that under his father's presidency, Taylor Jr. became the leader of the Anti-Terrorist Unit and the Liberian National Police. Both groups are accused of abducting, torturing and killing people. Court documents say people were brought to the presidential compound, where the acts occurred.

As part of jury selection, Prosecutor Karen Rochlin questioned prospective jurors about their opinions of the allegations of torture occurring at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"Is it OK for the U.S. to investigate torture overseas, if parts of the U.S. government, according to reports, have not behaved so well?" she asked.

Human Rights Watch International has been watching this case.

"As the first prosecution for torture committed abroad, Taylor's trial is a vital, long-awaited step by the U.S. government to ensure human rights abusers do not escape justice. The Department of Justice's efforts should be applauded and replicated in more cases like this one," said Elise Keppler, the organization's senior counsel.

Opening statements are scheduled for Monday in Judge Cecelia Altonaga's courtroom. The judge has said she expects the trial to last fewer than two months.

Pre-trial proceedings have implied that some of the evidence expected will be testimony from alleged tortured victims. The government will bring many of the witnesses from Liberia. Their identities will be withheld because they fear reprisals.

If found guilty on all charges, Taylor Jr. -- or Emmanuel, as he is referred to in court -- could face up to life in prison.

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