Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Extraterritorial torture case moves forward

The 1st case brought under the U.S. statute that forbids extraterritorial torture moved a few steps closer to trial when Charles McArthur Emmanuel appeared in the Miami, Florida, courtroom of U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga and entered a plea of not guilty to an amended indictment.
Unfamilar with the defendant, a 30-year-old "Boston-born U.S. citizen"? Perhaps his father's name will ring a bell: Emmanuel is the son of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, himself undergoing trial before the Special Court for Sierra Leone, sitting specially at The Hague. That trial, which has proceeded in fits and starts since the rocky opening session described here, is now in hiatus till January -- the same month that son Emmanuel's U.S. trial is now set to begin.
Emmanuel, said to have commanded his father's Anti-Terrorist Unit and sometimes called Chuckie Taylor or Charles Taylor, Jr., has been under arrest since he entered the United States in March 2006. By that act he satisfied the jurisdictional component of the relevant statute twice over; it applies to U.S. citizens and all present in the United States.
Returned last Thursday, the new indictment is gruesome. It adds to the original single charge of torture 4 additional counts, all pertaining to a period from 1999 to 2003. It contends that the defendant,

who headed an armed security force in his father's administration, allegedly committed torture by burning the victims with molten plastic, lit cigarettes, candle wax and an iron. He is accused of beating, stabbing and shocking them -- including in their genitals.

The five Liberian victims -- all in the United States -- have testified about their alleged violent experiences at the hands of Taylor and other Liberian security soldiers under his control.

Handling the 1st round of pretrial litigation was an all-woman prosecution team including Brenda Sue Thornton, now a Washington-based Justice Department lawyer, but not long ago an international prosecutor who served at the U.N. Transitional Administration in East Timor and who secured genocide convictions before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in the 1999 Kayishema and Ruzindana judgment. The Office of the Federal Public Defender represented Emmanuel.
This summer the prosecution won the 1st round: in a 14-page opinion that surveyed international law as well as U.S. foreign relations law chestnuts like Paquete Habana, Judge Altonaga (right) denied a motion calling for dismissal of the 1st indictment on the following grounds: absence of authority under Article I of the Constitution to enact the statute; absence of congressional "authority to apply criminal laws extraterritorially, where the locus of the offense is completely foreign"; sovereign immunity due a foreign official; unconstitutional vagueness in statutory terms; violation of due process on account of extraterritorial application of the law; and violation of certain 6th Amendment fair trial rights. United States v. Emmanuel, 2007 WL 2002452 (S.D. Fla. July 5, 2007).
Initiation of the 1st prosecution under this 13-year-old statute is to be welcomed. To be hoped for is full litigation of all issues in this case, important not only because of the status of the defendant and gravity of the charges, but also because it'll set the foundation of a jurisprudence for 18 U.S.C. § 2340A, enacted in furtherance of obligations the United States incurred by its ratification of the Convention Against Torture.

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