MIAMI — For months, Miami prosecutors and defense lawyers representing the son of former Liberian president Charles Taylor have wrestled over one main issue: The identity of the man who accused the younger Taylor of torturing him five years ago in a police agent's home in Liberia.
Prosecutors have wanted the information kept a secret for the victim's safety; Taylor's attorneys have sought its disclosure to mount a defense for a September trial in federal court.
Thanks to a recent judge's order, Charles "Chuckie" Taylor Jr. and his defense team are finally going to learn his accuser's name.
But there's a catch. Taylor is only allowed to see the alleged victim's name. His lawyers cannot give him "any tangible materials" identifying his accuser. Nor can Taylor, who is in federal custody, disclose the accuser's name without his lawyers' approval.
And, his identity cannot be made public by either side until trial.
The strict rules about the alleged victim's name are yet another uncommon development in the unique Miami case against Taylor, a 30-year-old U.S. citizen born in Boston and raised in the Orlando, Fla., area. It is the first U.S. prosecution of a human-rights violation committed in a foreign country.
The charges were filed under the Torture Act passed by Congress in 1994. The law permits the U.S. government to prosecute anyone suspected of carrying out torture outside the United States as long as the suspect is a U.S. citizen, a legal resident or is present in this country, regardless of nationality.
Taylor, arrested at Miami International Airport in late March 2006, admitted falsifying his application for a passport to enter the United States from Trinidad. He served a nearly one-year sentence on that violation.
His father, who at the same time was arrested in Africa, now faces a U.N.-backed war crimes trial in the Netherlands for alleged atrocities during Sierra Leone's civil war, which ended in 2002.
Coincidentally, most witnesses testifying in the trial of the elder Taylor won't have to use their real names because of fear of retribution by the former Liberian president.
The politician also has been linked to killings, kidnappings, torture and other violence in Liberia, where his son headed the "Demon Forces," a security unit blamed for many of the alleged atrocities.
The younger Taylor, while imprisoned on the passport conviction, was charged in December with one count each of torture, conspiracy to torture and using a firearm during a violent crime.
Taylor, who was assigned public defenders because he cannot afford his own lawyers, faces up to 20 years in prison.
The prosecution is based entirely on the alleged kidnapping and torture of one victim, whose identity since Taylor's arrest has been shrouded in secrecy.
Taylor and his security forces are accused of kidnapping the victim from his home on July 24, 2002, because they suspected he was part of a rebel group known as Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy. Its goal was to force Taylor's father from office.
In court, prosecutors said he was not involved in the group, but noted that "the motive" of the alleged torture was to obtain information about the insurgents from him.
The unidentified victim was abducted from his home and transported to various locations, then taken to the residence of the Liberian president, according to the indictment. His son oversaw questioning at the presidential residence, known as Whiteflower.
The victim was then transported to the residence of a co-conspirator, a member of the Liberian Special Security Service.
His home was the alleged scene of the torture. Taylor threatened the victim at gunpoint and poured scalding water on his hands and body, while the co-conspirator applied a hot iron to his flesh. Taylor electrically shocked the victim's genitalia and other body parts, the indictment says. He also rubbed salt into his open wounds.
Taylor's government held the victim for about a year in an "underground hole," which was filled with water, prosecutors said.
An FBI agent said in court that the victim was medically examined in the United States and that he had reviewed his medical records. The agent, Thomas Gregory Naples, said he reviewed photos of the victim showing hot-iron scars.
He also testified that the victim was in the United States and had identified Taylor as his torturer in a photo spread.
The goal for prosecutors Karen Rochlin and Caroline Heck Miller has been to keep his identity under wraps for his own safety. The victim, who fled Liberia, now lives in the United States.
Taylor's attorneys countered their client's constitutional rights were being violated because he could not confront his accuser in court without knowing his name, credibility and motivations.
In April, U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga refused to issue a protective order sought by prosecutors.
Last week, Magistrate Judge William Turnoff ruled the "government must provide further information regarding the victim" - as well as the name and location of his attorney. He also ordered prosecutors to release the name of any co-conspirators - a step prosecutors have already taken by disclosing the name of the police agent who owned the Liberian home where the victim was allegedly tortured.
But Turnoff stopped short of ordering prosecutors to reveal their entire list of witnesses before trial.
Still, prosecutors were required by law to disclose the name of one witness to the defense because he "disputes the victim's claims that he was tortured by" Taylor, according to Turnoff's order.
The secrecy dispute was settled only days before another unusual legal issue was still unresolved: Taylor's lawyers challenged the U.S. government's authority to file criminal charges involving alleged torture in another country.
But on Thursday, Altonaga rejected their argument.
A Washington, D.C., human rights group, which filed a friend of the court brief in the Miami case, hailed the judge's decision.
"The approach of the U.S. government has always been to deport rather than prosecute people accused of committing torture in another country," said lawyer Morton Sklar, executive director of the World Organization for Human Rights USA.
"This marks the first time the government didn't just deport the person or decline to prosecute him."