Liberia torture allegations unfolding in Florida courtroom

The son of former Liberian President Charles Taylor ran a security force in his father's government with a brutal agenda marked by the beating, burning and beheading of people opposed to his rule, a federal prosecutor said Monday during a landmark torture trial in Miami.

Charles ''Chuckie'' Taylor Jr., born in Boston and raised in Orlando, was tapped by his father to command an anti-terrorist unit called the ''Demon Forces'' that cut a man's penis with a sharp knife before dumping him in a dirt pit, Justice Department prosecutor Christopher Graveline said in opening statements.

''You will hear witness after witness tell about the fear they felt when they heard that name,'' Graveline said, referring to the nickname, ''Chuckie,'' that Taylor went by in Liberia from 1999 to 2003 when he served as a security-force boss.

The Miami criminal case -- taking place at the same time the father faces a war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands -- marks the first U.S. prosecution of torture committed in a foreign country. Taylor, a 31-year-old U.S. citizen, is charged with conspiracy, torture and carrying a firearm during a violent crime.

Taylor's court-appointed defense attorney depicted his client as an innocent man who helped protect his father's government against rebels seeking to overthrow it.

The defense argued that witnesses wrongly accused Taylor of torture in an attempt to get out of the impoverished, violent African nation.

Assistant Federal Public Defender John Wiley said if this case were a ''newspaper headline,'' it would read: ``Desperate and disgruntled Africans accuse American to escape war-torn Liberia.''

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