How does a young man from Orlando, Florida, a short drive from Disney World, grow up to become “a brutal, drug crazed torturer,” is the question Johnny Dwyer, author of the recently published book American Warlord, attempts to answer. Dwyer chronicles the life of Chucky Taylor who traveled to Liberia and became “the most feared man in Liberia.”
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE’s) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) led the investigation of Chucky Taylor, a natural born U.S. citizen and son of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, a human rights violator and war criminal in his own right.
Special Agent Matthew Baechtle, the lead agent in the Chucky Taylor investigation, was working three separate arms trafficking cases while assigned to HSI Washington, D.C., all of which involved American citizens trafficking weapons to Liberia (in violation of the Arms Export Control Act).
“The Chucky Taylor investigation was a spin off from those cases,” said Baechtle.
Under Charles Taylor’s helm, Liberia became a war-torn zone in which human rights groups estimate more than 600,000 Liberians were murdered, raped, maimed and mutilated in a 14-year timeframe.
As commander of his father’s personal security force, Chucky Taylor used torture to suppress perceived or real threats to his father’s regime.
When Charles Taylor’s regime fell in the summer of 2003, Chucky Taylor fled to Port of Spain, Trinidad. Prior to a trip back to the United States, he made false statements on his U.S. passport application.
When Chucky arrived in Miami, Florida, in March 2006, HSI special agents arrested him on the passport charge. Ultimately, however, he was investigated and charged with torture violations.
“That’s one of the significant aspects of this investigation,” said Baechtle. “It began using ICE’s unique authorities in enforcing export control laws and resulted in the first use of the federal torture statute since its enactment in 1994.”
Baechtle said that an extensive foreign and domestic investigation into human rights violations committed by Chucky Taylor during his father’s regime ensued. In December 2006 he was indicted (in the Southern District of Florida) for the role he played in the 2002 torture of a student activist in Monrovia, Liberia. A superseding indictment was obtained in 2007, charging him with five substantive counts of torture, in addition to conspiracy and firearms related charges.
In September 2008, Chucky Taylor’s trial began in Miami, Florida, with victims and witnesses testifying. He was convicted on all counts of his conspiratorial acts including torture, murder and beheadings of several individuals in Liberia, and is serving a 97-year federal prison sentence.
“I had tremendous support from my management in HSI Washington, D.C., who recognized the significance of the investigation and allowed me to dedicate almost all of my time to doing whatever I could to ensure its successful conclusion,” said Baechtle.
Charles Taylor, who had also launched a war in Sierra Leone, was tried by the Special Court for Sierra Leone and found guilty of a number of charges, including torture. He was convicted and sentenced to 50 years in prison, which he is serving in a prison in the United Kingdom.
“I’m proud that ICE/HSI as an agency is featured prominently in Dwyer’s American Warlord, and that I was able to represent my agency in such a groundbreaking and historic case,” said Baechtle. “It’s not every day that one of your cases is forever memorialized in a few chapters of a book.”
For information about ICE’s work to ensure perpetrators of war crimes, genocide, torture and other gross human rights abuses are not given safe haven in the United States, go to HSI’s Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Unit, which leads this effort.