On January 8, 2009, a judge in the US State of Florida, sentenced Charles Emmanuel, a.k.a. “Charles Chucky Taylor Jr.”, a 32 year old American, to 97 years in prison for committing “sadistic” acts of torture against citizens in an African nation ruled by his father, a brutal dictator.
How did Chucky end up being the first American to be convicted of torture in a foreign country under US Code 18 section 2340, an obscure legal statue that had never been used before?
American Warlord: A True Story, written by Johnny Dwyer, is a chillingly incisive account about how Chucky, an average 15 year old suburban American teen, who had fallen on the wrong side of the law a couple of times, made a life-altering trip to the small West African nation of Liberia to reunite with his father, Charles MacArthur Taylor, who abandoned him when he was only a toddler.
In most situations, such a reunion would be heralded as a critical intervention for a troubled teenage boy that could serve as a keel to steer him away from trouble. At least, that’s what Bernice Emmanuel, Chucky’s mother, hoped for when she accompanied Chucky on that trip.
But, in the summer of 1992, when they made that fateful trip to Liberia, Chucky’s father was a ruthless warlord leading a murderous rebel faction notorious for using child soldiers. And, for a moment, there was euphoria around the reunion of father and son. When Taylor first laid eyes on his teenage son, he is said to have gushed out ecstatically: “Oh my God, he looks just like me!”
Tragically though, that is not where the similarities between father and son would end. Impressionable, to say the least, their reunion jettisoned Chucky onto a morbidly tragic path marked by a trail of blood, rape, torture and murder, very much like his father’s, culminating into his trial and conviction.
American Warlord is a stunning exposé into the perpetually tragic spectacle of ruthlessly corrupt African leaders holding their people captive in malicious poverty and fear…while their families and cronies run amok committing all manner of grievous deeds
Dwyer’s American Warlord is a pulsating book brimming with absorbing details about Chucky’s improbable journey from an American teenager to an ‘American warlord.’ The result of seven years of gritty research, American Warlord is an impressive compilation of information gleaned from secret diplomatic cables; witness testimonies; telephone chats and letters between Chucky and the author, and personal interviews with people closest to him, including his American girlfriend, Lynn Henderson, who left her family in the US to join Chucky in Liberia, where she would marry him in a lavish ceremony officiated by no other than his father, the country’s president.
But an extravagant wedding in a war-addled nation with majority of the population drowning in egregious poverty would certainly not be the only benefit Chucky would enjoy as the president’s son. Though just on the cusp of his 20s, and a high school dropout with no professional experience, let along military experience, Chucky was given free rein by his father to create his own militia called the Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU), which was referred to as “Demon Forces” by the populace because of their predilection for brutality.
As the group’s leader, it was a depiction that Chucky relished, even driving around in his Land Rover with the word “Demon” inscribed on the license plate. And, in his father’s Liberia, where reputed mass murderers like Benjamin Yeatin enjoyed his father’s affection, Chucky would sink to the lowest depths of depravity – ordering the fatal flogging of his longtime driver for accidently hitting a dog; forcing prisoners to take turns sodomizing each other while he watched, giggling; and taking part in summary executions.
In one phone chat from prison with the author, Chucky said: “I personally won’t be defined by my father’s legacy. I’m an individual. It’s just unfortunate that my father’s leadership was the way that it was. Disappointing not because he’s my father or what the personal relationship we had was, but the fact that he failed so many people. My anger is directed at him for failing the people who committed themselves to his dream and those who died as a result of his dream.”
But it is hard to see how Chucky can extricate himself from his father’s legacy. At 65, his father was convicted in 2012 for war crimes and sentenced to 50 years imprisonment, where he is bound to spend the rest of his life. Chucky too will spend the rest of his life in prison. And, the reason for that has less to do with the randomness of a sperm fusing with an egg, than Chucky’s own zest to walk in his father’s blood-soaked footsteps of warlordism.
American Warlord is an illuminating book for anyone interested in wrapping his or her mind around Liberia’s violent recent past. But, even more, it is a stunning exposé into the perpetually tragic spectacle of ruthlessly corrupt African leaders holding their people captive in malicious poverty and fear, while their families and cronies run amok committing all manner of grievous deeds.