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American Warlord

Page 3 of 4

When Chucky appeared on the base, Mulbah recalls, a commander would ring a bell and shout, "Movement, cease!" Chucky would then address the recruits. "Gentlemen, this is training base," he warned. "When you come here, you abide by our own law. When you go above the law, the law will lay hand on you." Recruits were disciplined by being beaten as they carried massive logs. Mulbah received 25 lashes from his own best friend on Chucky's orders after failing to hit a bottle during target practice. At one point, he says, Taylor removed Chucky from the base "because of his wickedness."

The Anti-Terrorist Unit soon became the best-equipped – and ultimately the most powerful outfit in Taylor's security apparatus. In April 1999, a rebel group attacked the town of Voinjama, near the border with Guinea. As described in the federal indictment, Chucky traveled to a checkpoint near the site of the attack with members of the Anti-Terrorist Unit. Civilians fleeing the town streamed over the St. Paul River Bridge, deeper into Liberia. Chucky stopped a group passing through the checkpoint. He asked whether there were rebels among them. According to the indictment, he then "selected three persons from the group and summarily shot them in front of the others." The ATU detained several survivors and brought them to the base at Gbatala; by that time the prisoners had been pistol-whipped by Chucky and several ATU officers. The prisoners were then tossed into pits, which were covered with iron bars and barbed wire, and subjected to a laundry list of torture, including being burned by cigarettes and having plastic melted on their genitals. At one point, according to the indictment, Chucky ordered the execution of a prisoner, but when an ATU officer raised his gun, Chucky instructed him to cut off the man's head instead. Several officers held the man down, forcing his head over a bucket. "The soldiers then severed [the victim's] head by cutting his throat from back to front as blood dripped into the bucket, while he screamed and begged for his life," the indictment states.

Some close to Chucky claim that he had little to do with the Anti-Terrorist Unit. "He was a military adviser," says Samuel Nimley, a former ATU commander. "As a military adviser, he could assume leadership of any unit." Nimley is especially dismissive of those accusing Chucky. "If you get bitten by a snake once," he says, "even if you see a worm, you will get frightened."

Yet many others insist that Chucky directed the ATU. "He started doing the Anti-Terrorist Unit, and he was really proud of it," Henderson says. Tarnue, the general who served under Chucky, says he witnessed the president's son ordering executions at Gbatala. When he confronted Taylor about the abuses, however, the president refused to hear any criticism of his son. Ultimately, Chucky had Tarnue arrested and brought to the holding cell near Chucky's office behind the Executive Mansion. There, ATU officers tied Tarnue's arms behind his back, slammed a rifle butt into his eye, gouged his face with a bottle cap and yanked on his genitals with a rope.

Tarnue is no stranger to war atrocities. As a general in the NPFL, Taylor's fighting force, he trained an army notorious for murder, rape, torture and mutilation, though he denies any direct involvement in human rights violations. Today he works as a security guard in Baltimore and serves as a witness for the Special Court for Sierra Leone, recasting himself as a victim of the same human rights abuses the forces he commanded have been accused of. "Chucky, he knew that he was a U.S. citizen," Tarnue says. "But the atrocities that he committed were because his father was the president. He feel that he become lawless. He became the commander of the ATU and had all the authoritativeness to do anything to anybody. And the father couldn't do anything about it."

Before long, Chucky's ambition spilled over Liberia's borders. Following his father's lead, he began providing arms and personnel to Sierra Leone. He became involved in smuggling gems, a trade that drew all brands of international criminals to Liberia, including operatives for Al Qaeda. Chucky worked with Israeli arms dealer Leonid Minin and South African mercenary Fred Rindle to orchestrate diamond deals that would in turn fuel weapons purchases. His trade in "blood diamonds" earned him an honor also bestowed on his father: a travel ban issued by the U.N. Security Council.

In August 2000, Chucky's name turned up when Italian police stormed a hotel room outside Milan and found Minin passing the evening with four prostitutes and 58 grams of cocaine. Minin's personal effects included more than $25,000 in cash, $500,000 in diamonds and 1,500 pages of documents. Several faxes mentioned Chucky. One detailed a "special package for JUNIOR" of 100 "units" (what Italian officials believed to be missiles). After Minin's arrest, according to documents seized by the Italian police, Chucky faxed a final message signed "Charles McArthur Taylor Junior" that read, "And from this day forward never in your life ever contact me again."

Chucky's personal life also began to suffer. His young wife had undergone the jarring transition from an American high school to being the wife of one of Liberia's most notorious warlords. She rarely ventured beyond the couple's oceanfront villa, where she cared for their young son. Although she insists that she had little inkling of the terror her husband inspired, their marriage started to fall apart. The president took notice and counseled Henderson to stand by Chucky. "The patient dog gets the biggest bone," he told her.

But Chucky's personality was taking on what Henderson calls a "Dr. Jekyll/ Mr. Hyde" turn. One day Chucky came home with his hand in a cast; Henderson believed he'd broken it punching someone. The deeper he became involved in the Anti-Terrorist Unit, the less she recognized the sweet, shy boy she'd known from Orlando. "One day he decided he just didn't want to be in a relationship," Henderson says. "He couldn't deal with being a husband and a father." She filed for divorce in 2002 and returned to Orlando. Chucky rarely contacted his wife and child, and provided no support for his family.

In the years they were apart, Chucky's violence spun out of control, encompassing even those closest to him. On the streets of Monrovia, average Liberians still recite the enduring legend that Chucky murdered his own driver, a man named Isaac Gono, for hitting a dog and denting Chucky's BMW. One human rights report quotes Chucky as ordering his bodyguards to beat Gono "till you see his bones and shit." The Justice and Peace Coalition, another human rights group, received a letter from Gono's family indicating that he was beaten to death by ATU officers "allegedly acting upon the instructions of Charles Taylor Jr. on September 18th, 2002, at about 4 a.m." According to the report, the Liberian Ministry of Defense denied Chucky's involvement, attributing Gono's death to "manhandling" by two ATU officers.

George Wortuah, Gono's brother-in-law, lives on the outskirts of Monrovia, not far from Chucky's beachfront home. As Wortuah tells it, Gono had grown close to Chucky, a relationship that made the other officers jealous. "The bodyguards beat Isaac because of Chucky gave order to punish Isaac," he says in Liberian English. When the guards finished, they drove Gono's body to JFK Medical Center. Wortuah viewed the corpse there. The body was mutilated, Gono's clothes torn to shreds by the ferocity of the attack.

Soon afterward, Chucky summoned the family. "He apologized," Wortuah recalls. "He assured us he ordered his bodyguard to punish Isaac. He don't say you should beat him to kill him. That was mistake." At the meeting, Chucky gave the family $1,000 in cash for Gono's two children, Eventually, Wortuah says, the family received $16,000 to pay for the funeral and provide for the children. The money came directly from President Taylor.

Taylor may have tolerated and even encouraged the abuses Chucky carried out against helpless civilians and his enemies, but he couldn't stomach the senseless murder of an ATU officer. Soon after Gono's death, Taylor revoked Chucky's command. By this point, Taylor's regime was under siege. A rebel faction had beaten back his forces to Monrovia, and Taylor ineptly tried to tamp down the insurgency by ordering the ATU to arrest enemies of the state. In March 2003, the Special Court for Sierra Leone indicted Taylor on 17 counts of crimes against humanity – including murder, rape and enslavement – making him the first African head of state to face such charges.

As his father's empire collapsed, Chucky reconnected with his estranged wife after a year of silence. Chucky's mother begged Henderson to help rein in his increasingly erratic behavior. "Even though he was a shitty father and a shitty husband, I didn't want him to die," Henderson says. "I felt like he was just going to kill himself." Henderson returned to Monrovia with her son and found Chucky wasted away. "He now had a heavy drug problem," she says. "I think it was cocaine." His father's indictment had left Chucky rattled and paranoid. "He was just not all there," she says. "He probably knew it was over." Though Chucky and his father had reconciled, Gono's death had driven a wedge between them. When Henderson asked Chucky about the incident, he refused to discuss it other than to say that he "absolutely did not do it."

As fighting outside the capital intensified, the mood at Taylor's mansion grew somber. Sitting with the president one day, Henderson began to sob quietly, saddened by the prospect of fleeing Liberia once more, never to return. When Taylor asked her what was wrong, she gave her father-in-law a hug, unable to explain her emotions. Taylor was taken aback. "He's not the type of guy used to getting hugs," Henderson says.

By that point, Chucky had retreated to his villa. One afternoon, Henderson recalls, an ATU officer ran to the door, frantically reporting that "the rebels had breached the city." Mortars sounded in the distance. Chucky rushed his wife and three-year-old son into the back seat of his truck and threw a Kevlar vest over them. Henderson was terrified.

"OK, we're going to die," she said.

"It's OK, Mama," her tiny son replied.

The ATU officer shattered the truck's rear window to give him a line of fire, and the group raced the short distance to the president's residence. When they arrived, they found President Taylor sitting calmly among several of the mothers of his other children. Chucky's father laughed at his son for overreacting.

At home, Henderson could do little to control Chucky's drug use. One day she opened the bathroom to discover Chucky with what she thought was cocaine. When she knocked the drugs out of his hands, he leapt on her, wrapping his hands around her neck. Summoned by Henderson's screams, Chucky's mother and his son rushed into the bathroom. Chucky had never laid a hand on Henderson before. Soon after, Henderson returned home to Orlando. "That's my son's last memory of his dad," she says. "Him strangling me."

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