Attorneys who specialize in political asylum generally think of the United Nations Convention Against Torture (“CAT”) as a defense to deportation. If an alien does not qualify for asylum, he may qualify for relief under the CAT. But a recent Eleventh Circuit decision reminds us that the CAT is a sword as well as a shield.
On July 15, 2010, the Eleventh Circuit upheld the torture convictions and 97-year sentence imposed on the son of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, who led a notorious paramilitary unit during his father’s bloody rule. According to the Associated Press, the younger Taylor, Charles McArthur Emmanuel, also known as Chuckie Taylor is–
a 33-year-old U.S. citizen born in Boston while his father was a student there, [and] was convicted in 2008 of torturing or ordering the torture of dozens of the Taylor government’s political opponents with numerous gruesome techniques. These included electric shocks; bayonet stabbing; burning with cigarettes, clothes irons, melted plastic and scalding water; shoveling of biting ants on people’s bodies; and imprisoning people in water-filled holes covered by iron bars.
For his crimes, which are detailed in the Eleventh Circuit’s decision, ”Chuckie” Emmanuel was sentenced to 97 years in prison. The Court notes that his was the first prosecution under the Torture Act and sets forth the basis for the appeal:
Emmanuel, who is the first individual to be prosecuted under the Torture Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2340-2340A (“the Torture Act”), seeks reversal of his convictions on the ground that the Torture Act is unconstitutional. Primarily, Emmanuel contends that congressional authority to pass the Torture Act derives solely from the United States’s obligations as a signatory to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Dec. 10, 1984, 1465 U.N.T.S. 85 (the “CAT”); he says the Torture Act impermissibly exceeds the bounds of that authority, both in its definition of torture and its proscription against conspiracies to commit torture.
So let’s get this straight, in an effort to avoid punishment for his crimes, Mr. Emmanuel–a man who tortured and murdered countless individuals–is attempting to limit or invalidate the CAT, a law used primarily to protect people who fear torture in their home countries. Nice. Fortunately, the Court soundly rejected his arguments:
After thorough review, we conclude that all of Emmanuel’s convictions are constitutional. The United States validly adopted the CAT pursuant to the President’s Article II treaty-making authority, and it was well within Congress’s power under the Necessary and Proper Clause to criminalize both torture, as defined by the Torture Act, and conspiracy to commit torture. Furthermore, we hold that… the Torture Act [applies] to extraterritorial conduct, and that [its] application in this case was proper…. Accordingly, we affirm Emmanuel’s convictions and sentence in all respects.
Mr. Emmanuel is currently serving his sentence in a federal prison in Kentucky.