Chucky Taylor’s 2008 trial in Miami federal court was a sort of homecoming for a young man whose adolescence in Florida had been like so many others bored with the suburbs and longing for absent fathers.
The surreal journey Taylor took from Florida to Liberia and then back to stand trial for torture is the subject of American Warlord. Through public records requests, trial transcripts, interviews in the U.S. and Liberia and letters from Taylor himself, journalist Johnny Dwyer tried to piece together what happened to Taylor that made him such a unique catch for U.S. authorities.
Taylor is the American-born son of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, who now is serving a prison sentence in Britain for war crimes and crimes against humanity for his involvement in Sierra Leone’s civil war. Growing up near Orlando, Taylor was not unlike many other children of immigrants in feeling out of place. His mother and stepfather, both Trinidadian American, were raising him in the sprawling suburbs. His biological father lived abroad and didn’t keep in touch. He had brushes with the law, and he had a girlfriend whose parents didn’t like him.
The key difference is that Taylor’s father was a rebel leader in Liberia, who took power in a brutal civil war. A reunion with his father in Liberia when he was in his late teens changed the younger Taylor’s life and gave him the opportunity to unleash dangerous impulses where there was no law but his father.
In a dense narrative, Dwyer charts Taylor’s evolution from an average American thug into a notorious loose cannon in a war-torn region. Dwyer’s interviews with the girlfriend Taylor intermittently brought from Orlando to join him in Liberia offer the most interesting window into Taylor’s world, where he sought his father’s approval even while committing atrocities.
American Warlord hits its stride in explaining how U.S. authorities discovered how much misery Taylor personally inflicted in Liberia. Dwyer carefully explains what made Taylor the first person to be prosecuted under a law making it a crime for a U.S. citizen to commit torture or war crimes overseas and why his trial was significant to victims still waiting for justice half a world away.
Jennifer Kay reviewed this book for The Associated Press.