Shocking page-turner about Liberian dictator Charles Taylor’s American-born son, Chucky, the first U.S citizen to be federally prosecuted for torture.
Journalist Dwyer’s debut impresses as both old-fashioned immersive journalism and a grisly narrative using the Taylors’ rise and fall as an unforgiving lens through which to view recent West African history. Charles Taylor’s transformation from a leftist bureaucrat to a destructive warlord was one of the persistent political nightmares of the 1990s, but few knew at the time that he’d recruited his estranged teenage son. “Liberia,” writes the author, “presented to Chucky the possibility that he was heir to something larger.” Chucky had already shown attraction to “gangster” culture during his suburban Florida adolescence. Immersion in his father's court led him to evince sociopathic tendencies, and he was once tasked with developing a new paramilitary force, the Anti-Terrorist Unit. Initially, his depredations were merely urban legend against the larger backdrop of his father's cynical promotion of proxy wars. Once Taylor was elected president, Dwyer writes, “[h]e could not be called a criminal, because he had legalized all the rackets.” Yet things fell apart for Taylor in 2003, when he was both deposed by rebels and indicted by the U.N.’s Special Court for Sierra Leone. Chucky fled to Trinidad, but after two years, he attempted to re-enter the U.S. and was immediately arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. “Prosecuting torture was complicated,” writes the author. “It had simply never happened.” Yet the government assembled a damning case against Chucky, eliciting testimony from several torture victims, resulting in a 97-year sentence. Dwyer deftly captures both the larger implications of Taylor’s reign and the human-scaled horror of his son’s descent: "Chucky's story had been improbable and at times surreal, but its brutality was real.”
A dark triumph—a meticulous geopolitical narrative and gripping tale of an American son lost to evil.