Chicago's Abu Ghraib: UN Committee Against Torture Hears Report on How Police Tortured Over 135 African-American Men Inside Chicago Jails
For nearly two decades a part of the city's jails known as Area 2 was the epicenter for what has been described as the systematic torture of dozens of African-American males by Chicago police officers. In total, more than 135 people say they were subjected to abuse including having guns forced into their mouths, bags places over their heads, and electric shocks inflicted to their genitals. Four men have been released from death row after government investigators concluded torture led to their wrongful convictions. [includes rush transcript]
Extraordinary rendition. Overseas prisons. Abu Ghraib. Guantanamo Bay. Practices and places that have become synonymous with the abuse of detainees in US custody are getting renewed attention at the United Nations this week, where the UN Committee Against Torture is holding hearings on U.S. compliance with its international obligations. But there is one name expected to arise this week that few people in this country will have heard about – and it's the one that's closest to home.
It's called Area 2. And for nearly two decades beginning in 1971, it was the epicenter for what has been described as the systematic torture of dozens of African-American males by Chicago police officers. In total, more than 135 people say they were subjected to abuse including having guns forced into their mouths, bags places over their heads, and electric shocks inflicted to their genitals. Four men have been released from death row after government investigators concluded torture led to their wrongful convictions.
Yet the case around Area 2 is nowhere near a resolution -- to date, not one Chicago police officer has been charged with any crime.
The most prominent officer, former police commander Jon Burge, was dismissed in the early 1990s. He retired to Florida where he continues to collect a pension. Today, a special prosecutor is now in the fourth year of an investigation. Just last week, a group of Chicago police officers won a court ruling to delay the release of the prosecutor's preliminary report.
AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Chicago, where we're joined by three guests: David Bates, Flint Taylor and John Conroy. David Bates is one of dozens of men to come forward with allegations of abuse at the hands of the Chicago police. Flint Taylor is an attorney with the People's Law Office in Chicago, which he helped found in the late 1960s. He has represented many of the torture victims and was directly involved in spearheading the special prosecutor's investigation. And John Conroy is a journalist and author who's covered the case for over a decade. He's written several articles for the Chicago Reader and is the author of the book, Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People: The Dynamics of Torture. We welcome you all to Democracy Now! I want to begin with Flint Taylor for an overview. You have been working on this case for years. You have represented people who said they were tortured. Give us the scope of this story.
FLINT TAYLOR: Well, the scope started out with one man who was tortured by electric shock and having a plastic bag put over his head and being beaten by Jon Burge and others at the Area 2 police station. He, on his own, brought a lawsuit in the mid-˜80s. That lawsuit, we got involved in, and over the years we were able to uncover, with the help of journalists such as John Conroy, others such as David Bates, who had also been tortured and had told their stories in various courts, but no one had put all this evidence together.
We were able to assimilate, over many years, over 60 cases of torture, and when I say "torture," I mean electric shock, I mean suffocation with bags, I mean mock executions, I mean racial attacks, that kind of thing. And they were all coming out of the same station, and they were all headed up by this man, Jon Burge, who came out of Vietnam, started out as a detective and quickly rose in the ranks through sergeant, lieutenant and commander. This went on -- the actual documentation now shows that this went on for over 20 years, from 1972 to 1992, when in fact Burge was finally, after community outrage, suspended and fired from his job.
As you said, he has never been prosecuted. The State's Attorney of Cook County at the time this evidence first came to light in the mid-˜80s was none other than the now major Richard Daley. The Superintendent of Police at that time contacted him with the evidence of torture and said, "Are you going to prosecute this?" Daley did not intervene or prosecute at that time. Later on, his first assistant, Richard Devine, became State's Attorney of Cook County. Remarkably, Devine, while he was in private .....
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