Special Torture Prosecutor Appointed…In Chicago

(9 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Torture used against criminal suspects in the US is not new, but two cases illustrate that we can appoint a special prosecutor now to investigate the Bush gang and then move on, or we can ignore the rule of law to let it fester over decades before justice in any form is served.

The GOP love to fawn over President Reagan yet ignore that it was his DOJ that prosecuted a Texas sheriff and deputies for waterboarding prisoners to get confessions.  Politicians can push the move-on meme for the Bush gang, but the appointment this week of a special prosecutor to investigate decades-old allegations of police torture against prisoners shows that justice may be slow, but tenacious advocates of human rights will not surrender.

The Chicago police torture probe has many instructive parallels to Bush gang. The torture methods are generally the same, government officials generally tortured nonwhites, and delay resulted in the running out of the statute of limitations that we are also approaching now. We can appoint a special prosecutor now, prosecute the torturers and provide some restitution to the tortured. Or, we let justice fester until a tenacious advocate indicts the criminals years later on nontorture charges, like perjury. If politicians truly want this country to move, justice is needed first.

The Chicago police case involved “scores of criminal suspects [who] were routinely tortured” during the 1970’s and 1980’s:

According to sworn testimonies and numerous reports, former Area 2 Commander Jon Burge led a group of rogue officers that used cattle prods to electric shock the genitals of suspects, handcuffed suspects to hot radiators and beat suspects to coerce confessions and to obtain information during investigations. More than 20 Black men remain in prison, saying they are innocent and claiming they only confessed to crimes because of the torture.

Additional torture methods to coerce confessions included the use of fists, kicks, radiator burns, guns to the mouth, and bags over the head for suffocation.  One Chicago torture victim spent 23 years in jail for a crime he did not commit after being tortured with electric shock and mock execution accompanied by racial slurs.

Chicago moved on. One reason the rule of law was not implemented before is that special prosecutors were convinced in 2006 that there was no way to get around the roadblock of the statute of limitations.

Yet, in 2007, a University of Chicago report determined that there was “widespread tolerance for rogue police officers in predominately Black and Latino neighborhoods.” One problem was that the rule of law never got a chance before to do its thing:

They never cleaned up after Jon Burge and I believe it (has) stayed inside of the department. I think there are good cops, but I don’t think the bad cops ever got cleaned up and I don’t think that culture ever got stopped like it should have.

Government officials from the Chicago torture years were simply allowed to continue in government service. Richard Daley was a top prosecutor “when some of the most egregious complaints were lodged” and he moved on to become mayor. One of Daley’s former assistants (and later moved on to role of successor and was current State’s attorney in 2008) was Richard Devine. When the special prosecutor’s report was released in 2006, Devine stated that “claims of systemic abuse” had not “crystallized” when he was first assistant state’s attorney. And then pushed the familiar move-on meme:

“We cannot undo the past,” he added. “We can only commit ourselves to doing all in our power to prevent such abuses from happening in the future.”

Not so fast Devine. In June 2008, a group of retired police officers were subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury, courtesy of US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who was investigating torture of criminal suspects from the 1970’s through the early 1990s.

Fitzgerald pursued what he called the Al Capone approach: “If people commit multiple crimes, and you can’t prosecute them for one, there’s nothing wrong with prosecuting them for another.”  Thus, the subject of the investigation was now  “whether any of the officers lied under oath or obstructed justice as part of the civil litigation resulting from allegations that police tortured dozens of suspects.”

A few months later, in October 2008, Fitzgerald announced that Burge was indicted and arrested not for torture, but obstruction of justice and perjury for lying about his involvement in torture:

Q “State whether you have ever used methods, procedures or techniques involving any form of verbal or physical coercion of suspects while in detention or during interrogation, such as deprivation of sleep, quiet, food, drink, bathroom facilities, or contact with legal counsel and/or family members; the use of verbal and/or physical threats or intimidation, physical beatings, or hangings; the use of racial slurs or profanity; the use of physical restraints, such as handcuffs; the use of photographs or polygraph testing; and the use of physical objects to inflict pain, suffering or fear, such as firearms, telephone books, typewriter covers, radiators, or machines that deliver an electric shock . . .”

A “. . . I have never used any techniques set forth above as a means of improper coercion of suspects while in detention or during interrogation.”

This torture resulted in taxpayers paying nearly $30 million for lawsuit settlements and legal fees for lawyers to represent the police officers.  More importantly, 4 men who were tortured into murder confessions spent time on death row before being freed by then-Gov. George Ryan.

Delay only exacerbates the horrific torture evil and all its related consequences resulting in more time, money and injustice before the wrongs are ultimately addressed.  

We can prosecute now… or pretend to move on.

1 comment

  1. ok to investigate and prosecute the lawyers of Guantanamo prisoners who were tortured, ok to prosecute low-level government employees like police officers, ok to prosecute low-level soldiers, BUT not ok to prosecute federal officials.

    also posted at GOS


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