A few months ago, a story broke about the CIA’s use of torture against terrorist suspects across the globe. A Senate Intelligence Committee report, headed by Senator Diane Feinstein, investigated the use of torture in the post-9/11 world and declassified details about how the CIA would routinely use torturous and abusive methods on suspected terrorists. The methods, too gruesome to detail in some national newspapers, often resulted in deaths of those in custody, never led to any tangible counter-terrorism intel, and even led to the accidental torturing of two of the CIA’s own informants.
With the help of various foreign governments, the CIA would set up ‘black sites’ across the globe – covert and remote locations where terrorist suspects and potential informants were detained without trial, mercilessly brutalized, sexually assaulted, and humiliated beyond belief. Those who survived the invasive torture procedures were left in freezing, cramp conditions, were fed irregularly, and were not given access to sanitation or medical treatment.
The CIA’s terrorist campaign got so bad that even the FBI wanted to shut it down, and many of the foreign governments allowing the ‘black sites’ in their territory began to get nervous. Nonetheless, it continued throughout President Bush’s reign, and when it was finally shut down around the time of Obama’s inauguration, the CIA fought the release of Senator Feinstein’s report for years, blocking her efforts to shed light on what the agency was doing, and the President urged us to just forget about the whole thing.
For all the gruesome, horrific, and upsetting details of the report, it was little more than a flash in the media pan, something the networks mentioned only in passing before moving swiftly on. By excusing the behaviour of the CIA by refusing to follow the story, the torture report has largely been relegated to the forgotten annals of history.
The American public were similarly forgiving, and the torture report barely remained a top trending topic for more than a day or so. There were no charges, no criminal investigations, no presidential concerns, no nationwide demonstrations, nothing.
While the CIA story may be over and done with, at least as far as the public and the media are concerned, a similar story coming out of Chicago threatens to make a bigger stink, depending if the gatekeepers deem it newsworthy.
This week, British newspaper The Guardian released a story about the use of a CIA-style ‘black site’ right at home in Chicago, where the police have been denying suspects their constitutional rights and interrogating them in a frighteningly similar way to the CIA’s methods when dealing with terror suspects.
Detailing “Gestapo” style tactics, The Guardian’s stories allege that Chicago police have been rounding up suspected criminals (mostly people of colour, surprise surprise) and detaining them in an unmarked warehouse named Homan Square. This is an off-the-books detention facility not subject to the normal rules of due process and proper detention. For one thing, suspects coming into the facility are not properly recorded like they would be in normal precincts, meaning the suspect’s lawyer and relatives have no knowledge of their whereabouts, nor does the state.
This alone is deeply concerning – without a record that a person has been detained by police, the police are then under no pressure to follow normal procedures, such as ensuring the person’s constitutional rights are met, and that they are being detained in reasonable and comfortable circumstances.
As expected, these rights and responsibilities have not been met at Homan Square. Here is a short summary of the human rights abuses, as first reported by The Guardian, from the recollections of former detainees:
- Detention without charge.
- Prolonged shackling to walls or benches, including being spread-eagled.
- Beating and burning detainees alive.
- Putting detainees in cages.
- Leaving detainees unattended, which resulted in the death of at least one prisoner.
- Keeping detainees out of official precinct booking records.
- Keeping detainees away from the legal counsel of their attorneys.
- Denying detainees the right to make a phone call.
Deandre Hutcherson, who was detained at the facility far back in 2006, recalled the gross police brutality he suffered. He recounts being chained to a wall like an animal whilst an officer punched him in the face, and remembers having his groin stamped on “like [the officer] was putting a cigarette out”.
Vic Suter, another former detainee, was sent to Homan Square after participating in an anti-NATO rally. She recalls how she was shackled to a bar behind a bench, which caused her considerable pain, and was left for eighteen hours before she was taken to an actual police precinct. In that time, she was given one meal and two bathroom breaks, and was subject to good-cop-bad-cop interrogation without the presence of her lawyer.
The Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution guarantee the right to due process when being detained and charged with a crime. These rights are partially enshrined in the Miranda Warning (you have the right to remain silent, etc), but the CPD at Homan Square ignores at least two:
- The right to remain silent – as provided for in the Fifth Amendment, suspects have the right to refuse comment when being questioned or interrogated, as the constitution protects them from implicating themselves in a crime. Prisoners at Homan Square are not made aware of this protection, and are interrogated without being informed that they do not have to answer.
- The right to an attorney – as provided for in the Sixth Amendment, suspects have the right to consult and be represented by “counsel”. Prisoners at Homan Square are often denied access to their legal representatives, and are interrogated without the presence of their lawyers.
Sadly, this isn’t the first time the CPD has been implicated for unconsitutional human rights abuses. From the early 70’s to the early 90’s, police officers under the command of Jon Burge tortured over 200 people in order to get forced confessions to a series of unsolved murders. Burge and his rabid dogs beat suspects, burned them, put plastic bags over their heads so they couldn’t breathe, subjected them to electric shocks, and even threatened them with mock executions. Burge was finally arrested in 2008, and spent four years in jail after a lengthy trial. He’s now free.
While human rights abuses at Homan Square continue, police departments in various states have begun employing former Guantanamo Bay guards and ex-military police officers to serve as civilian police officers.
Oh say can you see, by the dawn’s early light…