« The Meltdown at Rocketboom: How Law Shaped the Outcome | Main | Teaching vs. Scholarship: This time, with data! »

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Torture in Chicago

The L.A. Times reports this morning that special prosecutors in Chicago have released a report, an excerpt from which appears on Jurist, concluding that torture was widely used to extract confessions, particularly from black suspects from Chicago’s South Side, in the 1970s and 1980s. There are several intriguing aspects to this story. First, it should be noted that accounts of police torture in Chicago have been in circulation for quite some time. In a remarkable book on the criminal justice system in Chicago, reporter Steve Bogira, in Courtroom 302: A Year Behind The Scenes In An American Criminal Courthouse (2005), details several accounts of police torture and the legal system’s almost total disregard for the allegations, notwithstanding substantial evidence of their veracity.  This new report finally lends substance to these old allegations. In one disturbingly typical instance, involving the same type of facts as reported by Bogira, and in which there is enough proof to support an indictment, the report stated that:

detectives kicked [the victime], forced him to stretch out over a radiator while being beaten, shocked him with an electronic device and "put a plastic bag over his head and burned him on the arm with a cigarette.

Police also "put a gun in Wilson's mouth and clicked it," the report said.

Second, it turns out that Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley was the Cook County state's attorney during the time when many of these complaints were made.  Although the special prosecutors claim that the statute of limitations has run on these various offenses, this new evidence casts a dark shadow over Mayor Daley’s current administration. As chief prosecutor during the time in which these offensive tactics were used to gather evidence in cases prosecuted by his office, how much responsibility should Daley be obliged to claim?  To date, most blame has been targeted at former Police Commander Jon Burge, since detectives under his command at Area 2 and 3 Police Headquarters are implicated in the torture of 135 African American men over a period stretching from 1972 and 1991.

Third, the United Nations has become involved with the issue, and reportedly has pressed Chicago to conduct a more thorough investigation. The allegations of torture were discussed in a report prepared by U.S. NGOs, and submitted to the UN Human Rights Committee tasked with monitoring compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The report's authors recommend, inter alia, that the U.S. enact "a federal crime of torture and allocate sufficient and impartial resources to document, investigate, and prosecute allegations of torture by local, state, and federal law enforcement officers.”  Many cases of torture have been brought under 18 U.S.C. 242, which makes it a crime to "willfully subject[] any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States." The provision appears to have a five-year statute of limitations. Presumably, any more specific torture offense would be coupled with a more forgiving statute of limitations that permits prosecution of old cases. Certainly, there is little justification for shielding from such a law cases in which complaints were timely lodged by the victims but ignored by the courts. 

Posted by Russell Covey on July 20, 2006 at 02:11 PM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Torture in Chicago:

» Jon Burge - Perspective And The Balance of Urban Law Enforcement from MoveOnAndShutUp.org
This might be my longest post yet :) It's been fascinating reading through some of the blog postings about Jon Burge. With the exception of myself and perhaps one other nobody seems to know what the fuck they're talking about. That's probably because [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 22, 2006 3:39:17 PM


The comments to this entry are closed.