You wouldn't think such a thing could've happened in America, such a thing shouldn't happen in America - but it did. Repeatedly.
Over 100 African-American men have raised allegations that they were tortured - using a hanging technique, mock executions with a shotgun barrel in their mouth and electro-shock of their testicles with a cattle prod - by a Chicago police unit led by Lt. Jon Burge.
Unfortunately today's trial isn't for those offenses as the statute of limitations has already run out on them, but instead this is an obstruction of justice and perjury case being handed by a prosecutor many of us are highly familiary with.
Federal Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald also acknowledged that, at least in some respects, Burge was being charged with what was available to authorities now. The statute of limitations has expired on the torture itself, but prosecutors at least could hold him accountable for lying about it decades later.
A special prosecutors' report paid for by Cook County and released in 2006 concluded that dozens of suspects had been tortured by Chicago police but that no one could be prosecuted because the statute of limitations had run out.
Today's indictment gets around that legal problem by charging Burge with perjury, not with any instances of actual torture. Burge denied any torture took place while answering written questions in 2003 as part of the lawsuit filed by Hobley, one of the alleged victims. According to the indictment, the Hobley lawsuit included a specific allegation that police officers placed a plastic bag over Hobley's head until he lost consciousness. The indictment cites the questions and answers during the civil questioning, noting that Burge was asked whether he ever used torture methods--including beatings, the use of restraints or machines to deliver electric shocks--or whether other officers were involved.
Burge objected to the question as overly broad, and then answered: "I have never used any techniques set forth above as a means of improper coercion of suspects while in detention or during interrogation."
After returning from Vietnam where he was held as a P.O.W. and himself subjected to extreme "Harsh Interrogation" - Burge became a Chicago Police officer and began using some of the techniques he'd be shown on suspects in the South Side of Chicago in the early 70's.
This went on for decades, involving multiple officers and even prosecutors in the District Attorney's office who all aided in the coverup. To date only one police whistle-blower has been willing to come forward, although he remains a reluctant and unwilling witness even today.
As Flint Taylor attorney for many of the falsely accused and convicted men stated on Democracy Now.
FLINT TAYLOR: Well, all these years, the first time that anyone who worked with Burge came forward in any form was in 1989. And they—a detective anonymously wrote me and my partners, while we were on trial in a civil torture case, and told us about other victims of torture and told us that other men, including those who tortured Darrell, were participants in this ring of torture. That started our investigation, and it started us to unpeel the 110 victims of torture that we know about today. But no one—that man or woman didn’t come forward publicly. It was an anonymous contact. It was anonymous letters. And we never knew who that person was.
It wasn’t until 2004, after the men were pardoned and we had lawsuits for them, that we were able to go out and talk to retired detectives who were black, and they told us, now that they had retired, that they knew certain things. They had seen the torture box. They knew it was an open secret. They heard screaming. But Burge kept them out of the loop, because he knew—because they were African American, he didn’t trust them with the secret of the torture.
However, when the government investigated the case recently, with the power of immunity, the grant of immunity, they were able to get this white detective, who had been involved in several cases of where torture was alleged, including one that—of a victim who was going to testify for the government, and they gave him immunity, and apparently, although we haven’t seen the transcript, he reluctantly told what he knew about this incident of torture and perhaps others. Now, he is not a voluntary witness. He is not a happy witness. He is very scared. But we’re have hopeful that his testimony will be significant in terms of finally revealing at least one instance of torture from the inside and breaking the code of silence in that way. And if it is, and that’s what his testimony is, then it’s going to be obviously a significant crack in the conspiracy or code of silence.
This is an American Tragedy, dozens of innocent men wrongly convicted - some sent to Death Row, dozens of cases mishandled to the extent that Justice may never be properly served and very likely that the genuine guilty parties remained free and able to commit even more crimes as we saw when Richard Jewel was falsely accused of the Olympic Park Bombing and Robert Rudolph was left to kill again.. and again.
So far this has only been a local Chicago Story, but maybe it needs to be addressed nationally - if only we had a President who had some stake or familiarity with the issue having lived in an area like this one, one who could champion the cause of Justice, Fairness and the Rule of Law to Remove the Statute of Limitations on TORTURE so that credible cases could be prosecuted at anytime... anywhere....
Yeah, if only...