Friday, July 21, 2006

Chicago Torture Case Update

Veteran Rights Readers will recall reading about Jon Burge, the Chicago police officer, accused by suspects of using torture to extract confessions in the 1970s and '80s as recounted in John Conroy's Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People. (This excellent exploration of torture in three democracies-- Israel and Ireland are also covered--seems so quaint in this post Abu Ghraib
world, but was well worth the read.) Now we have this update on the investigation into the case, perhaps delivering the closest there will ever be to a verdict in the case,

Prosecutors Robert D. Boyle and Edward Egan said that evidence indicated police abused at least half of the 148 suspects whose cases were reviewed in the $6.1 million investigation, which included 700 people and more than 33,000 documents. Nearly all of the suspects were black.

The investigators were not able to substantiate all of the allegations, but made it clear they believed many of the claims. Boyle and Egan said there was enough evidence to prosecute in only three cases involving a total of five former officers, but the three-year statute of limitations has run out.

Among the five officers involved in the three cases prosecutors mentioned was Jon Burge, a lieutenant who commanded a violent-crimes unit and the so-called ''midnight crew'' that allegedly participated in most of the alleged torture.

Neither Burge nor anyone else has ever been charged, but Burge was fired in 1991 after a police board found that a murder suspect was abused while in custody. Burge's attorney has said Burge never tortured anyone.

The report also goes into graphic detail about the alleged torture of Andrew Wilson, who was convicted in the murder of two Chicago police officers. Wilson said he was beaten and kicked during his interrogation, and that officers put a plastic bag over his head and burned his arm with a cigarette.

Then, he said, an officer pulled from a grocery bag a black box that had a crank on it. He said alligator clips were attached to his left ear and left nostril and he received a shock when an officer cranked the box. Burge, he said, also cranked the box to shock him and then put a gun in Wilson's mouth and clicked it.

The report said no black box was ever recovered. But the report makes it clear that there is ample evidence -- including burn marks on Wilson's nostril and ear -- that such a device was used.

Amnesty's concerns, about the Burge cases and more recent abuses by the Chicago police can be found here.

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