These have been discouraging times for Americans who abhor torture, during what Bob Dylan refers to as the New Dark Ages here in America. And African-Americans, of all people, have always known that torture is as American as apple pie and that authorities who are guilty, are rarely brought to justice for that crime. But the conviction of one of the most brutal perpetrators of torture in an infamous Chicago police department has been a sweet vindication for some of the most forgotten people in this country.
Black people were tortured and lynched throughout the south in the Jim Crow era, and the perpetrators were never held accountable. Between 1889 and 1930, "over 3,700 men and women were reported lynched in the United States."
And violence was not just limited to the south, and not to the distant past. Chicago has long had a reputation for police brutality and the protection of "rogue" police officers. It has been widely accepted that "black men suspected of crimes didn’t leave interrogation rooms at Chicago’s Area 2 police station until they told detectives what they wanted to hear."
Near suffocation, beatings, electric shocks, were repeatedly reported by defendants as part of an effort to extract confessions. These practices were carried on from the seventies into the nineties in the city’s south and west sides, on untold numbers of victims.
But one of the most notorious perpetrators Jon Burge, a decorated former police lieutenant, was just sentenced to up to 45 years in prison for perjury and obstruction of justice.
One victim Darrell Cannon, tells about being tortured by the police:
By them not being successful in getting what they wanted out of me, they then did a third treatment, which was they put me in the backseat of a detective car. They unhandcuffed my cuffs from behind, put them in front. John Byrne [Burge?] had a gun to my head and told me, "Don’t move," when they redid the handcuffs. They put me sideways in the backseat of a detective car and made me lay down across the seat. They pulled my pants and my shorts down, and that’s when Byrne took an electric cattle prod, turned it on, and proceeded to shock me on my testicles.
They did this what seems like forever with me, but it wasn’t that long. At one point, I was able to kick the cattle prod out of the detective’s hands, and that knocked the batteries out. He got the batteries, put them back in. One of them tried to take his feet and put it on top of one of my feet, the other one did the same thing, to stop me from kicking. Then this is when they started using the electric cattle prod on me again, while telling me that they knew that I wasn’t the one they wanted, but I had information that could lead them to the other person that they wanted.
They continued to do this until finally I agreed to tell them anything they wanted to hear. Anything. It didn’t matter to me. You know, if they said, "Did your mother do it?" "Yes, yes, yes." Because the diabolical treatment that I received was such that I had never in my life experienced anything like this. I didn’t even know anything like this here existed in the United States.
Justice will not be done, however, until every torturer is behind bars and the victims released from prison and attempts made to compensate them, if that is even possible, for the torture and for the years they have lost sitting in prison cells.
In another part of the clip from Democracy Now above, lawyer Flint Taylor hails the conviction of Burge, and then begins to speak to our leaders in Washington, who have not seen fit to investigate accounts of torture ordered by our highest officials, and therefore, have denied the victims their God-given right to justice. He says (emphasis mine):
It was a wonderful victory for the African American community and all people here in Chicago who have fought so long and so hard for justice. This fight, as you’ve mentioned, has gone on for decades. It’s a human rights victory that should be understood across the entire country, because here in Chicago we’ve now done something, after thirty years of struggle, that has not happened anywhere else. And that is, we have a conviction of a torturer, a United States torturer.
And that is what the lesson needs to be taken by the Obama administration, who seems so leery to prosecute people like Cheney and people under his command for torture abroad by the US. Now we have an example. And actually, it was a Republican prosecutor who did this. So I think that we all across this country should take a lesson from Chicago. ..this jury, which only had one African American on it, spoke loudly and said no, it’s not right to torture. Doesn’t matter if you’re poor and black and a criminal.
And I think the message is, it doesn’t matter if you’re a terrorist either, or an alleged terrorist, that we cannot countenance torture in this country or by this country. And until all people who torture and all those people who are responsible for torturing are brought to justice, the conscience of Chicago and the conscience of this country cannot be cleansed.
Torture is the defining moral issue of our time. Over the past decade the leaders of our nation devised and implemented a torture program, knowingly in violation of our laws and treaty obligations, oversaw this program and had OLC lawyers provide legal justification for these crimes through twisted and heinous legal memos.
Now torture continues in secret prisons in Afghanistan under our "kinder, gentler" Democratic President, because we have sunk so low as a country that there is a tacit bipartisan agreement that torture is now part of American foreign policy.
As Pogo said, "We have seen the enemy and he is us."