Stop the culture of torture

November 18, 2010

From the Nov.-Dec. 2010 issue of News & Letters:

Forum: Stop the culture of torture

Chicago–At the end of September the Illinois Coalition Against Torture gave venue to torture victims and their primary lawyer at “Jon Burge GUILTY–beyond the trial.” The event featured Mary L. Johnson, mother of a still-imprisoned torture victim; Flint Taylor, battling lawyer for the wrongfully convicted, and a showing of the movie “The End of the Nightstick.”

Johnson continues seeking justice against corrupt law-enforcement. She thinks her son’s extended incarceration is directly related to her refusal to stop speaking out. But, as she put it, “God is not picking on me. He picked me,” so she continues her work for justice.


Mr. Taylor of the People’s Law Office spoke on the culture of torture that permeates the international scene, our national “justice” system, political high achievers in Chicago, and reaches to individuals operating behind closed doors in Chicago police stations.

Whether the U.S. will be a “torture culture” is still being debated. Dick Cheney, John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and Paul Wolfowitz won the first round. The internationally celebrated conviction of former police detective and commander Jon Burge for lying to the FBI, which required a jury be convinced that torture had taken place, might be the first salvo towards a change.

The retirement of Mayor Richard M. Daley, State’s Attorney or Mayor through much of the torture period, is a good sign. In the face of aggressive prosecutorial misconduct and reports from Amnesty International, the police Office of Professional Standards, the Police Foundation, and other groups, Daley made “no comment whatsoever.”

Daley didn’t respond in 1999 when forensic pathologist Dr. Robert Kirschner, an international activist on torture, testified that Chicago “was part of a pattern and practice similar to that found in other countries where official torture is practiced by the military and by police.”

And the UN Committee Against Torture issued a report linking Chicago, Abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo. Daley turned away his eyes. He spent millions in taxpayer money to defend Burge against tenacious victim Andrew Wilson.

However, the Peoples Law Office and organizations like the Illinois Coalition Against Torture are gaining ground, educating and enlisting the public.


Taylor focused his talk on what Chicagoans need to do to rectify almost 40 years of turning a blind eye to torture in our midst:

  1. At least 20 more torture victims are still in jail. They must have new trials.
  2. All the men who tortured with Burge are collecting pensions. (Taylor named names, scratching the surface with six or seven people.) These men must be indicted and tried.
  3. In the coming Mayoral election, the remaining torture cases must be on the agenda and questions answered during the campaign.
  4. After spending $11-$12 million of taxpayer money to defend actual torturers, what are we going to do to compensate the victims?
  5. Anti-torture legislation making torture a crime with no statute of limitations is needed at both the federal and local levels.
  6. We must continue to educate, making the link between Chicago, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and Supermax prisons. Cheney, Yoo, and Bybee link to Burge along with the cops in New Orleans who murdered on the Danziger Bridge. It’s all part of the same culture.


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