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Podcast: Chicago Police & Why the US Needs a Domestic Law Specifically Criminalizing Torture

Joey Mogul (right)

There currently is no law in the United States, which specifically criminalizes law enforcement who engage in torture. The United Nations Committee Against Torture has protested the fact that there is no law in the United States, however, three times now the US government has maintained that such a law is not required because there is a patchwork of other statutes that could be used against law enforcement or any other officials who committed torture.

A US delegation appeared before the UN Committee in November and faced questions, once again, about the fact that Chicago Police Department torture survivors have been denied justice.

CPD Commander Jon Burge and other officers were responsible for torture between 1972 and 1991, however, no officer has been convicted for torture, particularly because the statute of limitations expired and victims have received zero compensation. And this was highlighted in the UN Committee’s report on the US.

Part of what has ensured that the UN Committee gives this issue attention is grassroots groups like Chicago Torture Justice Memorials (CTJM), Black People Against Police Torture, the National Conference of Black Lawyers and Amnesty International USA, which have submitted or endorsed “shadow reports” to the Committee. These reports update members of the UN Committee on the status of issues that the US government would prefer the Committee ignore.

Every four years this UN Committee scrutinizes the US because it is a signatory to the Convention Against Torture. When this time comes, it is an opportunity to make key issues of torture in the United States international human rights issues so that officials in the US are embarrassed, shamed and forced to consider doing something more about the human rights violations that involve or constitute torture.

This week’s episode of “Unauthorized Disclosure” features an interview with Joey Mogul, who is with the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials Project and an attorney with the People’s Law Office, discusses the findings of the UN Committee against the Chicago Police Department. She highlights the history of Chicago police torture, the importance of the UN Committee and the campaign to pass an ordinance in Chicago to provide reparations for torture survivors. She also addresses the fact that the US has no law specifically criminalizing domestic torture by law enforcement and why the US government does not favor such a law.

The podcast is available on iTunes for download. For a link (and also to download the episode), go here. Click on “go here” and a page will load with the audio file of the podcast. The file will automatically start playing so you can listen to the episode.

Also, below is a player for listening to the podcast. You can listen to the podcast this way or you can go to iTunes and find the podcast listed there.

{!hitembed ID=”hitembed_1″ width=”600″ height=”338″ align=”none” !}

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A transcript of the interview [part of which was already published on December 1]:

KEVIN GOSZTOLA: Would you introduce yourself and explain what kind of work you’ve been involved in around justice for Chicago police torture?

JOEY MOGUL: For the last 17 years, I’ve been working on the Burge torture cases here in Chicago, and I also am an attorney. I do police misconduct, torture abuse and wrongful conviction cases.

Years ago, it was Stan Willis’ idea, who is a founder of Black People Against Police Torture, to raise the Burge torture cases to the United Nations Committee Against Torture. Clearly, the torture that over hundred and ten African-American men and women have suffered are acts of torture—electrically shocking people’s genitals, suffocating people with plastic bags, beating people with rubber hoses and telephone books. Those are egregious acts of torture by state actors that meet the Article 1 definition of torture under the Convention Against Torture.

Unfortunately, Stan did not have the opportunity to attend the UN Committee Against Torture’s review of the US in 2006. [But] I had the opportunity to do so. I presented evidence regarding the cases. Fortunately, the UN Committee understood that these were egregious acts of torture and they understood they were occurring domestically in the United States and they called the US government out for its failure to comply with the Convention Against Torture; specifically noting that there was a limited investigation and a lack of prosecution in the Burge torture cases. And it called on the US government to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Subsequently, two years later, the US Department of Justice in conjunction with the US prosecutors of the Northern District of Illinois indicted Jon Burge for perjury and obstruction of justice for denying that he and other detectives under his command engaged in acts of torture. And he made these false denials in a civil rights case and that’s why they were able to get him.

Because the US government did not take action when they should have, he was not able to be prosecuted for his actual crimes and international human rights violations and torture. But I do believe that going to the United Nations Committee Against Torture was an instrumental part and role in getting Jon Burge ultimately held accountable for his crimes of torture and the finding that meant a great deal to the torture survivors, the family members and the communities who were both affected and have been organizing around the Burge torture cases.

GOSZTOLA: What about the ongoing efforts in recent years to pass a reparations ordinance in the city of Chicago?

MOGUL: It’s clear—particularly now that Burge has been convicted of his torture in 2010—that this occurred. No one can deny it any longer. That’s when we sat down and we thought to ourselves, what’s being done to really rectify this? Truly, nothing has been done for the vast majority of the torture survivors. The statute of limitations have expired on any civil lawsuits they could have brought to receive any financial compensation from the torture they suffered and there is no legal means for which they can get any redress whatsoever. And that’s not just financial compensation but it’s psychological counseling. It’s other services, like vocational training, as well as just an apology from the city of Chicago for these racist heinous acts of torture that occurred over a 20-year period.

So, years ago I helped co-found the Chicago Torture Justice Memorial project and that’s when we really started to dream and think about what would reparations would like. And, again, I want to call out Stan Willis from Black People Against Police Torture because he was the one who really started to talk about the need for reparations for Burge torture survivors and the family members.

And again, we’re looking to these international concepts for reparations that are much more expansive than the way we look at legal remedies here in the United States. They’re much more holistic, looking at all of the needs of someone that’s been violated.

We started off doing some art projects and having an open call for people to submit various work about what would reparations look like or how would you conceive of a justice memorial in these cases. And we had quite a few successful shows and we’ve gotten over 70 submissions from individuals regarding what those actual justice memorials would like. In the process, we’ve been asking people and holding community forums in Chicago on what they think reparations look like. And finally after a two-year process, we drafted a reparations ordinance that has now been introduced to Chicago City Council; introduced in October of 2013.

That seeks a full panoply of redress for the Burge torture survivors, for the family members, for the African-American communities affected. Thus far, we have 26 alder people who have signed on in support and we are calling on Mayor Emanuel to support the reparations ordinance and we are looking to have a hearing in the finance committees.

GOSZTOLA: Sticking with this issue of police torture, can you describe taking on this issue of electroshocks and the issue of the use of tasers by police?

MOGUL: Specifically, in the Burge torture cases, what we found was Jon Burge, prior to becoming a Chicago police officer, he served in the military in Vietnam. He was a military police officer, and there were reports that military police officers were using what was then known as a tucker telephone – a box, a generator and a crank on the outside, that when you cranked it would create electricity. And they attached wires to the generator and it would literally jolt and shock people with electricity.

Jon Burge brought that device back from being a military police officer, and he used that device when he was interrogating people here in Chicago. Anthony Holmes, who is one of Burge’s first known torture survivors, he describes how Burge handcuffed him at his wrists and ankle and how he took the electric shock box and wrapped it around his handcuffs and repeatedly electrically shocked him.

That was a very unique device that Burge was using. And we have lots of reports and evidence that others were using cattle prods to torture people on their genitals and other sensitive places on their body.

I will say, as of late, I have not heard of that electric shock box being used. We believe that Jon Burge threw it off his boat here in Chicago. And I have not heard of cattle prods being used, but now it seems that the device of choice that we know Chicago police officers are armed with is tasers.

These tasers are not being used as the alternative to deadly force, but in fact they are being used routinely and in very grossly reckless ways against individuals, who can be very sensitive to that type of electric shock, and have led to too many unfortunate deaths. It’s my understanding that these tasers are being used egregiously at any sign of resistance, whether it’s verbal or physical, which I don’t believe is the proper way for using tasers at all.

Now, tasers used to be only issued to sergeants or only issued to individuals but now across the country officers are all armed with tasers. Here in Chicago recently, I think they’ve started to—I don’t know fully right now—but I believe they bought like 20,000 tasers and they wanted to provide them to patrol officers.

GOSZTOLA: What sort of success or peace of mind does it give you that the UN Committee Against Torture basically affirms most of the concerns that you have as someone campaigning on these issues?

MOGUL: I think it’s incredible. I think it’s really important for us to recognize that there are international human rights violations. In the United States, we must abide by them. I think it’s hugely important for the UN to take note of what they described as the appalling use of tasers here in the United States and naming the individuals who have been killed, including that of Dominique Franklin Jr., who was raised by the We Charge Genocide delegation.

I think it’s hugely important for us to remember that the whole world does not agree with the way law enforcement officers are using tasers in the United States and there are certain benchmarks that they have to abide by and they need to start abide and they need to start complying with them. Otherwise, they’re going to continue to see more litigation and more organizing against them.

GOSZTOLA: What’s remarkable about the section on police brutality in the United States is that the organization that countries around the world are going to associate with US police brutality is the Chicago Police Department. You don’t have a mention of any other departments in that section. Even St. Louis police, they weren’t mentioned. Is there anything you would add to that?

MOGUL: I really want to shout and applaud the amazing organizing and advocacy of the delegation of We Charge Genocide. They are an amazing inter-generational effort. They had all youths of color, who went to Geneva. I’ve never been so impressed by their courageousness, their brilliance, their righteousness in the way they organized around Chicago police violence. And, clearly, they had an effect and they moved the Committee members to want to call out the Chicago Police Department.

I want to recognize how amazing and historic the We Charge Genocide delegation has been. Though, Chicago has been cited the last two times by the UN Committee Against Torture as the one and only city that’s being called out for violating the Convention Against Torture. They did it in 2006 when they cited the Burge torture cases and they are doing it now with respect to the violence black and Latino youth face, with respect to violence around tasers, shootings, etc, that was raised by We Charge Genocide and, again, with the respect to the Burge torture cases.

I think it’s truly monumental, and I think that the local powers that be need to take stock of this and recognize the city is way out of step with the world. And not only is the city way out of step in the world and not complying with these international human rights [guidelines] but the whole world is watching.

GOSZTOLA: In the “shadow report” that Chicago Torture Justice Memorials submitted, you raise the issue of there not being a law against torture in the United States. And I thought it was remarkable the way the United States handles this issue.

The US position is just that there are all kinds of statutes that prohibit this conduct, allegedly. And there doesn’t need to be a crime on the books that criminalizes torture.

MOGUL: The fact that the US does not have a law criminalizing acts of torture that occur domestically has everything to do with the fact that our US government does not want to accept that law enforcement officers engage in acts of torture. The US government likes to look at other countries and point their finger at other places to condemn acts of torture, but never want to accept responsibility for the torture committed by its very own state actors.

And so that’s why there is a law on the books that got passed before the US became a signatory to the Convention Against Torture that criminalized acts of torture that occurred outside the US. But it refused to pass such a law here in the United States.

What I think we see happen with respect to both the United States and the media and culture in the United States is that when we see these acts of torture committed by law enforcement officials the media always describes it as abuse or alleged abuse and, in fact, never wants to brand it what it is, which is torture.

That’s one significant thing in the Burge torture cases. That was something that was fought for by the torture survivors. That was fought for within the litigation and fortunately now the cases are known now as the Burge torture cases but for years that was an issue in contention. No one wanted to accept that law enforcement officers engage in torture.

Now, what I think is going on is, again, the US government does not really want to attract the devastating impacts of torture and really hold those law enforcement officers responsible. I think it is important to have such a crime. We should recognize it as a national human rights violation. But, second, I think it’s important because we should recognize that the laws that exist on the state level or even on the federal level—they’re just wholly inappropriate for getting at law enforcement violence and holding law enforcement officers accountable.

The Burge torture cases demonstrate, for example, that Burge and several of the officers working for him engaged in these acts, but a three-year statute of limitations under Illinois law or five-year statute of limitations under federal law was wholly insufficient because as law enforcement officers they were able to cover up and hide their torture and their misconduct for decades. And now that the truth has come out and the evidence has come to light we can no longer use that to hold them accountable.

I think that’s why it is super important for this law to be passed because I think law enforcement officers need to recognize that they’re not only above the law but they’re not beyond the law.

Just so you know this is the third report the UN submitted with respect to the US government and this is the third time that they have called the US government out for failing to have proper and suitable domestic torture crime laws.

GOSZTOLA: And am I right? There is a piece of legislation that has been proposed that could do some of the job necessary to criminalize torture, the Law Enforcement Prevention Act. And that’s something that you highlighted in the “shadow report” you submitted to the UN Committee Against Torture?

MOGUL: Yes. And that, in fact, is a piece of legislation that was sponsored by US Congressman Danny Davis and it comes directly out of the Burge torture cases. Although, it doesn’t solely apply to the Burge torture cases. There are several other cases where that statute could and should be used in order to hold law enforcement officers accountable.

GOSZTOLA: There was this big issue that members of the Committee made of how the US government insists on this standard of mental pain and suffering for being prolonged and mental harm. It really bothered the members that this was the standard. I wondered if you had any reaction to that and then also if you had any view on how the US government continues to rationalize solitary. Because I could see their viewpoint of mental pain and suffering having a lot to do with how they don’t think solitary confinement is torture.

MOGUL: I have to admit I haven’t read that portion recently. I know that this has been a big issue. But there’s also a history of this, right? When President Bush and his administration was in place, they had made these ridiculous obstacles to the definition of torture and what’s psychological effects of torture. And I think you’re hitting the nail on the head.

The US government doesn’t really want to accept that torture could be psychological and if it affects someone psychologically that constitutes torture because they would then have to recognize that solitary confinement in excessive periods of time, which UN Special Rapporteur has said anything over 15 days could constitute torture because that kind of confinement can cause someone to have severe psychological consequences and effects.

But I also think the government just doesn’t want to recognize and fully accept the psychological definition of torture. I think, one, because of solitary confinement but, two, for years, wanting to skate around other issues of enhanced interrogation, which I know the Obama administration has rolled back some but I don’t know if they’ve rolled back fully yet. They also inflict severe psychological pain and suffering.

GOSZTOLA: But locally to Chicago and what you worked on with the Midwest, is there anything particular you can say to the solitary confinement issue in this region of the US and anything the UN did this past term or session, any ramification that has for the area?

MOGUL: We’re going to have a new governor [Bruce Rauner]. And come January we’re already hearing reports that they want to open the Tamms correctional center again and that’s really problematic. That was shut down a few years ago, righteously so, because there were excessive reports and documentation of how that solitary confinement unit was causing severe disabilities for individuals.

Now, one of the exchanges for closing Tamms was Senator [Dick] Durbin talking about he wants to have the Thompson Correctional Center opened. That would be a federal institution that would have solitary confinement units as well. I would hope that both our local politicians on both the state and federal level would really take heed of the UN Committee Against Torture’s recommendations against solitary confinement and think twice about reopening or rebuilding the solitary confinement units.

It is not the solution. It is an international human rights violation and I think it’s something we’ll continue to see organizing against. But I really hope our politicians can learn a lesson from this.

Photo from ChicagoTorture.org

CommunityFDL Main BlogThe Dissenter

Podcast: Chicago Police & Why the US Needs a Domestic Law Specifically Criminalizing Torture

Joey Mogul (right)

There currently is no law in the United States, which specifically criminalizes law enforcement who engage in torture. The United Nations Committee Against Torture has protested the fact that there is no law in the United States, however, three times now the US government has maintained that such a law is not required because there is a patchwork of other statutes that could be used against law enforcement or any other officials who committed torture.

A US delegation appeared before the UN Committee in November and faced questions, once again, about the fact that Chicago Police Department torture survivors have been denied justice.

CPD Commander Jon Burge and other officers were responsible for torture between 1972 and 1991, however, no officer has been convicted for torture, particularly because the statute of limitations expired and victims have received zero compensation. And this was highlighted in the UN Committee’s report on the US.

Part of what has ensured that the UN Committee gives this issue attention is grassroots groups like Chicago Torture Justice Memorials (CTJM), Black People Against Police Torture, the National Conference of Black Lawyers and Amnesty International USA, which have submitted or endorsed “shadow reports” to the Committee. These reports update members of the UN Committee on the status of issues that the US government would prefer the Committee ignore.

Every four years this UN Committee scrutinizes the US because it is a signatory to the Convention Against Torture. When this time comes, it is an opportunity to make key issues of torture in the United States international human rights issues so that officials in the US are embarrassed, shamed and forced to consider doing something more about the human rights violations that involve or constitute torture.

This week’s episode of “Unauthorized Disclosure” features an interview with Joey Mogul, who is with the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials Project and an attorney with the People’s Law Office, discusses the findings of the UN Committee against the Chicago Police Department. She highlights the history of Chicago police torture, the importance of the UN Committee and the campaign to pass an ordinance in Chicago to provide reparations for torture survivors. She also addresses the fact that the US has no law specifically criminalizing domestic torture by law enforcement and why the US government does not favor such a law.

The podcast is available on iTunes for download. For a link (and also to download the episode), go here. Click on “go here” and a page will load with the audio file of the podcast. The file will automatically start playing so you can listen to the episode.

Also, below is a player for listening to the podcast. You can listen to the podcast this way or you can go to iTunes and find the podcast listed there.

{!hitembed ID=”hitembed_1″ width=”600″ height=”360″ align=”none” !} (more…)

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."

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