With all the attention paid to the use of torture by the CIA and, to a lesser degree, by the military, many haven’t noticed that police departments have also engaged in torture to coerce confessions. In Illinois, it went on for decades until the lid was blown off it ten years ago. The Nation reports on the 10th anniversary of then-Illinois Gov. George Ryan granting clemency to everyone on death row in that state:
On January 11, 2003, the world watched as Illinois Governor George Ryan, days before leaving office, granted clemencies to all 163 men and women on death row in his state, reducing their sentences to life without parole. The previous day he had pardoned four death row prisoners—Madison Hobley, Aaron Patterson, Leroy Orange and Stanley Howard—all of whom had been tortured into giving false confessions by police officers working under notorious Chicago police commander Jon Burge…
Ryan’s momentous actions were partly inspired by the case of Anthony Porter, who came within days of execution only to later be exonerated, thanks in large part to the work of journalism students at Northwestern University. Much credit has been awarded to their work in opening Ryan’s eyes—and rightly so. But Ryan’s actions were also the culmination of a long human rights struggle against the death penalty and police torture in Chicago. In the mid-1990’s, death row prisoners, community groups, political activists and public interest lawyers joined forces to unite these previously separate movements. After realizing that they were not alone in their horrific experiences at the hands of police, Burge torture victims facing execution formed the Death Row 10and ,with the help of activist groups such as the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, linked these two powerful issues. Along with the prisoners’ own descriptions of what happened, a series of devastating investigative reports by journalist John Conroy at the Chicago Reader shone light on the emerging mountain of evidence that Burge and his police confederates tortured more than 100 African-American suspects with a racist vengeance, using electric shock, suffocation with plastic bags, mock executions and brutal beatings. This evidence became a focal point for the merging of these important legal and political struggles.
As a result, in October of 2008, thirty-five years after Burge tortured his first victim, United States Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald indicted him for falsely denying under oath that he participated in police torture. Subsequently, seven torture survivors were exonerated and released from prison, and several of them, including another Death Row 10 survivor Ronald Kitchen, were awarded certificates of innocence by Cook County Judges. In June of 2010, a federal jury convicted Burge of three counts of perjury and obstruction of justice, and he subsequently received a four-and-a-half-year sentence, which he is now serving, along with Bernie Madoff, at Butner Federal Correctional Center in North Carolina.
After their release, the seven exonerated men sued Burge and the city. In so doing, several of them named then-Mayor and former Cook County State’s Attorney Richard M. Daley as a co-conspirator on the basis of his decades long knowledge of the torture scandal, his willful failure to prosecute Burge and his participation in the cover-up of the scandal. In a landmark decision issued in 2011, Federal Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer upheld the allegations against Daley in Michael Tillman’s case, and on the eve of Daley’s scheduled deposition, the City and County settled Tillman’s case for $6 million.
I’ve said many times that most Americans are blissfully unaware of just how corrupt and unjust American’s criminal “justice” system is from top to bottom. And if someone actually had a lot of money at stake in the outcome, the media might pay attention to it and the politicians might do something about it. But since most of the victims are poor black and Latino men, no one seems to care.