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Before Abu Ghraib, there was Area 2.
October 21, 2008 11:34 AM   Subscribe

For nearly 20 years, Chicago has known about police torture of suspects. Torture at the city's notorious Area 2, under Commander Jon Burge, resulted in numerous false confessions in the 1980s, including the men who became known as the Death Row 10. The Death Row 10 case was among the reasons former Gov. George Ryan's called a moratorium on capital punishment in Illinois in 2000 and pardoned four in 2003. Burge, fired in 1993, retired to Florida on his police pension, where he seemed to escape any measure of justice. Until today.

The archive of the excellent investigative reporting by the Chicago Reader's John Conroy (previously) is here. (link disclosure: I was an activist around the Death Row 10 case and others in the 1990s, and contrubuted to material that may still be found on the Campaign to End the Death Penalty site.)
posted by scody (45 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
I see Patrick Fitzgerald is on the case. If there's one thing he's got extensive experience with, it's perjury and obstruction of justice.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:38 AM on October 21, 2008


Justice: better late than never.
posted by Chan at 11:43 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


To be fair, they didn't have tasers back then, so the cops had to improvise.

I am happy to see that, according to the Sun-Times, Burge has had his Vietnam veteran status revoked. "...Burge, a former Vietnam veteran..." I didn't know they could do that.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:43 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Mods, please hope me! Can someone remove the rogue apostrophe + s after Ryan's name in the post? My inner proofreader is freaking out.
posted by scody at 11:45 AM on October 21, 2008


You made me do the clicky thing. And as a result I saw this:

It was long believed Burge could not be prosecuted because of the statute of limitations.

WTF?? You're limited to getting him on perjury and obstruction and not the torture? That's like getting Capone on tax evasion. I mean, congrats, but... egads. In Canada, there is no limitation period on indictable offences (except for treason). I had no idea there was in the U.S.. That seems so very wrong.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:46 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


What an idiot for answering the questions in the civil case. You'd think a cop would know he has the right to refuse to incriminate himself. Unless I am wrong and testimony can be compelled in a civil trial.

Makes no sense he'd say exactly what would land him in jail.
posted by cjorgensen at 11:47 AM on October 21, 2008


That's some scary sh*t!
posted by doctorschlock at 11:54 AM on October 21, 2008


The apologists will be here any second, so I am glad for AskMe, which just had a question this morning on what to do with a few bad apples. Too bad Nick Sagan didn't show up to chime in with what I think would be the best solution for these guys: applesauce.
posted by adipocere at 11:55 AM on October 21, 2008


"...Burge, a former Vietnam veteran..."

This is called "copy editor asleep at the wheel" ... or what happens when you have too many staff cutbacks (one friend left at the Sun-Times says it's likely the latter.)

And oh yes, the sweet, sweet smell of justice. Nice.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 11:55 AM on October 21, 2008


Obama had a 2002 bill to stop police abuse. Chicago had become infamous for use of torture by police to help frame innocent people. Thirteen innocent men on Death Row were exonerated and released, some of them victims of these tortured confessions. Illinois desperately needed some action to restore confidence in the police. Obama's proposal was to require videotaping of interrogations of suspects in capital cases.

When Obama began, the idea of a bill was opposed by police, prosecutors, most of the senate and the governor. The governor was determined not to appear soft on crime, and had promised to veto any proposal for mandatory tapings. By the time Obama finished his work, the police and prosecutors embraced the bill, it passed in the Illinois Senate by a vote of 58-0. The governor took the unusual step of reversing himself to sign it, and Illinois became the first state to require such tapings.

source
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 11:55 AM on October 21, 2008 [22 favorites]


Wow. Very messed up story.

If he ends up in prison, he'll get his.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 11:59 AM on October 21, 2008


East Manitoba (if I may simply call you that): thanks for that summary and link -- it's an important added dimension to the story, and I'm glad you brought it up.
posted by scody at 11:59 AM on October 21, 2008


You'd think a cop would know he has the right to refuse to incriminate himself. Unless I am wrong and testimony can be compelled in a civil trial.

I'm not a lawyer, but a quick googling turned up this discussion. According to it, the 5th is still an option but it can backfire.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:59 AM on October 21, 2008


In Canada, there is no limitation period on indictable offences (except for treason). I had no idea there was in the U.S.. That seems so very wrong.

The reason for the statute of limitations is so that the state cannot dangle the threat of prosecution over the head of a suspect indefinitely.

Canada also allows for double-jeopardy as well, whereas the US does not. It strikes me that the US simply has greater suspicion of the state's ability to abuse the criminal justice system than Canada does.

The same statutes of limitation that prevents Burge from being indicted on torture charges also prevented Burge and his goons from creating decades-long campaigns of harassment and threats against citizens on trumped-up charges. Admittedly, it's a small consolation that all they were able to do was trump-up relatively charges.
posted by deanc at 12:17 PM on October 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


Good to see this is happening. We need to weed out the bad apples.
posted by C17H19NO3 at 12:18 PM on October 21, 2008


I'm torn between "thank god they got the son of a bitch" and "I hope they don't fuck up and give him a slap on the wrist sentence."
posted by paisley henosis at 12:21 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


"No person is above the law, and nobody - even a suspected murderer - is beneath its protection," U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said.

I'm glad we can apply this standard to US citizens. Hopefully we can some day extend it to everyone else currently in American custody as well.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:34 PM on October 21, 2008 [5 favorites]


Good. Daley should be next.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:36 PM on October 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


If his actions led to an illegal execution, could he be exposed to murder charges, without statutory limitations?

This guy might be bad, but I'd hate to ever be on the wrong side of the Chicago police.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:38 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Woo hoo!

Apologist what? All cops everywhere are exactly like this guy? Make him applesauce. Ok, yeah, the solution to vigilantism you don’t like is vigilantism you do like?
I get the visceral reaction, and in fact I agree whole heartedly with it.
But this stuff doesn’t happen overnight. Or by magic. It requires sustained effort on a broad basis.
Obama’s work is a perfect example of the start of needed sytemic reforms.

And, importantly, he’s being prosecuted by the book. It’s exactly the thing needed for people who think they’re above the law because they enforce it. They need to be shown the system works. In some cases like this, up close and personal.
(and yeah, 2nding the ‘no lenient sentence’ - but Pat Fitzgerald is a freakin’ thundergod)
posted by Smedleyman at 12:42 PM on October 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


...a "black box" that administered electric shocks.

If it comes out that that thing was plugged in by a non-union electrician, I wouldn't wanna be him.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:43 PM on October 21, 2008 [4 favorites]


Obama had a 2002 bill to stop police abuse.

HE CARES MORE ABOUT CRIMINALS THAN HE DOES ABOUT UNBORNS CHILDRENS!!!!!!
posted by matteo at 12:48 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


deanc: Canada also allows for double-jeopardy as well, whereas the US does not.

11. Any person charged with an offence has the right

h) if finally acquitted of the offence, not to be tried for it again and, if finally found guilty and punished for the offence, not to be tried or punished for it again;
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:52 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Any person charged with an offence has the right

h) if finally acquitted of the offence, not to be tried for it again


Perhaps standards in the US and Canada differ as to what "finally acquitted" means, but there are certainly plenty of stories in Canada of an appeals court ordering a "new trial" after a defendant has been acquitted by a lower court. In the US, once you're found not-guilty at any stage of the trial and appeals process, that's it: the government never gets another bite at the apple.
posted by deanc at 12:59 PM on October 21, 2008


The Death Row 10 case was among the reasons former Gov. George Ryan's called a moratorium on capital punishment in Illinois in 2000

Well, yeah, you know, besides that other thing.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:17 PM on October 21, 2008


stickycarpet: short answer "no, he cannot be charged with murder for wrongful executions tied to false confessions resulting from torture in Area 2".

I'm glad they're at least trying to get him, finally. There's lots in the Chicago Reader archives about Area 2, the investigations, the failure to discipline or prosecute the officers involved.

When I was a public defender, here in Chicago just a few years ago, convicts were still raising the torture-in-Area-2 issue on appeal. I had one case, which I won at the state appellate level, which the State appealed to the state supreme court. They withdrew their appeal when they realized the two officers involved in my case had been at Area 2 under Burge, even though the issue on appeal had nothing whatever to do with interrogation or a confession. The officers, even though they are/were still on the force, were simply that tainted. I was sorry they withdrew it because I wanted to win at the state supreme court level.

Anyway. I would like to see this man truly answer for the damage to come out of Area 2.
posted by crush-onastick at 1:17 PM on October 21, 2008 [4 favorites]


Thanks for the post, and I completely agree with deanc about the statute of limitations and double jeopardy. Protection from the state and its agencies is one of the most important tasks of a modern society.
posted by languagehat at 1:19 PM on October 21, 2008


there are certainly plenty of stories in Canada of an appeals court ordering a "new trial" after a defendant has been acquitted by a lower court.

Plenty of stories? I should hope so. That's a feature of common law outside of the U.S., I believe. New trials aren't ordered because the state wants another crack at you, but because there have been errors which render the original verdict unreliable. That's a possibility whether you were convicted or acquitted. You don't get to benefit from errors and neither does the state. Plenty of trial verdicts get reversed. Frankly, some of those lower court judges are wacky.

But yes, no rest for the wicked here. If you murdered a man in '78, you're still on the hook, whether it's being "dangled" in front of you or not.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:28 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


damn straight, languagehat & deanc. and the abuses at Area 2, as paradoxical as it may sound, only serve to remind us how seriously we should take the civil rights of the accused, the presumption of innocence, what it means to have the burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. It is not criminals or "bad people" who are protected by those things, it is everyone ever accused of anything. It's an innocent man, tortured in Area 2, because he was black, poor, in the wrong place at the wrong time, or who had the misfortune to know a person who became victim of a crime.
posted by crush-onastick at 1:40 PM on October 21, 2008


Just to follow up on TheWhiteSkull's comment about how Mayor Daley should be next, here was his response today: the very picture of accountability and conscience.
posted by scody at 1:48 PM on October 21, 2008


Durn Bronzefist, in the US, there is no limitation on first degree murder. Nearly everything else has a limit between one and ten years, but some up to twenty-five, varying by offense and state.
posted by ryanrs at 1:59 PM on October 21, 2008


Cheers, ryanrs. So what's the limitation period on torture? (and what would that be -- grievous bodily harm? Or is there an offence of "torture" in Illinois criminal law?)
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 2:09 PM on October 21, 2008


Let's not get carried away, crush-onastick. Most western countries take all of those things very seriously. It's just that in most of those countries, you wouldn't be trying this guy for perjury. /derail
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 2:14 PM on October 21, 2008


Nearly everything else has a limit between one and ten years, but some up to twenty-five

In child abuse cases, doesn't the clock sometimes start ticking when the victim becomes belatedly aware of the emerging memories of abuse? (I was so tortured, I blacked it out until recently, when this FPP brought it all rushing back?)
posted by StickyCarpet at 2:30 PM on October 21, 2008


In child abuse cases, doesn't the clock sometimes start ticking when the victim becomes belatedly aware of the emerging memories of abuse?

No, but it does depend on the state. (Ref.)
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:50 PM on October 21, 2008


Didn't know anything about any of this. Very interesting. And, y'know, frightening.
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:04 PM on October 21, 2008


In the US, once you're found not-guilty at any stage of the trial and appeals process, that's it: the government never gets another bite at the apple.

That's, uh, not true. Appeals happen all the time, on both sides of the aisle.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 3:54 PM on October 21, 2008


That's, uh, not true. Appeals happen all the time, on both sides of the aisle.

I'm not sure what you mean. Convictions are indeed appealed all the time, but the appeal of an actual acquittal (i.e., a final judgment of "not guilty") in order to retry someone again for the same crime is generally not allowed under U.S. law, except under certain exceptions (for example, if the trial that led to the acquital is found to be fraudulent).

Double jeopardy doesn't apply to retrials after a conviction has been reversed on appeal (which isn't the same as appealing an acquittal), a second trial following a mistrial, a civil proceeding following a criminal trial (hello, O.J.!), etc.
posted by scody at 4:44 PM on October 21, 2008


Woah, Patrick Fitzgerald.

I like that guy.

I hope 10-15 years from now the same thing happens to bush administration officials involved in similar misconduct (on a grander scale). Of course I wouldn't mind seeing it happen sooner, but let's be realistic.

(Of course, I hope Cheney and Rumsfeild live long enough to end up getting pusnished)
posted by delmoi at 4:44 PM on October 21, 2008


Let's not get carried away, crush-onastick. Most western countries take all of those things very seriously.

Right, just like they take free speech very seriously, except that you can't say things that are frowned upon.

posted by languagehat at 4:45 PM on October 21, 2008


Attorney General Patrick Fitzgerald does have a nice ring to it, doesn't it?
posted by scody at 5:17 PM on October 21, 2008


languagehat:Let's not get carried away, crush-onastick. Most western countries take all of those things very seriously.

Right, just like they take free speech very seriously, except that you can't say things that are frowned upon.


Wow, bowl of snark flakes this morning? These things. These particular things. The BARD criminal standard. Presumption of f**king innocence, for goodness sake. Jeez. Yes, America is great, but a few other countries have figured a few things out. c-o was making it sound like a difference of opinion over what actually constitutes double jeopardy and how it is applied is called for a sweep of the brow "oh my gosh, thank god I'm in America" moment. In reality, not so much.

As for re-trials in Canada, they occur due to some fault being found with the original trial. Maybe there is the apprehension of bias of the Judge. Maybe the law was mis-stated. Letting that stand is not justice, regardless of who won at that level. And appeals are reserved for questions of legal import and findings of fact made at the trial level are preserved. Further, appeals have rather tight filing deadlines. They don't haunt a person in perpetuity. But this is all besides the point of this post. If you want to have a discussion about the relative merits of our two justice systems (and if so, let's drag in the quaint notion of different criminal laws for different states, shall we?) elsewhere. We can then discuss going after mobsters for tax evasion and torturers for obstruction of justice. Goodnight.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 6:40 PM on October 21, 2008


Durn--I have no idea what you think I was saying but this last statement of yours makes me think you misunderstand what I said, completely.

I practice in America and I have yet to meet a prosecutor who believed he had an actual burden. Area 2 serves as a very stark reminder that most Americans have no idea how far from the Constitutional ideal the practice of civil rights in the criminal context truly is. And, I believe, what happened in Area 2 should remind us that those protections are not loopholes to get bad guys off; they are rules from which we all benefit.
posted by crush-onastick at 9:17 PM on October 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


Well, moving on from the discussion of the relative merits of double jeopardy and the common-law derived statute of limitations-

Conroy, the reporter mentioned in the post, wrote an excellent book, "Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People," which deals with the Chicago torture scandal in the broader context of police and intelligence agency torture in a number of contexts around the world. Weirdly enough, the Chicago reader has apparently since laid him off for budget reasons.

As the article I linked to points out, Conroy's book predated slightly the Sept. 11th attacks and thereby precisely missed the Bush administration's reintroduction of torture into the official American system, something Conroy assumed was impossible.
posted by jackbrown at 11:53 AM on October 22, 2008


"Attorney General Patrick Fitzgerald does have a nice ring to it, doesn't it?"

That'd be like Superman bringing Batman in and forming the Justice League. Wow.

...what? It'd be cool is all.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:35 PM on October 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


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