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Jury Convicts Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge of Lying About Torture

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Decades after torture allegations were first leveled against former Chicago police commander Jon Burge, a federal jury has found him guilty of lying about torturing prisoners into making confessions. Burge has long been accused of overseeing the systematic torture of more than 100 African American men. Two years ago federal prosecutors finally brought charges against Burge — not for torture, but for lying about it. On Monday afternoon, after a five-week trial, Jon Burge was found guilty on all counts of perjury and obstruction of justice for lying about the abuse. He could face up to forty-five years in prison. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Decades after torture allegations were first leveled against the former Chicago police commander Jon Burge, a federal jury has found him guilty of lying about torturing prisoners into making confessions. Burge has long been accused of overseeing the systematic torture of more than a hundred African American men. The police department fired him in 1993 for mistreatment of a suspect, but did not press charges. More than a decade later, Cook County prosecutors looked into the torture allegations and found that although there was evidence to show torture had occurred, the statute of limitations had expired.

Two years ago, federal prosecutors finally brought charges against Burge — not for torture, but for lying about it. On Monday afternoon, after a five-week trial, Jon Burge was found guilty on all counts of perjury and obstruction of justice for lying about the abuse. He could face up to forty-five years in prison.

Outside the courthouse, the verdict drew a visibly emotional response from one of the men who had been tortured under Burge, Mark Clements.

    MARK CLEMENTS: These people stole my [bleep] life! I hate to tell you the truth. I sat in a prison cell, and I prayed for this day! Today is a victory for every poor person. I was sixteen years old! This is America! Sixteen years old! What are we going to do about other people who are sitting in those prisons? And I’m sorry if I’m offending anyone, but it’s out!

AMY GOODMAN: This was Mark Clements’s response when reporters asked him how he felt.

    MARK CLEMENTS: Relieved that finally at least one of these people are now going to finally feel the pain. My daughter is twenty-nine years old. I missed all those years with my daughter, sitting in them prison cells for a crime I did not commit. I do not feel sorry for Jon Burge. That’s all I have to say.

AMY GOODMAN: Mark Clements, one of the dozens of men who were tortured under former Chicago police commander Jon Burge.

I’m joined now from Chicago by Flint Taylor, an attorney with the People’s Law Office in Chicago. He’s represented many of the torture victims.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Your response to the guilty verdict, Flint Taylor?

FLINT TAYLOR: 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.

But we’re also saying this struggle has to continue, because there are many men under the command of Jon Burge who are being investigated, who need to be indicted. There are men behind prison bars still who are there because of the torture, by tortured confessions. We need to have a federal statute that says that torture is a crime akin to other human rights violations that has no statute of limitations, so future Burges cannot end up being prosecuted only for perjury and not for the torture that happened. And we need to have full compensation by the city for the men, many of whom have never had or cannot have lawsuits, men who came forward and are the true heroes of this piece and this prosecution, the men who testified against Burge and who were ripped from pillar to post by his lawyer in a very racist way and presented to this jury that it was OK to torture them, it’s OK to torture poor black men who are charged with crimes, who may have been in street gangs.

And 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.

AMY GOODMAN: Last month, just as the trial was beginning, I spoke to Darrell Cannon, one of the dozens of men to come forward with allegations of abuse at the hands of the Chicago police. He says police tortured him in 1983 and forced him to confess to a murder he didn’t commit. He spent more than twenty years in prison. But after a hearing on his tortured confession, prosecutors dismissed his case in 2004. Now he’s suing Chicago for wrongful conviction. In this clip, he’s describing the torture he was subjected to by the Chicago police under Jon Burge’s command.

    DARRELL CANNON: 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 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.

AMY GOODMAN: I also want to turn to an interview I did in 2006 with David Bates, who says he was tortured by men under Burge’s command. This is how he described what happened to him.

    DAVID BATES: I believe it was October the 28th or 29th of 1983, when a few officers knocked on my mom’s door and announced that they were police officers and let my mom know that I’ll be taken away and that I’ll be coming home shortly. There were supposed to be some questions regarding a case. Of course, I got to the police station. I was questioned. I let the officers or detectives know that I had nothing to do with the case. I knew nothing. This went on for two days.

    At that time, it was five sessions of torture, starting with two with slaps and kicks and threats. It was two particular sessions of torture that was very devastating, in which a plastic bag was placed over my head. I was punched and kicked. And I’ll tell you, when you talk about torture, you’re talking about individuals who, most part, were young, had a few brushes with the law, but never in a million years thought that they would have a plastic bag placed over their head.

    More importantly, the torture has never been resolved. No one has ever owned up to the torture. So we have hundreds of individuals who have psychologically been warped, been destroyed. There’s never been any clinical resolution to the torture. No one has owned up to it.

AMY GOODMAN: That was [David Bates]. We talked to him in 2006. Flint Taylor, how is it possible that we’re talking perjury here and not actual torture?

FLINT TAYLOR: Well, it goes right back to the mayor of the city of Chicago, Richard Daley. Back in the early '80s, when this torture first came to light and the doctor from the jail brought definitive evidence to the chief of police, who then brought it to Daley, who was the chief prosecutor at that time, Daley chose not to prosecute Burge, but rather continued to use Burge as a key witness in the prosecution of the person who was tortured. That went on for six or eight years after that, while Daley was the prosecutor. And Darrell Cannon's case arose during that time. David Bates’s case arose during that time. And scores of others were tortured. If those men — those men never would have been tortured if Daley had acted back in 1982 and prosecuted Burge for torture, rather than for obstruction of justice. Since he did not do that, and since the Justice Department, under Reagan, first Reagan, later Bush I, then Clinton, and then Bush II, none of those Justice Departments listened to the movement’s pleas to prosecute Burge for torture when the statute had not run. So the statute was gone by the time that Fitzgerald, the prosecutor who did indict him, after decades of struggle and decades of fighting by the people that were fighting for justice, did indict him. All that was left was his lying in lawsuits that we had brought, that he had lied about torturing people, that he obstructed justice by lying about torturing people. That’s all he could be charged with now.

That’s why we need a federal stature that not only makes police torture a federal crime, but says no statute of limitations. If you cover it up, you can be prosecuted ten, twenty, thirty years later, because these crimes against humanity, this is like the prosecutions in the South of the Klansmen who blew up the church and killed the little children. No matter how long it takes, how many decades, you have to prosecute these people for what they did. In David Bates and Darrell Cannon’s case, they were both prosecuted by John Byrne and Peter Dignan, the two right-hand men of Burge. They have to be prosecuted, as well. There’s an open investigation, and we’re now calling for them to be indicted and to be prosecuted. And the entire political structure here is in question. And the mayor has still been — is silent at this point.

AMY GOODMAN: Mayor Daley.

FLINT TAYLOR: But the money that the city of Chicago has paid has to be stopped, for defending Burge and his men.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re talking Mayor Daley.

FLINT TAYLOR: Yeah, of course. The city has paid, and still pays, tens of millions of dollars for pensions for these men. They’ve paid over $10 million to defend the cases in civil courts. They’re still paying for defense of Burge in the civil courts. The Fraternal Order of Police has paid millions of dollars to defend Burge in the criminal cases. So the city is still on the wrong side of this issue after all these years. And one man who testified, Melvin Jones, is homeless. He never has gotten a nickel over all these years, yet he’s come forward and testified. The city has to make these people whole. Just because they don’t have a lawsuit that they can bring, there has to be compensation. There has to be treatment offered to these men. There are over 110 men who have been tortured. That’s been documented. So this jury only heard it from a few of them. There are many others that are still behind bars. All of these issues remain unresolved in the city. And so, the conscience of the city and justice in the city cannot be obtained until all of these issues are dealt with. And that’s why people rejoice in this verdict, but that we know that how many more years, or decades, hopefully not, however much longer it takes, we have to get full justice in these cases and make sure that this kind of thing cannot and does not happen again.

AMY GOODMAN: Flint Taylor, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Flint Taylor, the attorney with the People’s Law Office in Chicago. By the way, that last clip was David Bates, who I interviewed in 2006.

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