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Report: Treatment of US suspects at home mirrors that of terror suspects in military custody

Larisa Alexandrovna
Published: Thursday July 13, 2006

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Human Rights advocates see discrepancies between the official US Government account and a non-government organization (NGO) “shadow report,” and cite disturbing examples of human rights abuses that have gone unchecked within the US and unreported by the official government report to the UN Human Rights Committee.

Included in the shadow report are several examples of police brutality and prisoner abuse and torture that not only violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Conventions against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment and Punishment (CAT), but also the United States Constitution.

The USG official report and the “shadow report” submitted to the UN Human Rights Committee will be discussed at hearings scheduled to begin on July 17, in Geneva, Switzerland.

The committee holds hearings every four years to review the compliance status of member nations who are signatories to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) -one of the two treatises that together make up what is commonly referred to as the International Bill of Rights. The US signed and ratified the treaty in 1992.

Following up on a RAW STORY article describing a 456-page “shadow report” by a coalition of 142 US nonprofits, some coalition member groups have now provided a list of discrepancies between the official State Department report and the extensive shadow report presented to the Human Rights Committee.

A shadow report is an NGO rebuttal to the official State presentation.

One of the key sections of this report deals specifically with prisoner abuse and torture within the United States and of United States citizens by authority figures. While disturbing in and of themselves, the cases presented by the shadow report as examples of ICCPR and CAT violations also show troubling similarities between detainee abuse allegations in US military prisons around the world and US domestic prisons.

Of the several examples cited, one of the most egregious is what has come to be known as the Burge torture cases in Chicago.

According to New York City civil rights attorney Andrea Ritchie, who has worked with Incite! Woman of Color Against Violence and authored the prisoner abuse section of the NGO shadow report, the Burge torture claims are prime examples of the extent of the alleged human rights violations and police brutality.

Police Commander Jon Burge and homicide detectives of Areas 2 and 3 Police Headquarters in Chicago, Illinois, were charged with torturing nearly 200 African American men between 1972-1991. Admissions by detectives, eye-witness accounts and other evidence have indicated that Burge and his men “systematically tortured individuals during interrogations, [and] also proves that officers throughout the chain of command were aware of the torture and condoned its practice,” Ritchie quoted in a summary of the case she provided to RAW STORY.

Evidence provided in the Burge cases paint a picture not unlike what has emerged from the Abu Ghraib scandal, or allegations relating to abuse by US authorities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and other US detention facilities in the Middle-East.

The techniques detailed in the Chicago torture cases included “electrically shocking men’s genitals, ears and lips with a cattle prod or an electric shock box, suffocating individuals with plastic bags, mock executions, and beatings with telephone books and rubber hoses,” according to court documents.

No one has been convicted in any of these cases because of the statue of limitations. Some have even been promoted, with the exception of Burge, who was fired but continues to receive a police pension despite the confirmation by internal investigations of horrific atrocities committed against African American men under his care.

An internal report prepared by the city of Chicago confirms accounts of prisoner confessions having been elicited by torture. Subsequent judicial reviews of the 193 known cases have found that Burge and his detectives violated Article I of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment and Punishment, (Hinton v. Uchtman, 395 F 3d 810, 822-23 [7th Cir. 2005]).

Despite this, Ritchie points out that “not a single officer or member of the chain of command has been prosecuted for acts of torture or the conspiracy to obstruct justice required to cover up these crimes. In fact, most of the officers involved have never been sanctioned in any manner whatsoever.”

“While Burge was ultimately fired from the Chicago Police Department in February of 1993 based on his abuse of Andrew Wilson,” other co-conspirators continue to have access to prisoners within the Chicago prison system.

Many of the victims, however, remain incarcerated even though their confessions were elicited illegally both under federal law as well as in violation of CAT, including Article 15.

The shadow report alleges that the U.S. government is in violation of Article II of CAT, having thus far failed to take appropriate measures to stop police brutality and torture of prisoners within the United States. In addition, the UN has repeatedly and falsely been told by the US government that allegations of torture are investigated and appropriately prosecuted immediately.

In the official government report submitted to the U.N Human Rights Committee, there are two examples cited with regard to Chicago, both pointing to cases where defendants successfully sued authorities. Yet there is no mention of the ongoing Burge torture scandal.

The final report on the Burge cases, after twenty years of abuse and close to ten years of litigation, is expected to be released to the public at the end of this month, after the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that no part of the report would be redacted.

Ritchie says that the Burge torture cases are “a pretty good example of where the US government says it is doing one thing, namely prosecuting anyone who an investigation reveals has violated someone's human rights, but is doing quite another - i.e. not doing anything about police brutality and abuse.”

Another example cited in the shadow report is the use of TASERs by law enforcement, which, when unregulated, can be abused to create a situation in violation of the CAT, even though it may in fact be permissible under U.S. law.

On May 5, the US presented to the UN Committee Against Torture its case on the use of TASERs, asserting that the Justice Department was working to develop standards for law enforcement, and was conducting research into known issues and safety in regard to TASER use.

According to Ritchie and other human rights advocates and groups, the NGOs met with officials from DOJ the very next day to inquire about specifics of the standards that were being implemented. The DOJ officials, however, were unable to cite any examples, and according to Ritchie, “wondered aloud if they were even written down anywhere.”

The US has made the case that using TASERS reduces using other methods of force, specifically deadly force, and is in fact saving lives. Yet when questioned by the NGOs, the DOJ was unable to produce any data to support their assertions.

The “shadow report” counters the government’s assertion by pointing out that in 77% of cases, TASERs are used to subdue people who are unarmed and post no threat. Citing extensive research in the “shadow report,” the NGOs point to over 150 deaths in the last five years that have resulted when local law enforcement used TASERs to subdue their victims.

Again, the use of TASERs on suspects shows a disturbing trend of disregard for human rights not only in domestic cases, but has also now emerged as a form of alleged abuse in military prisons such as Abu Ghraib.

This similarity was not missed by the UN Committee during the CAT hearings, where members noted what appeared to be common abuse techniques, specifically in areas of interrogation, comparing the use of electro shock weapons used at military facilities and the use of TASERs domestically.

Ritchie points out that the TASER issue as presented in the “shadow report” not only serve as examples of abuse, but also counter statements made by the USG that appear to be contrary to known research and statistics. “The U.S. government's response," Ritchie says, that, "basically, they say they save lives even though they've killed over 150 people in the last few years, and that they can't regulate local law enforcement agencies - is not true.”

Other areas covered in the “shadow report” include immigration, child protection, the death penalty, and many other areas where human rights advocates believe excessive abuse and violations of international treatise not only happen abroad, but also occur - and violate basic human rights - within the United States. Furthermore, many of the NGO advocates point out that the U.S Constitution, on which the international treatise are based, prohibits many of the human rights abuses already.

The UN Human Rights Committee hearings begin on July 17. The final report is scheduled to be released on July 28.