UPDATED: March 5, 2015, at 10:47 p.m.
On February 24, the British newspaper The Guardian published a shocking article called “The disappeared: Chicago police detain Americans at abuse-laden 'black site.’” The Guardian's reports of significant abuses of justice merit significant public and media scrutiny, particularly given our current national focus on police brutality and abuse of power. Unfortunately, the American news media have lagged behind in reporting to this shocking story, to the detriment of the public and the rule of law.
Starting this February, The Guardian began to publish a series of investigative reports on torture, evidence planting, and other abuses in the Chicago Police Department. Sources ranged from victims and social justice advocates to criminology professors and lawyers. Reports centered on former detective Richard Zuley, who allegedly applied these illegal methods over the course of a 30-year career in Chicago before taking over an interrogation position in Guantánamo Bay in 2003.
The Guardian’s reports then moved to Chicago’s Homan Square, where victims allege they were shackled for long stretches without food, denied the right to see a lawyer, and locked in isolation in order to bring about psychological distress. While legal experts debate whether The Guardian’s comparison to CIA “black sites” is apt, it seems likely that Homan Square and other CPD holding centers were sites of serious miscarriages of justice. In response to the story, Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin called the CPD’s techniques “Gestapo tactics” and called for the Justice Department to investigate.
The allegations of torture and mistreatment at Homan Square feed a larger, painful national conversation about abuses in law enforcement. Since the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, cases of lethal force by police have filled the news and sparked protests and community conversations across the country, as well as on this campus. In recent days, protestors–some associated with the Black Lives Matter movement and the hacker group Anonymous–have begun to congregate around Homan Square. Certain elected officials have also demanded answers.
Sadly, the city of Chicago has not been forthcoming. The CPD responded to The Guardian article in a written statement that called the reports of abuse “unequivocally false.” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a former Chief of Staff to President Obama who is currently locked in a tight race for re-election, has also denied the allegations, and his office is referring inquiries to the CPD statement. Given the severity of The Guardian’s allegations and the questions they raise about Chicago’s police force, Emanuel’s refusal to investigate is outrageous. Homan Square should matter to all Chicagoans, including and especially the Mayor.
The American news media also deserves a large share of the blame for the city’s lack of accountability. Emanuel felt he could dodge the story only because major news organizations have been disappointingly slow to report on the topic, particularly outside of Chicago. The Guardian’s reporting was quickly followed by Salon, The Atlantic’s online edition, and the New York Daily News. But other major big-city dailies, such as The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times, have not reported anything at all.
If we want the full story, we will have to demand it—not only from the politicians, but from the press as well. The issues raised by Homan Square are too large to ignore, and deserve far more attention from the fourth estate.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: March 5, 2015
An earlier version of this editorial misspelled the name of the police warehouse complex Homan Square.