Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A torturer charged

Sometimes they look like this by the time they are brought to court

Jon Burge was a Chicago Police Commander who was good at getting confessions from suspects. Carol Marin of the Chicago Sun Times reports on how that worked with one accused.

In 1982, Melvin Jones was picked up on suspicion of murder. He was taken to Area 2 police headquarters on the South Side. That's where he met the infamous Jon Burge.

In a 1999 interview for CBS' 60 Minutes II, Jones quoted Burge as saying, "You only have two rights when you come in here, and that's to confess or get your ass kicked."

Jones said he refused to confess to a crime he didn't commit. That's when, he told me, Jon Burge and two other officers brought out a small hand-cranked electrical device with alligator clips. He saw it spark, then felt a shock as they touched his foot with the clip, and then his inner thigh. And then, Jones said Burge told him, "I'm going to put it on your testicles." Jones said he was in tears, "Trying to holler as loud as I can. . . . I was begging them to stop."

They didn't until Jones confessed. Convicted by one court, Jones was ultimately freed by another.

Twenty-six years later, Burge was arrested on federal charges of perjury and obstruction of justice yesterday. He couldn't be charged directly for the torture (there are believed to have been over 100 victims of this treatment) because the statute of limitations has run out. But federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald (yes, the same one who led the Scooter Libby prosecution) brought the charges. He'll be tried in Chicago.

John Conroy took the case of the Chicago police torturers as one of his three subjects in Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People: The Dynamics of Torture; An Examination of the Practice of Torture in Three Democracies. The other two were what the British did in Northern Ireland to Irish nationalists and what Israel does to Palestinians. His conclusions are not hopeful.

Only a tiny fraction of working torturers will ever be punished, and those who are can expect their punishment to be slight compared to their crime. It seems a very small leap to argue that torture is the perfect crime. There are exceptions, yes, but in the vast majority of cases, only the victim pays.

All the more reason to applaud the tiny minority of cases in which persistent accusers finally get some recourse to justice.

Conroy wrote in 2000, before the Bush administration led the U.S. government into a widespread practice of torture. Dick Cheney's heart probably won't last long enough for him to be brought before a judge. But with all his devotion to physical fitness, perhaps someday we'll see an elderly George W. Bush in the dock. This is certainly an outcome worth working for.


Kay Dennison said...


Darlene said...

I wish every person who used torture had the same thing done to them. That would be punishment that fit the crime.

Nora said...

I dream of day of bouncing a wee babe on my knee and telling her, "See that old bastard? He's going to jail for bad things he did when your mama was young. You and me and everyone we know are going to make sure the things he did never happen again. Now who wants to go to the park?"

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