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Chicago police are secretly holding and torturing U.S. citizens in a domestic 'black site' prison, a Guardian investigation reveals. (Photo: kIM DARam/flickr/cc)

Chicago Police Secretly Detain, Abuse Americans at Domestic 'Black Site

Investigation by the Guardian uncovers accounts of torture, disappearances, death by brutal police regime

Nadia Prupis, staff writer

Chicago police have operated a secret prison-like compound where they detain, interrogate, and torture U.S. citizens in what lawyers call a domestic equivalent to a CIA "black site," an exclusive investigation by the Guardian revealed on Tuesday.

A "nondescript warehouse" on Chicago's west side, known as Homan Square, is in fact a secret facility used by special police units to hold people without entering them into official booking databases, explains Guardian reporter Spencer Ackerman, who also revealed the brutal regime of former Chicago police officer and Guantánamo Bay guard Richard Zuley last week.

At Homan Square, according to the report, detainees are beaten, shackled for prolonged periods of time, and denied access to attorneys and other constitutional rights. Some of those held at the site have been as young as 15 years old. At least individual was "found unresponsive in an 'interview room' and later pronounced dead," Ackerman reports.

One man, Brian Jacob Church, was turned over to local police to be officially booked and charged after spending roughly 17 hours handcuffed to a bench and interrogated at Homan Square, without being read his Miranda rights. Church was taken into custody along with Jared Chase and Brent Vincent Betterly on May 16, 2012 after the three took part in a protest against the NATO summit in Chicago which was infiltrated by officers.

Church's experience was apparently standard for the operation. Ackerman writes:

The secretive warehouse is the latest example of Chicago police practices that echo the much-criticized detention abuses of the US war on terrorism. While those abuses impacted people overseas, Homan Square – said to house military-style vehicles, interrogation cells and even a cage – trains its focus on Americans, most often poor, black and brown. [...]

“It’s sort of an open secret among attorneys that regularly make police station visits, this place – if you can’t find a client in the system, odds are they’re there,” said Chicago lawyer Julia Bartmes.

Homan Square is not used solely for so-called "terrorism" cases. Police have reportedly conducted anti-drug and anti-gang operations at the facility, bringing suspects into the compound for off-the-books interrogation. Ackerman continues:

On a smaller scale, Homan Square is “analogous to the CIA’s black sites,” said Andrea Lyon, a former Chicago public defender and current dean of Valparaiso University Law School. When she practiced law in Chicago in the 1980s and 1990s, she said, “police used the term ‘shadow site’” to refer to the quasi-disappearances now in place at Homan Square.

As criminologist and civil rights activist Tracy Siska noted, the cases of Homan Square and Richard Zuley, as well as the growing trend of police militarization, parallel the abuses that take place overseas in prisons like Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay.

Chicago's Cook County received roughly 1,700 pieces of military equipment through the Pentagon's controversial 1033 program, through which the federal government disperses surplus weapons, tanks, and other materials used in war.

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