Alleged Chicago Torturer's Overdue Day in Court

Abu Ghraib has nothing over Chicago. Forty
years ago, Jon Burge returned from Vietnam, joined the Chicago Police
Department and allegedly began torturing people. He rose in the ranks
to become a commander in Chicago's South Side, called Area 2. Electric
shocks to the genitals, mock executions, suffocation with bags over the
head, beatings and painful stress positions are among the torture
techniques that Burge and police officers under his command are accused
of using to extract confessions in Chicago, mostly from
African-American men. More than 110 men are known to have been victims
of Burge and his associates. Victims often went to prison, some to
death row. Facing mounting evidence and increasing community outcry,
Burge was fired from the Chicago Police Department in 1993. He now
lives in Florida, collecting his pension.

This week, in a federal criminal trial
beginning in Chicago, Burge faces charges, not for torture, but for
lying about torture under oath in an earlier civil suit brought by one
of his victims (since the statute of limitations on torture,
remarkably, has expired). He faces up to 45 years in prison. Burge's
co-conspirators remain uncharged. Also untouched in the trial is the
role played by the current mayor of Chicago, Richard M. Daley, who as
state's attorney for Cook County from 1980 to 1989, and as mayor since
then, has consistently fought investigations or prosecutions of the
alleged torturers.

Darrell Cannon is one of the men alleging
torture against Burge and his associates. He says police tortured him
in 1983 and forced him to confess to a murder he didn't commit. He
spent more than 20 years in prison, but after a hearing on his tortured
confession, prosecutors dismissed his case in 2004. It took him three
more years to gain release from prison.

At 6 a.m. on Nov. 2, 1983, Chicago cops
under Burge's command arrested Cannon and drove him to an isolated
industrial area on the Chicago waterfront. He related his ordeal to me:

"They did a mock hanging, where I'm cuffed
behind my back and one of the detectives would get on the bumper of the
detective car, the other two detectives would lift me up to him, and he
would grab my handcuffs from behind. They would let me go. That will
cause my arms to go up backwards, almost wrenching the inside of my
shoulders.... Then they switched to a second torture treatment, where
they got their shotgun.... One of them said, "Go ahead, blow that
ni***r's head off." And that's when [Detective] Peter Dignan forced the
shotgun in my mouth.... They did a mock execution three times."

Cannon refused to confess. He went on: "They then put me in the
backseat of a detective car.... They pulled my pants and my shorts down
... took an electric cattle prod, turned it on and proceeded to shock
me on my testicles."

Cannon finally made a false and coerced statement, implicating himself as an accomplice to murder, to make the torture stop.

His attorney, Flint Taylor, is with the
People's Law Office, which has been representing scores of Burge's
alleged torture victims. Taylor pointed out the controversial role of
Mayor Daley. "Darrell Cannon here, my client, was tortured in 1983. If
Daley had moved in 1982 with the evidence he had to remove Burge from
the police force and prosecute him for torture, we would not have
Darrell Cannon spending 20, 25 years behind bars and not having him
tortured by electric shock. So, the real crime here started many years
ago with the cover-up, a cover-up that was engineered by the mayor

In January 2003, before leaving office,
Illinois Gov. George Ryan, a Republican, commuted the death sentences
of all 156 people on Illinois' death row, after the innocence of 13
other death row inmates had been proved. Ryan pardoned four on death
row who were known to be victims of Burge's torture.

Where did it all begin? One thing is
clear: In 1968-69, Burge was an MP at the U.S. Army's Dong Tam camp in
Vietnam's Mekong Delta, where captured suspected Viet Cong soldiers
were allegedly interrogated with electric, hand-cranked field
telephones supplying shocks. Torture techniques similar to this were
rampant under Burge's command in Chicago.

Given ongoing reports of torture in Iraq
and Afghanistan, we have to wonder how many Jon Burges are being bred
in President Barack Obama's two wars.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

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