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Guantánamo torturer: Led brutal Chicago regime of shackling and confession

A Chicago detective who led one of the most shocking acts of torture ever conducted at Guantánamo Bay was responsible for implementing a disturbingly similar, years-long regime of brutality to elicit murder confessions from minority Americans.

In a dark foreshadowing of the United States’ post-9/11 descent into torture, a Guardian investigation can reveal that Richard Zuley, a detective on Chicago’s north side from 1977 to 2007, repeatedly engaged in methods of interrogation resulting in at least one wrongful conviction and subsequent cases more recently thrown into doubt following allegations of abuse.

Zuley’s record suggests a continuum between police abuses in urban America and the wartime detention scandals that continue to do persistent damage to the reputation of the United States.

Zuley’s tactics, which would be supercharged at Guantánamo when he took over the interrogation of a high-profile detainee as a US Navy reserve lieutenant, included:

Shackling suspects to police-precinct walls through eyebolts for hours on end.

Accusations of planting evidence when there was pressure for a high-profile murder conviction.

Threats of harm to family members of those under interrogation used as leverage.

Pressure on suspects to implicate themselves and others.

Threats of being subject to the death penalty if suspects did not confess.

The Cook County state’s attorney office now has an examination open into a second conviction involving Zuley, filings in an Illinois court showed on Tuesday (The Guardian is publishing the first part of its investigation on Wednesday.)

While representatives of the state’s attorney’s office told the Guardian that the examination concerns only a single case, the office is seeking civilian complaint files regarding Zuley from a local independent police review authority.

Richard Zuley
While ‘assigned’ to the US military base at Guantánamo Bay, longtime Chicago detective and US Naval reservist Richard Zuley led one of the most brutal interrogations ever conducted at the prison. “I’ve never seen anyone stoop to these levels,” a former Marine Corps prosecutor said. Illustration: Nate Kitch/The Guardian

The wrongful-conviction examination into Zuley follows an extraordinary 2013 decision by state’s attorney Anita Alvarez to free an innocent man Zuley’s faulty police work sent to prison for 23 years.

Lathierial Boyd, convicted in 1990 of murder, accuses Zuley in a federal civil-rights lawsuit of planting evidence and withholding crucial details.

Boyd told the Guardian that Zuley had a racial animus as well. “No nigger is supposed to live like this,” he remembered Zuley telling him after the detective searched his expensive loft.

Other Chicago cases detailed by the Guardian, centering on three people interrogated by Zuley who are still in state prison, turned up evidence in police precinct houses of severe and internationally condemned tactics in Guantánamo Bay interrogation rooms.

Several of those techniques – prolonged shackling, threats about family, pressure to confess – used by Zuley bear similarities to those he enacted when he took over the interrogation of Mohamedou Ould Slahi at Guantánamo, described in official government reports and a best-selling memoir serialised last month by the Guardian as one of the most brutal in the history of the notorious US wartime prison.

After Zuley took over in July 2003, Slahi was subjected to even more extreme interrogation tactics: multiple death threats, extreme temperatures, sleep deprivation and a terrifying nighttime boat ride in which he was made to believe that worse was in store.

Most official accounts of Slahi’s torture have concealed or glossed over Zuley’s name.

A weeks-long Guardian investigation, unraveled from footnotes in Slahi’s memoir and involving thousands of police and court documents plus interviews with two dozen veterans of both Guantánamo Bay and Chicago criminal justice, complicates that history.

As Slahi did, inmates said they confessed untruthfully to try and stop the treatment by Zuley.

“Basically, they just tortured me, mentally, and somewhat physically, with the cuffs,” Benita Johnson, an inmate serving a 60-year murder sentence, told the Guardian from prison of the interrogation that led to her conviction.

Chicago has long had an institutional problem with police torture. An infamous former police commander, Jon Burge, used to administer electric shocks to Chicagoans taken into his station, and hit them over the head with telephone books. On Friday, Burge was released from home monitoring, the conclusion of a four and a half year federal sentence – not for torture, but for perjury.

“There have been a number of really bad apples in the Chicago police department who unquestionably have railroaded unknown numbers of innocent people into prison,” said Rob Warden, the founder of Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions. But Warden said he had “never heard of any case in which people graduated from Chicago to Guantánamo”.

Zuley, through a spokesperson, declined to cooperate with the Guardian’s investigation, despite multiple requests. Neither his attorney nor the Chicago police department responded to a detailed list of questions.

Mark Fallon, the former deputy commander of Guantánamo’s now-shuttered investigative task force for the military commissions, said Zuley’s interrogation of Slahi “was illegal, it was immoral, it was ineffective and it was unconstitutional.”

When Zuley took over the Slahi interrogation in 2003 – his name has gone widely unreported – he designed a plan so brutal it received personal sign-off from then-US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

“The way that he approached interrogations at Guantánamo,” Fallon said, “if that’s any reflection of what he did in Chicago, it would not surprise me that he’s got a few issues going on right now.”

 

Secret Chicago ‘black site’

“CIA or Gestapo tactics”? (actually the Gestapo inherited its tactics from the Brits)

‘You’re a hostage. It’s kidnapping’

The US Department of Justice and embattled mayor Rahm Emanuel are under mounting pressure to investigate allegations of what one politician called “CIA or Gestapo tactics” at a secretive Chicago police facility exposed by the Guardian.

Politicians and civil-rights groups across the US expressed shock upon hearing descriptions of off-the-books interrogation at Homan Square, the Chicago warehouse that multiple lawyers and one shackled-up protester likened to a US counter-terrorist black site in a Guardian investigation published this week.

As a second person came forward to the Guardian detailing her own story of being “held hostage” inside Homan Square without access to an attorney or an official public record of her detention by Chicago police, officials and activists said the allegations merited further inquiry and risked aggravating wounds over community policing and race that have reached as high as the White House.

Caught in the swirl of questions around the complex – still active on Wednesday – was majority in a contest that has seen debate over police tactics take a central role.

Emanuel’s office refused multiple requests for comment from the Guardian on Wednesday, referring a reporter to an unspecific denial from the Chicago police.

But Luis Gutiérrez, the influential Illinois congressman whose shifting support for Emanuel was expected to secure Tuesday’s election, joined a chorus of colleagues in asking for more information about Homan Square.

“I had not heard about the story until I read about it in the Guardian,” Gutiérrez said late Wednesday.

“I want to get more information, but if the allegations are true, it sounds outrageous.”

Congressman Danny Davis, a Democrat who represents the Chicago west-side neighbourhood where Homan Square is located, said he was “terribly saddened” to hear of the allegations.

Davis said he “would certainly strongly support an investigation” by the US Department of Justice, as two former senior justice department civil-rights officials urged the department on Wednesday to launch.

Earlier in the day, as a county commissioner urged the top law-enforcement investigators in the country to do the same, another reporter and photographer waited to accompany him on a visit outside the premises of Homan Square.

A man, in a jumpsuit and a ski mask, pulled out of the Homan Square parking lot in an SUV and made multiple circles before coming to a stop.

“You can take a picture,” said the man, who refused to give his name and then offered what he considered a joke: “We are all CIA, right?”

Homan Square 2

Pinterest
This man circled around a reporter and photographer for the Guardian twice while waiting for a local politician. Photograph: Chandler West for the Guardian

Outside the red-brick Homan Square compound on Wednesday, a young mother ushered her two children to the sidewalk on West Fillmore Avenue. “I am at the police station,” she yelled into her phone, over traffic noise. “Can I call you back?”

The woman held her children close, shivering against the wind as plain-clothes officers and pedestrians scurried across the busy four-way intersection.

Until this week, the Cook County commissioner Richard Boykin only knew of the warehouse next-door – like the mother – as a police facility in a struggling Chicago neighbourhood.

“I hadn’t heard of the sort of CIA or Gestapo tactics that were mentioned in the Guardian article until it was brought to my attention,” Boykin said in an interview outside Homan Square. “And we are calling for the Department of Justice to open an investigation into these allegations.”

The Guardian reported on Tuesday that police in Chicago detain suspects at Homan Square without booking them, thereby preventing their relatives and lawyers from knowing their whereabouts, reminiscent in the eyes of some lawyers and civil-rights activists of a CIA black site.

While people are held at Homan Square, which lawyers described as a process that often lasted between 12 and 24 hours, several attorneys said they had been refused access to the facility, and described entrance to it as a rare occurrence. One man interviewed by the Guardian said that ahead of a Nato protest in 2012, he was handcuffed to a bar behind bench for 17 hours inside Homan Square and refused a phone call before police finally permitted him to see his attorney.

“You are just kind of held hostage,” Suter told the Guardian. “The inability to see a lawyer is a drastic departure from what we consider our constitutional rights. Not being able to have that phone call, the lack of booking, makes it so that when you’re there, you understand that no one knows where you are.”

Boykin, the county commissioner, looked up at the warehouse and said that a potential US justice department investigation would be “an extension of reform – making sure people’s basic rights are not violated but that they have opportunity to counsel”.

“It’s one thing to quell demonstration and protests,” Boykin said, “but it’s another thing to use antiquated Gestapo tactics that are more commonly found in parts of the underdeveloped world or in places like China or Russia.”

“Not in America.”

Obama’s task force on improving police relations in the wake of the shooting of the unarmed teenager Michael Brown six months ago in Ferguson, Missouri, was expected to release its first set of recommendations on community policing as soon as Monday.

The third anniversary of the killing of unarmed teenager teenager Trayvon Martin is Thursday, two days after a Department of Justice civil-rights investigation brought no charges against George Zimmerman, the neighbourhood watchman who shot him dead.

‘I thought we were making progress’

Scott Waguespack, the alderman of Chicago’s 32nd ward, said he, too, was unaware of potential abuses at the Homan Square warehouse until he read the Guardian’s investigation this week.

During the 2012 Nato summit, he said, Chicago police officials told local politicians that arrestees would end up bussed to the department’s Belmont district precinct on the city’s West Side, and not Homan. “That’s where we assumed they went,” he told a third Guardian reporter.

Waguespack claimed meaningful police reform has stalled under Emanuel, citing the mayor’s failure to pass a city ordinance designed to enforce more oversight to the controversial police oversight board, as well as inconsistencies in crime statistics.

The alderman said the “best thing” that the “next mayor” of Chicago could do about the Homan Square allegations was bring in federal investigators: “Then the civil rights division of the justice department can say: ‘Here’s how we scrutinized it’.”

The Guardian sent a list of detailed questions about Homan Square to Emanuel’s office on Wednesday. A spokesman for the mayor referred a fourth reporter to a Chicago police department statement issued to multiple media outlets on Tuesday, and declined to return multiple calls seeking clarification.

“If lawyers have a client detained at Homan Square, just like any other facility, they are allowed to speak to and visit them,” the statement reads, without elaborating on when those meetings take place. “There are always records of anyone who is arrested by CPD, and this is not any different at Homan Square,” the statement continues, without addressing specifics as to how or when those records are logged.

Amnesty International USA has called for the mayor to open his own “independent and impartial investigation” into the Homan Square facility, with the human-rights group requesting “unrestricted access” to the site.

In a letter to Emanuel, Amnesty USA’s executive director Steven Hawkins wrote: “As the mayor of Chicago, you have a responsibility under US and international law to ensure that human rights violations are not committed within the city.”

The group lobbied Emanuel during the mayoral campaign to commit to a program of reparations for victims of abuse between 1972 and 1991 at the hands Jon Burge, the notorious former Chicago police commander who was released from home custody this month.

Emanuel has not made a financial commitment to reparations but has promised a route to “closure” for the surviving victims.

“It is his responsibility as the mayor of Chicago, as a public figure to make sure that his city is complying with international law,” Amnesty USA’s senior campaigner, Jasmine Heiss, told the Guardian. “Because without a clear commitment to addressing things like police torture, it gives torturers the go ahead to continue to undermine the rule of law and ignore international guidelines.”

A representative for the Chicago branch of the American Civil Liberties Union said the group was gathering facts about Homan Square as well.

Jesús “Chuy” Garcia, the county commissioner challenging Emanuel in an April runoff vote that local political watchers warned could become a national “free-for-all”, did not respond to multiple requests for comment after a separate Guardian interview on Monday.

But his colleague, Boykin, said the mayor had an obligation to find more answers. “Fifty-plus percent of the people voted against the mayor yesterday,” Boykin said outside Homan Square. “I think the mayor has a problem.”

Davis, the US congressman whose west-side offices were located near Homan Square for 15 years, said the activities alleged at Homan Square potentially “undermined and torn up” efforts to promote police as “positive role models”.

“One of the things that for many years some of us, people like myself, have been working on [is] to try and help foster a different sense of what law enforcement ought to be among people and especially young people as they are growing up,” Davis said.

Karl Brinson, president of the Chicago Westside Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the NAACP was attempting “to find out what’s going on” at Homan Square.

“We knew the facility was there, but we didn’t know what all it encompassed exactly and what was taking place there,” he told the Guardian. “You’re never going to build trust with anybody or get any kind of community relationships going on while doing this.”

The justice department declined to comment to the Guardian on Wednesday.

(The spouse of Guardian US national security editor Spencer Ackerman works in the press office of Amnesty International USA. Ackerman was not involved with the group in any reporting for this article.)


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adonis49

March 2020
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