Yesterday, a jury found former Chicago police commander Jon Burge guilty. Not of the torture which it’s alleged he committed and/or oversaw in his years as a detective and commander in Chicago Police Area 2, but of lying about the torture under oath.
Many hundreds of people were (allegedly) tortured, some into confessing to crimes they didn’t commit. Others were never charged with a crime. Despite notifying the Cook County State’s Attorney of at least fifty incidents of torture, and despite an array of lawuits against Burge, his cohorts, and the city, Burge continued as a detective, and a torturer, for over a decade. Burge was finally forced to retire in 1993. He moved to Florida, where he’s been living ever since on a full pension.
John Conroy covered the story for the Chicago Reader, going back to 1990. I followed the story for years. When the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, I believed one could draw a line from the south side of Chicago to the prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan where American service people tortured people in custody. I chose to turn it into fiction, in Hardball, where V I Warshawski has to come face to face with the torture of suspects in custody, and find out what role her beloved father played in that police district.
Several brave people brought the original story to light. You can read about them in full in the Chicago Reader files. Some of the torture victims were what prosecutors like to call “the worst of the worst–” a title they gave the hundreds of men scooped up and sent to Guantanamo. Some were innocent. None deserved to have a current run through electrodes on their genitals and ears.
I sat through part of Burge’s trial. It was impossible to know how the jury was reacting. Burge himself seemed not only confident but cocky, smirking with his lawyers, leaning back in his chair at ease. I didn’t know what to expect, but I feel a certain relief that the jury found him guilty.