Police in Chicago circumvented the Constitution by setting up a so-called “black site,” a secret jail where US citizens were held without charges or access to lawyers — and even possibly abused, The Guardian newspaper is alleging.
The police are also accused of using military- or CIA-style interrogation tactics like those against alleged terrorists – except these were against US citizens on American soil.
“It brings to mind the interrogation facilities they use in the Middle East,” protester Brian Jacob Church said of a Chicago Police facility called Homan Square. “The CIA calls them black sites. It’s a domestic black site . When you go in, no one knows what’s happened to you.”
Church claims that Chicago police took him to Homan Square on May 16, 2012, and held him there for 17 hours without booking him or charging him. Homan Square is not a police station. It is an old warehouse used by the police department to store evidence. At Homan Square, Church claims he asked to call his lawyers but the request was denied.
Black Site in America
“Essentially, I wasn’t allowed to make any contact with anybody,” Church said. “I had essentially figured, ‘All right, well, they ‘disappeared’ us and so we’re probably never going to see the light of day again.”
“Disappeared” refers to the practices of death squads in Latin American countries like Argentina in the 1970s that kidnapped and murdered citizens suspected of opposing the government.
Church was part of a group of radicals who were protesting a NATO summit in Chicago. He was later found guilty of mob action and possessing an incendiary device.
Church’s lawyers claim that that they searched for him for 12 hours until they finally found him. The attorneys also say there was no record of Church’s detention until he was booked into a police station 17 hours after his arrest. Since there was no record, there was no way for the lawyers to find Church.
What’s truly frightening is that that Church was the only one of the people held at the alleged black site who was willing to talk to The Guardian. The others were too afraid of police to speak to reporters.
Death at the Black Site?
At least one man, 44-year-old John Hubbard, may have died at Homan Square. The Chicago Tribune reported that Hubbard was found unresponsive in the interrogation room at Homan Square, where he apparently died of a heroin overdose on Feb. 4, 2013.
Other alleged abuses at the black site include beatings by police, keeping people shackled to chairs for long periods of time, and denying attorneys access to the building. One of the people held at the building was reportedly a 15 year old.
The alleged practices at Homan Square violate the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the US Constitution, attorney Flint Taylor told The Guardian. Taylor alleged that such practices have been going on in Chicago for decades.
“This Homan Square revelation seems to me to be an institutionalization of the practice that dates back more than 40 years,” Taylor said, “of violating a suspect or witness’ rights to a lawyer and not to be physically or otherwise coerced into giving a statement.”
Chicago Police denied such allegations in a statement to The Guardian:
“CPD [Chicago police department] abides by all laws, rules and guidelines pertaining to any interviews of suspects or witnesses, at Homan Square or any other CPD facility. If lawyers have a client detained at Homan Square, just like any other facility, they are allowed to speak to and visit them.”
When a Guardian reporter went to Homan Square, which houses evidence seized by police, a security guard told him to leave because it was a secure facility.
Black Site Blamed on Police Militarization
“I’ve never known any kind of organized, secret place where they go and just hold somebody before booking for hours and hours and hours,” former Washington DC Homicide detective James Trainum told The Guardian. “That scares the [heck] out of me that that even exists or might exist.”
Said attorney Eliza Solowiej, “It’s very, very rare for anyone to experience their constitutional rights in Chicago police custody, and even more so at Homan Square.”
Criminologist Tracy Siska blamed the alleged abuses Homan Square on police militarization.
“The real danger in allowing practices like Guantánamo or Abu Ghraib is the fact that they always creep into other aspects,” Siska said. “They creep into domestic law enforcement, either with weaponry like with the militarization  of police, or interrogation practices. That’s how we ended up with a black site in Chicago.”
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