Foreign Policy, Ep. 3: Torture & Police Brutality in America by the Government

Release Date
July 23, 2016

Topic

Civil Liberties Ethics Government Justice Politics & Policy
Description

What if torturing foreigners abroad also meant the torture of American criminal suspects?
Today, debates about the use of torture usually focus on the treatment of foreign terror suspects outside of the United States. Less talked about are the many well-documented instances of torture inflicted on US citizens in their own cities by their own government. Prof Abby Hall Blanco from the University of Tampa explains.

Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Programs (Government document):  An unclassified Senate report on CIA torture. 
Here’s the Latest Evidence Torture Doesn’t Keep Us Safe (article): Psychological stressors of torture prove to be ineffective means of gaining information from suspected terrorists. 
The Horrific Stories of CIA-sponsored Torture That Aren’t in the Senate Report (article): The Senate report glosses over the practice of rendition, which this article discusses. 

>> Today, debates about the use of torture usually focus on the treatment of foreign terror suspects outside of the United States. Less talked about are the many well-documented instances of torture inflicted on US citizens in their own cities by their own government. One of the most infamous examples of torture in the US happened in Chicago in the 1970s.
 
A police officer named Jon Burge had been promoted to detective and assigned to area two of the Chicago PD. Soon after, suspects held there began to be tortured in a variety of ways. They were shocked by cattle prods and beaten with ashtrays, flashlights, phone books, and rubber hoses.
 
They were sexually assaulted, having their genitals kicked, stepped on, and electrocuted. They were deprived of food, water, and held incommunicado for prolonged periods of time. They were stripped naked, held in stress positions, and denied sleep. Victims were also subjected to mock executions, including games of Russian roulette, having nooses placed around their necks, guns put in their mouths and being dangled out of open windows.
 
Burge and his men subjected at least 110 African American men to torture. Leading to false confessions and wrongful convictions. Chicago journalist, John Conroy, has documented that Burge’s use of these techniques was influenced by his prior experiences as part of the ninth military police company during the Vietnam war.
 
In Vietnam, Burge was stationed at the Dong Tam prison where he processed, transported, and guarded prisoners. According to his company commander, members of his unit participated in the torture of prisoners, including electro torture. One of them stated, quote, we could pretty much do anything, as long as we didnt leave scars on people.
 
The connection between the torture practice in Dom Tam, and that which later occurred in Chicago’s Area 2, is clear. If any doubt remained, a long time Chicago police officer testified that Burge had referred to these methods as the Vietnam Special, or the Vietnamese Treatment. Unfortunately this illegal treatment was part of a broader pattern.
 
There are documented cases going back more than a hundred years of local law enforcement officers using torture techniques on American citizens that they’d learned in foreign war zones, including not only Vietnam, but the Philippine-American War, World War II, and recent conflicts like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
 
This pattern has been repeated despite the fact that protections against torture are enshrined in our nation’s founding documents. Including the 8th Amendment of the Bill of Rights, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. And the 5th Amendment, which says that defendants cannot be forced to testify against themselves. But such legal protections have not been enough to prevent this abuse.
 
The lesson is that when Americans at war are taught that torture is acceptable to elicit information or dole out punishment, they may not leave those experiences behind on foreign battlefields. History tells us that some of them will use those methods in their work back home. This should offer a new perspective on the debate over whether the use of torture can be morally justified.
And whether its effects can ever be contained.