Posts Tagged police torture

Ex-Chicago police commander allowed to keep pension, despite his links to torture

In October 2013 we wrote a piece commenting on the decision of the Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel apologising on behalf of now-infamous Jon Burge, an ex-police commander and celebrated war veteran sentenced to four-years in prison for a campaign of racism and torture in 1970s’ and 1980s’ Chicago.

Former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge leaves the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago on Tuesday morning, June 29, 2010. (Jos? M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune)

Former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge leaves the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago on Tuesday morning, June 29, 2010. (Jose M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune)

Mr Burge was sentenced in 2011 to four-years in prison for lying under questioning when the allegations of torture were brought against him, allegations which he faced no charges for following his dismissal from the police in 1993.

Yet as more and more evidence came to light, it appeared Burge had indeed spearheaded a campaign of torture which affected over 200 people. Most of these survivors have since been awarded compensation but Burge was not charged for these crimes – he was charged for lying about them, not committing them.

But today it is not only the victims who are receiving money – Jon Burge is too.

Despite earning his publicly-funded pension entitlement during his notorious near two decade rule as police commander, Jon Burge, a convicted felon, will be able to receive his $3,000-a-month pension.

At a recent police pension board meeting, a tied vote of 4-4 assured that Mr Burge will be able to claim his pension upon release. As the Chicago Sun-Times notes:

Half of the board members actually argued that his 2010 conviction for lying about torturing suspects was not connected to his police job because the crime for which he was convicted — lying — came after he was no longer a cop. We’re sure that’s not how it looked to the men who were beaten, put through mock executions and shocked on their genitals by Burge and his midnight crew in the 1970s and 1980s.

This decision adds another example of impunity for the crimes of torture in the US and sends a negative message to the victims and to the human rights groups who have condemned the news. Many of the victims have yet to receive full reparations or rehabilitation and this move shows that full condemnation of a torturer is still a long way off.

And for the US – who could be a powerful anti-torture advocate – rulings such as this are incredibly worrying.

Further reading:

For more information on the Jon Burge case – including the decision by the Chicago Mayor to apologise on his behalf – click this link for our previous blog summarising the story.


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Apologising for torture is never enough

Jon Burge (picture courtesy of

Jon Burge (picture courtesy of

‘Sorry’ is such a short word but has so many long and deep meanings attached to it. You can apologise for an argument, a disagreement, an accident perhaps. But when it comes to torture, sorry is not enough – and never should it be accepted as enough.

Only a couple of weeks ago the Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, apologised for the decades of unbridled abuse and torture towards black suspects under the watch of Police Commander Jon Burge.

The torture and racism, which was rife for a period of almost 20 years, began in 1972 when celebrated Vietnam veteran Burge was elected as the new tough police commander for the Chicago Police Department.

Almost immediately after his appointment, allegations of torture began to emerge, with many focusing on being tortured to secure confessions. Through the 70s’ and 80s’ further allegations arose, most notably following the killing of a police officer in Chicago in February 1982, where black suspects were rounded up and handcuffed to stationary objects for long periods of time, pets were killed in front of their owners and children were held at gunpoint while questioned.

Allegations of torture under Burge’s rule continued to grow. Today, there have been over 200 registered complaints of torture, many of which are still being compensated. So far $85 million has been paid in compensation but many cases are still awaiting outcome.

Burge was dismissed from the police in 1993 and faced no charges for his allegations. However, in 2011, he was sentenced to four years in prison for lying under questioning when the allegations were brought against him.

In this respect, justice has been served in this case to some extent – the main head of this torturous movement has been made to face the facts. But other than a single change at the top and an apology, changes in this case – and many others – are rarely meaningful and longstanding.

In any case of torture there needs to be processes in place to ensure that the perpetrators face full and open legal inquiries – not just the figurehead of torture, but those who actually delivered the torture in person.

In this vein there need to be routes in place for victims to seek justice in the first instance. Victims and perpetrators need to know that, whatever their story, torture is wrong in every instance. Torture is used to extract information, to prevent the flow of information, to torment, to persuade, to shock, to damage someone’s livelihood, or simply to establish a message. It can happen to anyone in any country regardless of political, religious or social sympathies. Torture is wrong and every victim of torture needs to be granted simple, effective routes to pursue justice, truth and rehabilitation.

Torture victims also need rehabilitation – they need to be notified that services exist to help them develop their lives and they need to be allowed to use these services to ensure they can move forward. No one should suffer at all for any length of time, let alone throughout their life.

Simply apologising for wrongs is not enough. Words only mean so much.

Strong words must be followed up with strong actions. While an expression of sorrow may well be a legitimate feeling, this does not mean the torture is ‘solved’ or forgotten. There are still underlying issues which need addressing which can only be addressed fully through the pursuit of justice and reform.

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“A lot has changed”: A journalist’s view from Egypt

Tom Rollins (right) interviewing Abdullah al-Ashaal, former presidential candidate

Tom Rollins (right) interviewing Abdullah al-Ashaal, former presidential candidate

Working in the Middle East was always an ambition for 24-year-old journalist Tom Rollins. The region is a far cry from home in the north-east of England but that did not deter him from seizing an opportunity to live and work in Cairo.

He braced himself for a considerable change of life, coincidentally at a time when Egypt was on the cusp of even greater change with President Mohamed Morsi gradually becoming ousted after months of intense protests. But since arriving in Egypt, Tom has witnessed injustices, arrests and protests at a rate he could not anticipate.

“I arrived in Cairo around a fortnight before the June 30 protests,” says Tom. “The day before I flew to Cairo I was sat in Hyde Park, London, speaking to an Egyptian-Saudi couple about Egypt, about Tamarod [the grassroots movement founded in opposition to President Morsi] and what might happen.

“They said things would become messy again and I should be careful, but that was it, really. It seemed a long way off, I suppose.”

The Egyptian political and social landscape altered almost immediately after Tom’s arrival. July saw the military oust President Morsi and counter-protests from the Muslim Brotherhood and pro-Morsi demonstrators. Since the summer, Tom has witnessed protests from all sides and heavy-handed crackdowns on protestors, leading to thousands of deaths and arrests.

“When I arrived, there was a president in power that isn’t there now,” Tom says wryly. “A lot has changed.”

“With Morsi gone, Egypt became more violent, polarised and difficult to work out. There was that period of intense violence with around 2,000 dead – which reached its peak with the dispersals and then Ramses Square and the Fath mosque siege – but even though that’s dissipated more or less, the threat hasn’t gone.

“The protests and arrests have become routine now. I think 2011 [the year of the revolution and when protests in Egypt subsequently rallied against military rule] changed a lot of young people’s view of the world, particularly around what street politics could achieve – in Egypt and everywhere else,” he says.

Protest outside Journalists Syndicate by April 6 Movement and Revolutionary Socialists for Haitham Mohamadeen and Ahmed Abu Deraa

Protest outside Journalists Syndicate by April 6 Movement and Revolutionary Socialists for Haitham Mohamadeen and Ahmed Abu Deraa

“But now ‘the Egyptian revolution’ is being largely defined by those in power – army and police officers and government technocrats and ministers, some of them Mubarak-era officials at that. This is problematic.”

What concerns Tom is the level of repression exercised by the army, particularly against those who are critical of their actions, and the lack of transparency surrounding arrests. Without this clarity there can be no safeguards against unlawful detention or torture.

Just one example concerns the case of Haitham Mohamadeen, a labour lawyer and RevSoc activist who works with the IRCT member centre El Nadeem, who was arrested while travelling to Suez to represent clients there. Haitham was seized at an army checkpoint while travelling on a bus. His briefcase was taken and he was held for two days at a nearby police station, with little indication as to what he was being investigated for.

After much confusion, Haitham was released but charged with supposed crimes including “membership of a secret organisation” and carrying out activism “through terrorist means”, both of which have been rejected.

Tom explains: “One of the problems is transparency. We’re told day by day that so many people have been arrested for such and such crimes. But who are these people – Muslim Brotherhood members or Morsi supporters? Or are these just increasingly politicized arrests under the pretext of security and counter-terrorism?

Anti-Coup Alliance protest in Talaat Harb, downtown Cairo

Anti-Coup Alliance protest in Talaat Harb, downtown Cairo

“If someone is arrested at the moment, with that counter-terror narrative in effect, there’s a chance the system is just going to eat them up,” says Tom.

“Another problem is the system of military trials. Civilians (and journalists) are charged with annoying or insulting the army in some way, due process is ignored and justice is not served. We’re seeing that again this time round.”

But what is next for the political and social landscape of Egypt – will detention and violence cool, or will groups escalate?

“Islamists will continue to be marginalised as the government follows its roadmap to the elections next year. It is also particularly worrying that activists are being intimidated, because it suggests rule could become more repressive still.

“But there are excellent independent journalists in Egypt who are chronicling what is happening here. I think it will become more interesting now that Egypt is generally old news internationally. These journalists have a tough time, but they’ll be the ones testing the new regime and holding it to account.”

For more information on Tom Rollins and his work in Egypt follow him on Twitter (@TomWRollins) or his website:

All pictures used with permission from ©Tom Rollins

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Two years after the death of Khaled Said

After his tragic death in June 2010, Khaled Said became the face of protest against Mubarak’s violent regime. Photo by Hossam el-Hamalawy, available via Flickr through Creative Commons License.

In the two years since his death, he has been called the ‘Face of a Revolution’, his visage spray-painted across Egyptian city streets in the lead-up to Mubarak’s ouster.

Two year’s ago today, Alexandria policemen attacked Khaled Said in a local internet cafe. He was brutalised, tortured and killed. Authorities tried to hide the murder with improper forensic documents and an autopsy that ruled his death as asphyxiation; however, the impossibly hard work of activists, forensic specialists, Egyptian human rights organisations and his courageous family meant that he didn’t become yet another tragic victim of the Mubarak regime.

As we did then, on this two-year anniversary of his death, we would like to express our deepest condolences to the family of Khaled Said.

Below is video that explains more of the story of Khaled Said, and the importance of forensic documentation of torture in bringing the perpetrators to justice.

This film is also available with Spanish, French and Arabic subtitles.

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(Not) “Only incompetent investigation officers believe in torture”

While the HRW reports a disastrous year for human rights in Pakistan, positive signals are arriving from Punjab. The province’s police have been instructed to stop torturing suspects in custody after the Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights took note of media reports of an ‘increasing trend of police torture’ in the province. Read the news here.

We welcome the news that the committee seem to have convinced the police to revise their investigation methods and concentrate on collecting physical evidence using forensic techniques rather than coercing suspects into making confessions. It also called for improvements in the recruitment and training of police and other law enforcement personnel.

According to the committee “Only incompetent investigation officers believe in torture”. Yet sadly, it’s not just incompetent police officers who torture. Despite being a gross violation of human rights, which has many times been proved inefficient, many prison officers and detention staff, military personnel, paramilitary forces, state-controlled contra-guerilla forces, and even some health and legal professionals still believe in it. Read more about who the perpetrators of torture are.

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