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Legislation proposed to prevent domestic torture

By Askia Muhammad -Senior Correspondent- | Last updated: Jan 31, 2012 - 9:14:23 AM

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Dardy Tillis of Chicago participates in a rally outside Chicago's City Hall against alleged police brutality and torture under retired Chicago Commander Jon Burge May 24, 2010 in Chicago.Photo: AP/WideWorldPhotos
WASHINGTON ( - On the heels of large White House demonstrations protesting prisoner torture by U.S. forces at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba and Bagram Air Force Base Afghanistan, several Chicago-area Congress members have introduced legislation to outlaw torture by domestic law enforcement authorities in this country.

Reps. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-Ill.), Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), and Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) joined forces Jan. 17, the day the House of Representatives convened for its second session of the 112th Congress, and introduced, “The Law Enforcement Torture Prevention Act of 2012.”

There is no domestic law that pertains directly to law enforcement as it relates to torture, according to a statement from Rep. Davis’s office. The only related law on the books refers to torture committed outside of the United States.

“My legislation is designed to define and outlaw acts of torture—by individuals or groups of individuals—while operating under the color of local, state or federal,” Rep. Davis told The Final Call.

“I must say it was inspired, of course by the shenanigans that have occurred in Chicago, as well as other places throughout the country—but the Jon Burge case and situation in Chicago where it looked as though Jon Burge was going to escape because the statute of limitations had run out on the allegations that he had engaged in and perpetrated torture as a way of extracting confessions and information from individuals who had been accused of crimes,” Mr. Davis continued.

Interestingly, Mr. Davis pointed out, the Chicago City Council is considering a local ordinance which would make the city a “torture free zone,” which would declare that torture by anyone, including law enforcement officials would be outlawed.

Similarly, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) has already proposed a bill—H.R. 2189, the “Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2011”—that would require states to report on a quarterly basis information on the death of any person who is detained, under arrest, in the process of being arrested, en route to incarceration, or incarcerated.

Mr. Davis held a briefing so that experts, attorneys, and victims could inform Congress members, their staffs, and members of the public about the atrocities that take place inside prisons, including rape, particularly the rape of prisoners by guards, especially women.

Photographs from the U.S. Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Abu Ghraib gained worldwide notoriety in April 2004 when a U.S. television network publicized graphic and disturbing photos of prisoner abuse by U.S. military personnel.
Darrell Cannon for example, participated in the briefing. Mr. Cannon is a survivor who was personally tortured by Jon Burge, the former police commander who was accused of torturing more than 200 criminal suspects between 1972 and 1991. Mr. Burge was fired from the police department in 1993 after the accusations surfaced. In 2002 he was investigated, but it wasn’t until 2010 that Mr. Burge was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice.

John Gaskins is another torture survivor who participated in the congressional briefing. Mr. Gaskins served 14 years in Virginia prisons during which time his fingers were broken multiple times. He was kept in 4-point restraints for days at a time, beaten, and attacked by dogs, according to Mr. Davis’s office.

Torture “is very widespread because in many instances law enforcement agencies have used—and that’s not to say that they all are doing it; that’s not to suggest that it’s done all of the time; that’s not to suggest that it’s as common as arresting people—but I think all of us know that it has been used, and is used in some instances rather routinely, to try and convince people to confess to crimes for which they have been accused,” Mr. Davis emphasized. “It’s far too much. It’s far too much.”

Others witnesses who were scheduled to testify at the briefing arranged by Mr. Davis included: Flint Taylor, Peoples Law Office; Brigitt Keller, NLG National Police Accountability Project; Lamar Bailey and Bonnie Kerness, American Friends Services Committee; Cynthia Totten, Just Detention International; and Emily Tucker, Detention Watch Network.

“I think we’re (now) getting some great attention, and attention of course, is often a prelude to action,” said Mr. Davis.