Human Rights advocates see discrepancies between the official US Government
account and a non-government organization (NGO) “shadow report,”
and cite disturbing examples of human rights abuses that have gone unchecked
within the US and unreported by the official government report to the UN Human
Included in the shadow report are several examples of police brutality
and prisoner abuse and torture that not only violate the International Covenant
on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Conventions against Torture and
Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment and Punishment (CAT), but also
the United States Constitution.
The USG official
report and the “shadow
report” submitted to the UN Human Rights Committee will be discussed
at hearings scheduled to begin on July 17, in Geneva, Switzerland.
The committee holds hearings every four years to review the compliance status
of member nations who are signatories to the International Covenant on Civil
and Political Rights (ICCPR) -one of the two treatises that together make up
what is commonly referred to as the International Bill of Rights. The US signed
and ratified the treaty in 1992.
Following up on a RAW STORY article
describing a 456-page “shadow report” by a coalition of 142 US nonprofits,
some coalition member groups have now provided a list of discrepancies between
the official State Department report and the extensive shadow report presented
to the Human Rights Committee.
A shadow report is an NGO rebuttal to the official State presentation.
One of the key sections of this report deals specifically with prisoner abuse
and torture within the United States and of United States citizens by authority
figures. While disturbing in and of themselves, the cases presented by the shadow
report as examples of ICCPR and CAT violations also show troubling similarities
between detainee abuse allegations in US military prisons around the world and
US domestic prisons.
Of the several examples cited, one of the most egregious is what has
come to be known as the Burge torture cases in Chicago.
According to New York City civil rights attorney Andrea Ritchie, who has worked
with Incite! Woman of Color Against
Violence and authored the prisoner abuse section of the NGO shadow report,
the Burge torture claims are prime examples of the extent of the alleged human
rights violations and police brutality.
Police Commander Jon Burge and homicide detectives of Areas 2 and 3 Police
Headquarters in Chicago, Illinois, were charged with torturing nearly 200 African
American men between 1972-1991. Admissions by detectives, eye-witness accounts
and other evidence have indicated that Burge and his men “systematically
tortured individuals during interrogations, [and] also proves that officers
throughout the chain of command were aware of the torture and condoned its practice,”
Ritchie quoted in a summary of the case she provided to RAW
Evidence provided in the Burge cases paint a picture not unlike what has emerged
from the Abu Ghraib scandal, or allegations relating to abuse by US authorities
at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and other US detention facilities in the Middle-East.
The techniques detailed in the Chicago torture cases included “electrically
shocking men’s genitals, ears and lips with a cattle prod or an electric
shock box, suffocating individuals with plastic bags, mock executions, and beatings
with telephone books and rubber hoses,” according to court documents.
No one has been convicted in any of these cases because of the statue of limitations.
Some have even been promoted, with the exception of Burge, who was fired but
continues to receive a police pension despite the confirmation by internal investigations
of horrific atrocities committed against African American men under his care.
An internal report prepared by the city of Chicago confirms accounts of prisoner
confessions having been elicited by torture. Subsequent judicial reviews of
the 193 known cases have found that Burge and his detectives violated Article
I of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment
and Punishment, (Hinton
v. Uchtman, 395 F 3d 810, 822-23 [7th Cir. 2005]).
Despite this, Ritchie points out that “not a single officer or member
of the chain of command has been prosecuted for acts of torture or the conspiracy
to obstruct justice required to cover up these crimes. In fact, most of the
officers involved have never been sanctioned in any manner whatsoever.”
“While Burge was ultimately fired from the Chicago Police Department
in February of 1993 based on his abuse of Andrew Wilson,” other co-conspirators
continue to have access to prisoners within the Chicago prison system.
Many of the victims, however, remain incarcerated even though their confessions
were elicited illegally both under federal law as well as in violation of CAT,
including Article 15.
The shadow report alleges that the U.S. government is in violation of Article
II of CAT, having thus far failed to take appropriate measures to stop police
brutality and torture of prisoners within the United States. In addition, the
UN has repeatedly and falsely been told by the US government that allegations
of torture are investigated and appropriately prosecuted immediately.
In the official government report submitted to the U.N Human Rights Committee,
there are two examples cited with regard to Chicago, both pointing to cases
where defendants successfully sued authorities. Yet there is no mention of the
ongoing Burge torture scandal.
The final report on the Burge cases, after twenty years of abuse and close
to ten years of litigation, is expected to be released to the public at the
end of this month, after the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that no part of the
report would be redacted.
Ritchie says that the Burge torture cases are “a pretty good example
of where the US government says it is doing one thing, namely prosecuting anyone
who an investigation reveals has violated someone's human rights, but is doing
quite another - i.e. not doing anything about police brutality and abuse.”
Another example cited in the shadow report is the use of TASERs by law enforcement,
which, when unregulated, can be abused to create a situation in violation of
the CAT, even though it may in fact be permissible under U.S. law.
On May 5, the US presented to the UN Committee Against Torture its case on
the use of TASERs, asserting that the Justice Department was working to develop
standards for law enforcement, and was conducting research into known issues
and safety in regard to TASER use.
According to Ritchie and other human rights advocates and groups, the NGOs
met with officials from DOJ the very next day to inquire about specifics of
the standards that were being implemented. The DOJ officials, however, were
unable to cite any examples, and according to Ritchie, “wondered aloud
if they were even written down anywhere.”
The US has made the case that using TASERS reduces using other methods of force,
specifically deadly force, and is in fact saving lives. Yet when questioned
by the NGOs, the DOJ was unable to produce any data to support their assertions.
The “shadow report” counters the government’s assertion by
pointing out that in 77% of cases, TASERs are used to subdue people who are
unarmed and post no threat. Citing extensive research in the “shadow report,”
the NGOs point to over 150 deaths in the last five years that have resulted
when local law enforcement used TASERs to subdue their victims.
Again, the use of TASERs on suspects shows a disturbing trend of disregard
for human rights not only in domestic cases, but has also now
emerged as a form of alleged abuse in military prisons such as Abu Ghraib.
This similarity was not missed by the UN Committee during the CAT hearings,
where members noted what appeared to be common abuse techniques, specifically
in areas of interrogation, comparing the use of electro shock weapons used at
military facilities and the use of TASERs domestically.
Ritchie points out that the TASER issue as presented in the “shadow report”
not only serve as examples of abuse, but also counter statements made by the
USG that appear to be contrary to known research and statistics. “The
U.S. government's response," Ritchie says, that, "basically, they
say they save lives even though they've killed over 150 people in the last few
years, and that they can't regulate local law enforcement agencies - is not
Other areas covered in the “shadow report” include immigration,
child protection, the death penalty, and many other areas where human rights
advocates believe excessive abuse and violations of international treatise not
only happen abroad, but also occur - and violate basic human rights - within
the United States. Furthermore, many of the NGO advocates point out that the
U.S Constitution, on which the international treatise are based, prohibits many
of the human rights abuses already.
The UN Human Rights Committee hearings begin on July 17. The final report is
scheduled to be released on July 28.
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