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Chicago Cops Run ‘Black Site’?

Bill Weinberg



Chicago is abuzz with explosive claims in The Guardian Feb. 24 that police in the Windy City operate a CIA-style “black site” where arrestees are held incommunicado, subject to harsh interrogations without being formally booked—and therefore with no paper trail, and no means for attorneys or kin to determine their whereabouts. The facility, in a nondescript West Side warehouse known as Homan Square, has long been the scene of “secretive work by special police units,” The Guardian writes, where beatings and abuse can be carried out with impunity. Detainees are generally held there bewteen 12 and 24 hours before being sent to a precinct to be formally processed. Kids as young as 15 have been held at Honan Square, and at least one man was found unresponsive in an “interview room” at the site and later pronounced dead, according to a February 2013 Chicago Tribune story cited by The Guardian.

The Guardian report is based on interviews with local attorneys and one protester who spent the better part of a day shackled in Homan Square after being arrested at protests against the Chicago NATO summit in 2012. Protester Brian Jacob Church, one of the “NATO Three,” was denied access to an attorney at Homan Square, before he was sent to a nearby police station to be booked and charged. Chicago civil-rights attorney Flint Taylor said: “This Homan Square revelation seems to me to be an institutionalization of the practice that dates back more than 40 years, of violating a suspect or witness’ rights to a lawyer and not to be physically or otherwise coerced into giving a statement.”

The day after The Guardian story was published, the Chicago Tribune reported on the Chicago Police Department statement in response to the story. The statement said the Homan Square facility houses the department’s Bureau of Organized Crime, SWAT unit evidence technicians and the CPD ballistics lab. It asserted:  “CPD 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.” Which merely raises the question of how an attorney is supposed to know the client is there if detainees are taken to the site before being booked.

The NATO Three were a trio of activists initially charged with “terrorism” in relation to claims that they made Molotov cocktails for use at the protests. They were acquitted on the terrorism charge but convicted on less serious explosive charges.