A London Guardian report claiming the Chicago Police Department operates a secretive “off-the-books interrogation compound” comparable to a CIA black site recalls the department’s long history of confirmed illicit activities.
On Tuesday, the Guardian reported “secretive work by special police units” takes place at a “nondescript warehouse on Chicago’s west side known as Homan Square.”
The site, a former Sears warehouse, currently is headquarters to the police department’s Organized Crime Bureau and the Evidence and Recovered Property Section. It also houses a ballistics lab and SWAT unit.
The U.K. newspaper claimed some Americans have “disappeared” inside the site for hours or days “rendering Americans unable to be found by family or attorneys while locked inside.”
Alleged police activities inside Homan Square, according to those familiar with the site and speaking to the Guardian, include:
“Keeping arrestees out of official booking databases.”
“Beating by police, resulting in head wounds.”
“Shackling for prolonged periods.”
“Denying attorneys access to the ‘secure’ facility.”
“Holding people without legal counsel for between 12 and 24 hours, including people as young as 15.”
The Guardian further reported that unlike an official precinct, “no one taken to Homan Square is said to be booked.” Instead, witnesses, suspects or other Chicagoans who end up inside “do not appear to have a public, searchable record entered into a database indicating where they are, as happens when someone is booked at a precinct.”
The newspaper claimed lawyers who attempt to gain access to their clients inside Homan Square are “most often turned away, even as their clients remain in custody inside.”
The Chicago Sun-Times, however, has cast some doubt on the Guardian’s reporting.
Firstly, reports the paper, the location of the Homan Square site is well-known to the public, which even picks up released evidence from the location. News conferences from the police department’s Organized Crime unit are routinely held outside the building.
Chicago police spokesman Marty Maloney said interrogations inside Homan Square are handled the same as at other police sites, and he denied lawyers are not given access to their clients.
“If lawyers have a client detained at Homan Square, just like any other facility, they are allowed to speak to and visit them,” Maloney said. “There are always records of anyone who is arrested by CPD, and this is not any different at Homan Square.”
The Sun-Times rebutted another Guardian claim. The London paper said one man was found unresponsive in a Homan Square “interview room” and was later pronounced dead, implying the incident was caused by police interrogation tactics.
However, the Sun-Times reported the man, John Hubbard, 44, died of an accidental heroin overdose and was brought into Homan after he allegedly purchased drugs from an undercover officer, according to arrest records.
The Guardian article on alleged activities inside Homan Square follows decades of confirmed illicit practices carried out by the Chicago police.
Those practices center on a disbanded arm of Chicago’s law enforcement that was known under various code names, including the Industrial Unit, the Intelligence Division, the Radical Squad and the Red Squad.
The unit existed in various forms from the early 1900s all the way through the 1970s, when in in 1974, it “destroyed 105,000 individual and 1,300 organizational files when it learned that the Alliance to End Repression was filing a lawsuit against the unit for violating the U.S. Constitution,” documents the Chicago History Encyclopedia.
Indeed, the remaining records of the Red Squad are housed at the Chicago Historical Society, but the public reportedly requires special permission to view them.
The Chicago Red Squad, like similar units in other major cities, at first worked in the early 1900s to infiltrate, gather intelligence and carry out counter-measures against suspected communist, socialist and other anti-American groups, including those operating within organized labor unions.
During the 1960s, the Chicago Red Squad focused on anti-war groups and protest leaders. It was widely accused of illegal wiretapping and activities outside the legal scope of law enforcement regulations.
In August 1978, the Chicago Reader conducted an extensive interview with Peter Keer, an admitted member of the Chicago Red Squad’s intelligence unit. He claimed that by the late ’60s, the Chicago police “had its own little Watergate going.”
He said Mayor Richard Daley was especially fearful of anti-war protesters when a decision was made to hold the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
Keer summed up what he said was City Hall’s attitude toward the Red Squad subversive unit cops: “Do whatever’s necessary.”
“Most of our actions were unofficial,” he explained. “Nobody ever came out and told us to violate the law. Instead, word would be passed down through the ranks. At a briefing your sergeant might say: ‘The best investigative aid is a wiretap. But don’t use them because they’re illegal.’ … Of course we can’t get anything done without them.”
Keer scowls: “What he meant was, ‘Cover your own ass. Use them but don’t get caught.’”
On Nov. 10, 1975, a Cook County grand jury came back with a damning report accusing the Chicago Police Department’s Red Squad of engaging in illegal wiretapping, committing burglary, and surveilling and disrupting anti-war groups “apparently for political reasons.”
Relying on 71 witnesses over 5,000 pages of subpoenaed documents, the grand jury reported subpoenaed intelligence files contained “accounts of conversations which, because of their nature, could only have been acquired through illegal eavesdropping.”
Following 11 years of litigation, a 1985 court decision closed down the Chicago Police Department’s Subversive Activities Unit’s suspected “unlawful surveillance of political dissenters and their organization,” reports the Chicago History Encyclopaedia.
Another particularly corrupt episode in the Chicago Police Department’s past involved former Police Cmdr. Jon Burge, who was assigned to Chicago’s South Side in 1972.
Reported NPR: “For more than a decade, Burge and men under his command tortured more than 100 African-American men into giving false confessions. Burge served in Vietnam, and some believe he inflicted torture techniques he first adopted while in military uniform. Burge eventually served a 4.5-year prison sentence, but he still draws a pension from the city.”