Today, debates about the use of torture
usually focus on the treatment of foreign terror suspects
outside of the United States. Less talked about are the many
well-documented instances of torture inflicted on US citizens in their
own cities by their own government. One of the most infamous
examples of torture in the US happened in Chicago in the 1970s. A police officer named Jon Burge
had been promoted to detective and assigned to area two of the Chicago PD. Soon after, suspects held there began
to be tortured in a variety of ways. They were shocked by cattle prods and
beaten with ashtrays, flashlights, phone books, and rubber hoses. They were sexually assaulted, having
their genitals kicked, stepped on, and electrocuted. They were deprived of food,
water, and held incommunicado for prolonged periods of time. They were stripped naked, held in
stress positions, and denied sleep. Victims were also subjected
to mock executions, including games of Russian roulette,
having nooses placed around their necks, guns put in their mouths and
being dangled out of open windows. Burge and his men subjected at least
110 African American men to torture. Leading to false confessions and
wrongful convictions. Chicago journalist, John Conroy, has documented that Burge’s use of these
techniques was influenced by his prior experiences as part of the ninth military
police company during the Vietnam war. In Vietnam, Burge was stationed at
the Dong Tam prison where he processed, transported, and guarded prisoners. According to his company commander,
members of his unit participated in the torture of
prisoners, including electro torture. One of them stated, quote, we could pretty much do anything,
as long as we didnt leave scars on people. The connection between the torture
practice in Dom Tam, and that which later occurred in
Chicago’s Area 2, is clear. If any doubt remained, a long time Chicago
police officer testified that Burge had referred to these methods as the Vietnam
Special, or the Vietnamese Treatment. Unfortunately this illegal treatment
was part of a broader pattern. There are documented cases going
back more than a hundred years of local law enforcement officers
using torture techniques on American citizens that they’d learned in foreign
war zones, including not only Vietnam, but the Philippine-American War,
World War II, and recent conflicts like the wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan. This pattern has been repeated despite
the fact that protections against torture are enshrined in our
nation’s founding documents. Including the 8th Amendment of the Bill
of Rights, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. And the 5th Amendment, which says that defendants cannot be
forced to testify against themselves. But such legal protections have not
been enough to prevent this abuse. The lesson is that when Americans at war
are taught that torture is acceptable to elicit information or
dole out punishment, they may not leave those experiences
behind on foreign battlefields. History tells us that some of them will
use those methods in their work back home. This should offer a new perspective on
the debate over whether the use of torture can be morally justified. And whether it’s effects
can ever be contained.