This past Tuesday, British newspaper and publication site The Guardian released a bombshell report claiming that the Chicago Police Department has been operating an off-the-books interrogation facility in Chicago. Known as Homan Square, this unassuming red brick warehouse has been reportedly detaining and interrogating US citizens as young as 15 year-old without any contact with either their lawyers or the outside world. The people brought to this facility are not entered into any official booking databases, meaning there is no public record as to where these captives are at. They simply disappear for a while until they either show up at a district for charging or are released back into the public.
Homan Square has become somewhat of a well-known secret among Chicago attorneys: “it’s sort of an open secret among attorneys that regularly make police station visits, this place – if you can’t find a client in the system, odds are they’re there,” said Chicago lawyer Julia Bartmes.
The allegations as to what goes down behind the closed doors of Homan Square are sickening and wrong: detainees are held here without any contact with the outside world or their lawyers (a clear violation of the Sixth Amendment which guarantees Americans the right to a lawyer) for as long as thirteen hours. Detainees are subjected to interrogation methods closely resembling those the CIA uses at its black sites. Some detainees are even unlucky enough to get beaten to a pulp during the interrogation process,
Back in 2012, the city of Chicago hosted the NATO summit, where heads of NATO member countries would meet and discuss a host of issues. Members of the Occupy movement and other anti-globalization groups gathered outside of McCormick Place where the summit was being held in order to protest NATO. Naturally, clashes between the protesters and the police occurred and many protesters were arrested. Among those arrested were Jacob Church and eleven other who were taken to Homan Square to be interrogated. Church was interrogated for seventeen hours straight while shackled to a bench inside a windowless room. He was denied contact with his attorney and was denied his Miranda rights to remain silent without an attorney present. Despite the fact that the group’s arrest had garnered heavy media attention, a group of attorneys had no idea where the men where even after twelve hours of active searching. It was only after they pressured the mayor of Chicago (Rahm Emmanuel) that they learned about the existence of Homan Square. Another attorney was sent to the facility and he (surprisingly) was allowed entry and was allowed to talk to Church through a floor-to-ceiling metal chain link fence. Police finally took Church and his co-defendants Jared Chase and Brent Betterly to a nearby police station where they were booked with terrorism-related offenses. Church is now out on parole, having spent two and a half years in prison after being found not guilty of terrorism-related offenses, but guilty of possessing an incendiary device and the misdemeanor of “mob action”.
The practices that the Chicago Police Department conduct at Homan Square are more reminiscent of what occurs at military detention centers such as Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib rather than what should be going on in a domestic prison. But the detainees of this facility are not war criminals or terrorists; rather, people with suspected connections to drugs or other gang-related activities make up the vast majority of the people who are detained here.
When further questioned by The Guardian on Homan Square, the Chicago Police Department released a much scripted response saying in part:
CPD [Chicago police department] 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. It also houses CPD’s Evidence Recovered Property Section, where the public is able to claim inventoried property…. There are always records of anyone who is arrested by CPD, and this is not any different at Homan Square
This, of course, is completely contradictory of what has been experienced by both detainees and their lawyers.
The scathing report released by The Guardian has made very little impact in the United States so far. American citizens aren’t up in arms demanding that Homan Square be shut down. If anything, most American’s don’t even realize that this police-sanction abuse of our Bill of Rights even exists; no major news media outlet such as CNN, NBC, or Fox News has thus reported on the existence of this domestic black site. It actually took a British newspaper to reveal to the American public that this was happening on their soil, not in a war zone on the other side of the world (which still doesn’t justify having such a systemic abuse of human civil liberties such as this site).
In a way, it shouldn’t be expected of the general American public to be outrage upon the release of this deport; after all, when the CIA torture report came out detailing the horrendous acts of torture the Agency imposed on the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, they didn’t blink an eye. Life continued chugging along and practically nothing changed. Why? Because Americans think the torture is justified; it’s okay to torture “terrorists” to thwart a possible attack that might kill Americans. A Pew Research poll conducted shortly after the report was released to the public asked Americans if they felt whether the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” were justified or not, to which 51% said it was justified as opposed to 29% who said it wasn’t. The same poll asked them whether or not “enhanced interrogation techniques” provided intelligence that prevent terrorist attacks, which 59% of those question said it did while 28% said it didn’t. This is despite the fact that the CIA torture report actually evaluated this method of interrogation as ineffective at gathering intelligence.
A society which allows institutions such as Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib to exist will find such institutions appearing domestically, theorizes executive director of the Chicago Justice Project and criminologist Tracy Siska. We turn our heads from human rights abuses by our own government when they happen on the other side of the world because they’re not United States citizens—they’re “terrorist”. Soon, it starts occurring domestically but we continue to try to justify them by saying that they are necessary in stopping crime— be it the War on Drugs or the War on Terror. But at which point do we draw the line? How much of our own personal freedoms and liberties are we willing to sacrifice for the sake of an illusion of security?
We as Americans need to open our eyes to the systemic abuse of our civil liberties and human rights that is occurring right before our eyes, in our own country nonetheless. We have to start demanding accountability from those in power and demand that they answer to their constituents. We should not tolerate the establishment of black sites that blatantly abuse the human rights and civil liberties of anyone, be it an American or not.