Located in a nondescript warehouse on Chicago’s west side is where, according to the Guardian, one can find the domestic equivalent of a CIA “black site” – an illegal, off-the-books interrogation compound used by Chicago special police units, one which renders “Americans unable to be found by family or attorneys while locked inside”; a place whose former occupants say is where you end up when you are “disappeared”; a place which confirms that when it comes to the eternal “who is better – us or them” debate, there really is no difference: “It brings to mind the interrogation facilities they use in the Middle East. The CIA calls them black sites. It’s a domestic black site. When you go in, no one knows what’s happened to you.” It’s a Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib rolled into one. In short: it is a place where the US constitution and basic human rights have absolutely no access.
And it may be located in a building just down your street.
According to an exclusive piece by the Guardian that is sure to send not only shivers down the spine of those who are still paying attention, but ripples across the “land of the free”, not least because if there is one dark site on US soil, there are countless more – places where every single constitutional right of US citizens is trampled on – the secretive warehouse known as Homan Square is the latest example of Chicago police practices that echo the much-criticized detention abuses of the US war on terrorism. However, there is one huge difference: while those abuses impacted people overseas, Homan Square – said to house military-style vehicles, interrogation cells and even a cage – trains its focus on Americans, most often poor, black and brown.
Every former communist block country had them: hidden, dark places where the secret police could have their way with you, and even kill you if it so desired, and nobody would have any clue or recourse of action; something for which the “evil empire” was mocked by the “free western world.” As it turns out, the “evil empire” can now be found in at least one of the most populated American cities:
Unlike a precinct, no one taken to Homan Square is said to be booked. 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. Lawyers and relatives insist there is no way of finding their whereabouts. Those lawyers who have attempted to gain access to Homan Square are most often turned away, even as their clients remain in custody inside.
What exactly takes place at Homan square? Well, if it prohibited by the constitution, changes are you can find it in this red-bricked warehouse in west Chicago. Among the alleged police practices at Homan Square, according to those familiar with the facility who spoke out to the Guardian after its investigation into Chicago police abuse, 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.
- At least one man was found unresponsive in a Homan Square “interview room” and later pronounced dead.
The place had been largely shrouded in secrecy until the Guardian managed to find some people who were willing to talk:
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.
Chicago civil-rights attorney Flint Taylor said Homan Square represented a routinization of a notorious practice in local police work that violates the fifth and sixth amendments of the constitution. “This Homan Square revelation seems to me to be an institutionalization of the practice that dates back more than 40 years,” Taylor said, “of violating a suspect or witness’ rights to a lawyer and not to be physically or otherwise coerced into giving a statement.”
Actually, based on the revelations about how the open and democratic US state deals with opposing voices, the practice continues to this date and at a level that would make George Orwell blush. it is, however, hidden for the most part, and usually takes place in the shadows, although increasingly those among the population who are not too stoned, too transfixed by their iApps and sitcoms, or too depressed to care, are starting to notice. That is not to say that the superstate won’t deny it is, at times, the moral and ethical equivalent of the basest of middle-eastern “barbarians” it is waging an ideological war against (if only on behalf of the military-industrial complex).
Much remains hidden about Homan Square. The Chicago police department did not respond to the Guardian’s questions about the facility. But after the Guardian published this story, the department provided a statement insisting, without specifics, that there is nothing untoward taking place at what it called the “sensitive” location, home to undercover units.
“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,” the statement said, something numerous attorneys and one Homan Square arrestee have denied.
And yet, when a Guardian reporter arrived at the warehouse on Friday, a man at the gatehouse outside refused any entrance and would not answer questions. “This is a secure facility. You’re not even supposed to be standing here,” said the man, who refused to give his name. A former Chicago police superintendent and a more recently retired detective, both of whom have been inside Homan Square in the last few years in a post-police capacity, said the police department did not operate out of the warehouse until the late 1990s.
So it’s a “new thing” – but don’t worry, it’s all about being “patriotic.” Like the NSA, or the Department of Homeland Security. Because one never knows just which US mall the next “terrorist” will blow up.
Which is probably why in detailing episodes involving their clients over the past several years, lawyers described mad scrambles that led to the closed doors of Homan Square, a place most had never heard of previously. The facility was even unknown to Rob Warden, the founder of Northwestern University Law School’s Center on Wrongful Convictions, until the Guardian informed him of the allegations of clients who vanish into inherently coercive police custody.
“They just disappear,” said Anthony Hill, a criminal defense attorney, “until they show up at a district for charging or are just released back out on the street.”
And while the ubiquitous “terrorism” excuse for any and every extra-constitutional action could apply here as well, the reality is that Homan Square is hardly concerned exclusively with terrorism. Several special units operate outside of it, including the anti-gang and anti-drug forces. If police “want money, guns, drugs”, or information on the flow of any of them onto Chicago’s streets, “they bring them there and use it as a place of interrogation off the books,” Hill said.
Guantanamo In West Chicago
While America was distracted, focusing its attention on the water cooler scandal of the day, America raised at least one and likely countless more “Guantanamo centers”, places where the detained have absolutely no human rights. Only it wasn’t in Cuba: it was among America’s own suburbia.
On a smaller scale, Homan Square is “analogous to the CIA’s black sites,” said Andrea Lyon, a former Chicago public defender and current dean of Valparaiso University Law School. When she practiced law in Chicago in the 1980s and 1990s, she said, “police used the term ‘shadow site’” to refer to the quasi-disappearances now in place at Homan Square.
“Back when I first started working on torture cases and started representing criminal defendants in the early 1970s, my clients often told me they’d been taken from one police station to another before ending up at Area 2 where they were tortured,” said Taylor, the civil-rights lawyer most associated with pursuing the notoriously abusive Area 2 police commander Jon Burge. “And in that way the police prevent their family and lawyers from seeing them until they could coerce, through torture or other means, confessions from them.”
Stalin, or any other banana republic dictator would be proud.
Police often have off-site facilities to have private conversations with their informants. But a retired Washington DC homicide detective, James Trainum, could not think of another circumstance nationwide where police held people incommunicado for extended periods. “I’ve never known any kind of organized, secret place where they go and just hold somebody before booking for hours and hours and hours. That scares the hell out of me that that even exists or might exist,” said Trainum, who now studies national policing issues, to include interrogations, for the Innocence Project and the Constitution Project.
Regardless of departmental regulations, police frequently deny or elide access to lawyers even at regular police precincts, said Solowiej of First Defense Legal Aid. But she said the outright denial was exacerbated at Chicago’s secretive interrogation and holding facility: “It’s very, very rare for anyone to experience their constitutional rights in Chicago police custody, and even more so at Homan Square,” Solowiej said.
Church said that one of his more striking memories of Homan Square was the “big, big vehicles” police had inside the complex that “look like very large MRAPs that they use in the Middle East.”
And as if by seamless transition, all of the above ties in to another very critical topic in recent years – the SWATiziation of America’s police forces:
Cook County, home of Chicago, has received some 1,700 pieces of military equipment from a much-criticized Pentagon program transferring military gear to local police. It includes a Humvee, according to a local ABC News report.
Tracy Siska, a criminologist and civil-rights activist with the Chicago Justice Project, said that Homan Square, as well as the unrelated case of ex-Guantánamo interrogator and retired Chicago detective Richard Zuley, showed the lines blurring between domestic law enforcement and overseas military operations.
“The real danger in allowing practices like Guantánamo or Abu Ghraib is the fact that they always creep into other aspects,” Siska said. “They creep into domestic law enforcement, either with weaponry like with the militarization of police, or interrogation practices. That’s how we ended up with a black site in Chicago.”
Too late: they already have. And they are everywhere…
… just waiting for the right moment to spring on the “land of the free” and show everyone just how quickly the myth of freedom can be crushed under the reinforced wheels of 432 (and now many more) Police-controlled MRAPs now spread evenly across the bastion of democracy and human rights and personal liberties.