A black site is a location at which a publicly unacknowledged black (or highly classified military/defense) project is conducted.
The term has gained notoriety in recent years in reference to secret prisons operated by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), generally outside of U.S. territory and legal jurisdiction, which are used by the U.S. government in its War on Terror to detain alleged unlawful enemy combatants. The existence of CIA black sites or secret prisons was acknowledged by then-President George W. Bush in a speech on September 6, 2006.
Well, it turns out black sites are not just run by the CIA or outside of the United States, we have a black site right here in Chicago, Illinois, Obama’s hometown! But it took a foreign newspaper, the UK’s The Guardian, to discover that, not the august New York Times or Washington Post.
Homan Square, the Chicago PD’s black site
On Feb. 24, 2015, The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman had an exclusive on the “equivalent of a CIA black site” operated by police in Chicago. Here are excerpts:
The Chicago police department operates an off-the-books interrogation compound, rendering Americans unable to be found by family or attorneys while locked inside what lawyers say is the domestic equivalent of a CIA black site.
The facility, a nondescript warehouse on Chicago’s west side known as Homan Square, has long been the scene of secretive work by special police units. Interviews with local attorneys and one protester who spent the better part of a day shackled in Homan Square describe operations that deny access to basic constitutional rights.
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 secretive warehouse is the latest example of Chicago police practices that echo the much-criticized detention abuses of the US war on terrorism. 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.
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.
“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.”
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. […]
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.
But 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.
[…] Chicago police guidelines appear to ban the sorts of practices […] lawyers said occur at Homan Square. A directive titled “Processing Persons Under Department Control” instructs that “investigation or interrogation of an arrestee will not delay the booking process,” and arrestees must be allowed “a reasonable number of telephone calls” to attorneys swiftly “after their arrival at the first place of custody.” Another directive, “Arrestee and In-Custody Communications,” says police supervisors must “allow visitation by attorneys.”
[…] 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.
[…] 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.”
Writing for The Intercept, Feb. 26, 2015, Juan Thompson describes the experiences of two Chicago black site detainees.
Kory Wright, a Chicago resident and computer program analyst, claims that 9 years ago, he spent some 6 brutal hours at Homan Square, zip-tied to a bench in an intentionally overheated room without access to water, phone, or a restroom. He was never read his Miranda rights and his arrest was not put into the police system until after he gave false statements to try and end his ordeal.
Eventually, Wright was taken to Cook County jail, where he was processed and charged with distribution of heroin and cocaine. In the end, the drug charges against Wright were thrown out, though not before he’d spent six months under house arrest because his mother lacked the money to fund a bond for release.
Deandre Hutcherson, a friend of Wright’s swept up in the same police raid, described attacks to his face and genitals. Hutcherson was shackled to a bench and was being interrogated in another room. “He [a Chicago police officer] gets up, walking toward me,” Hutcherson alleges. “I already know what’s finna happen. I brace myself, and he hit me a little bit and then take his foot and stepped on my groin.” According to Hutcherson, the officer struck him two or three times in the face before kicking his penis. “You must think I’m a fucking idiot,” Hutcherson says his attacker told him. Within an hour, Hutcherson, who was in town for his mother’s funeral, faked an asthma attack that unnerved the police. He says they then released him from detention and sent him on his way.
The Chicago Police Department declined to address the specific allegations from Wright and his friend, providing only a general statement denying abuses at Homan Square. “CPD abides by all laws, rules and guidelines pertaining to any interviews of suspects or witnesses, at Homan Square or any other CPD facility,” the statement read. “There are always records of anyone who is arrested by CPD, and this is not any different at Homan Square.”
Kory Wright was attending Wilbur Wright Community College, and taking criminal justice courses, when he was detained at Homan. He says he had hopes of becoming a police officer in the city of Chicago before that June day. His experience at Homan, and his subsequent arrest, caused him to miss a semester of school. Fortunately, Wright recovered, and today, at age 29, he is working on his master’s degree in network engineering at DePaul University. He lives in Bronzeville, a neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, and is the father of a new baby girl. But the torture he says he suffered at Homan continues to haunt him. “The whole thing caused a rift between me and my mom. I didn’t like being black at all after that, and when I got to DePaul, I started trying to be as white as possible,” a doleful Wright told me. “Being black is a curse.”
Note: Kory Wright is now a programming analyst at Aon Hewitt. Here is his LinkedIn page. Send him a note of encouragement!
H/t Activist Post