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Unspeakable Acts: Torture In Chicago

"How is it that otherwise normal people can become part of the institutionalized practice of torture?" Publisher's Weekly once asked.

"That's the question driving this unusual, extremely well-reported book. At the Chicago Reader, [John] Conroy spent years reporting on the kind of torture that happens not in exotic locales but in his own backyard - in Chicago's police precincts."

Curious and troubled by what he found, he decided to explore the ordinariness of brutality through three separate incidents of torture - in Israel, Ireland and Chicago.

He investigates the "five torture techniques" (hooding, noise bombardment, food deprivation, sleep deprivation and forced standing against a wall) inflicted on 12 Irish prisoners in 1971; a late 1980s round-up on the West Bank of Palestinians, who were bound, gagged and beaten; and Chicago's notorious Jon Burge case, in which police officers systematically beat and electrocuted (on the head, chest and genitals) a man suspected (and later convicted) of killing a police officer.

In all three cases, although the torture was well documented, little or no punishment was handed down.

From Conroy's website:

"John's coverage of the scandal ultimately helped to gain pardons for four men who had been sentenced to death and helped free another man who had been wrongfully imprisoned for 26 years. The four who were pardoned sued the city of Chicago, alleging that they had been tortured into confessing to murders they had not committed, and in early 2008, the city settled their suits for $19.8 million. In the wake of the settlement, the New York Times quoted the mother of one of the victims saying she thought her son would be dead but for Conroy's articles."


Police Torture In Chicago: The John Conroy Archive.


"John Conroy spent 15 years writing investigative news articles about one of the darkest chapters of this city's Police Department, the allegations that some officers on the South Side regularly resorted to suffocation, electric shock and mock Russian roulette in the 1970s and '80s to obtain confessions from suspects," Patrick Healy wrote for the New York Times in 2010.

"But for all of the official inquiries and overturned convictions that resulted - a special state prosecutors' report in 2006 supported the accusations of scores of inmates, and the city paid out $20 million in settlements in a case that continues to reverberate today - Mr. Conroy never believed that the people of Chicago were truly outraged by the front-page headlines about police torture.

"And so, in the tradition of history and morality plays like A Man for All Seasons and last year's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, Ruined, Mr. Conroy turned to theater as a means of provocation and catharsis.

"'I wanted to indict the whole city of Chicago,' Mr. Conroy said of his first outing as a playwright, the two-act My Kind of Town."


Justice For John Conroy.


Torture, Bystanders and the Failure of Journalism.


Comments welcome.


Posted on December 10, 2014

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