The [Tuesday] Papers
Welcome to the Homandrome, Tom Durkin!
Let's take these one at a time.
"It is not my practice to defend the Chicago Police Department, as usually I am a critic," Durkin wrote under the headline "CPD's Homan Is No Black Site," which prompted triumphant retweets and Facebook sharing from reporters whose news organizations have yet to ask the CPD a single question.
"But the hyperbolic news coverage of the Homan Square police facility compels me to speak out. Not to trivialize the problems inherent in the CPD's hiding of detainees - a longstanding practice hardly limited to Homan Square - but to equate it with the CIA's black sites and its extraordinary rendition program and enhanced interrogation techniques deprecates the seriousness of that scandal, as much as it diverts needed public debate on the CPD's ruses to keep lawyers from clients as long as possible."
Here we go again.
At least we're beyond the initial denial that anything untoward is going on at Homan; we now seem to have reached general consensus that the abuses documented first by the Guardian and then by other outlets including The Intercept have actually occurred. Now the problem seems to be the refusal to believe that Homan is anything special - the police are violating civil rights citywide and have been for years and therefore that's not a story.
Again, I will reiterate: what makes Homan special is that is indeed an "off-the-books" interrogation center. Unlike police districts where the police do most of their civil rights violating, Homan is not a booking and processing facility. There is no reason to bring arrestees there unless you are trying to hide them - and maybe do a little enhanced interrogation.
By "off-the-books," the original seven lawyers named in the original Guardian article - there are now a dozen - repeated what they've been saying for years, both privately and publicly, which is that they often can't find their clients (or would-be clients) anywhere in the CPD's computers or at station houses. These lawyers then explained that when these folks have effectively been "disappeared," they usually turn to Homan - because that's usually where they've been disappeared to. At Homan, they are often turned away. Meanwhile, arrestees are held for long stretches without being allowed a phone call to seek counsel, often in solitary and with a little ass-kicking along the way.
This must not be hard to believe because everyone seems to believe now that this happens across the city, but can you see what makes Homan distinct?
That's why Homan is likened to a "black site" and other police facilities aren't.
Notice I said "likened," because Durkin, like complainers in the local media, are really hung up on the whole "black site" business. I get it. To the untrained mind, "black site" conjures up the worst CIA centers overseas. No one, however, is alleging waterboarding at Homan. As I explained in this Beachwood Radio Hour podcast, the first Guardian article said lawyers and victims likened Homan to a black site; in some cases it was called a U.S. domestic police version of a black site; in others it was analagous to a black site; in one case, a lawyer explained that before the term "black site" came into vogue, police facilities such as Homan were called "shadow sites." Would that make everybody feel better?
To me, and others, Homan meets the definition of a black site, especially given all the context Guardian reporter Spencer Ackerman provided in his reporting - far more context than we're used to in these parts.
Homan became such a problem that, as Ackerman documented, a coalition including the ACLU, National Lawyers Guild and First Defense Legal Aid worked with the CPD's internal affairs department and counsel's office to amend the General Orders regarding the handling of detainees. And indeed, since doing that, the lawyers in the Guardian story say the situation has improved. What's so hard to believe?
Durkin, however, states, like so many others, that using the term "black site" is diverting our attention to the real abuses doing on in CPD. I'd say it's got everybody's attention!
But understand: the context of the Guardian's reporting on Homan is an extension of its reporting on Richard Zuley, the Chicago police officer who brought his torture techniques to Gitmo and back again.
The thread in Ackerman's work on Homan is how it fits into the cross-pollination of interrogation techniques between the military and U.S. police in the post-9/11 era. It's only natural, then, that parallels about "black sites" and such would come into play - though again, local attorneys and activists have used that term for years to describe Homan. I've been hearing it for about three years, and if other reporters in town haven't, they should get better sources.
Now, if you want to blame national and international outlets that seized on the "black site" terminology to make the story go viral, go right ahead. On the other hand, I haven't seen anything they've reported that's been inaccurate. Also, everyday abuses in Chicago - be it police or political - are still shocking to folks who live in less perverted cultures. Losing your sense of outrage may be considered a sign of savvy to the Chicago media mob, but from the outside it's not a good look.
Back to Durkin:
"Homan Square is hardly a black site by any stretch of the imagination, and I can speak with some authority on the topic. I represented Jared Chase in Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez's shameful NATO 3 'terrorism' trial fiasco. Chase was held at Homan Square for the same 17 hours noted in the Guardian U.K. report that has now gone viral around the world."
First, it was a Guardian U.S. report, not U.K.
Second: So it's true. Durkin has now added another victim to the roster - an estimated 90 percent of whom are poor people of color. Chase was held for 17 hours. What happened during that time?
"I also represented Ramzi Bin al-Shibh - one of the five accused 9/11 conspiracy plotters in the first military commissions at the Guantanamo Bay detention center, and I was granted access to Bin al-Shibh's classified medical records from his detention at the CIA black sites. While I am precluded from discussing what I saw in those records, even a quick skim of the recently released Senate Intelligence Committee study of the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program makes clear that nothing of the sort transpired at Homan Square. It is like comparing an apple to a watermelon."
No one ever made such an allegation. But what's important isn't the degree of behavior that goes on, but the kind of behavior that goes. At what point do we get mad? How far is the CPD allowed to go? Electroshocks to testicles? Stomping on, yes; electrocuting, no.
"However, there are systemic issues that do support an important, but subtly different, analogy between Homan Square and CIA black sites. The fact is that we have blindly permitted our law enforcement agencies, both local and national, to become intelligence-gathering apparatuses. The merging of these two functions in response to 9/11 is creating more unintended consequences than we may think - Homan Square and its secretiveness being just one example."
Italics mine, because, well, Durkin just conceded an analogy between Homan Square and CIA black sites.
And it's just what the Guardian reported. I wonder how many local reporters read past Durkin's headline.
"But this spy agency secretiveness did not begin with the War on Terror."
That, too, is acknowledged by the Guardian.
"A 30-year trail blazed by the War on Drugs provided a good road map and did extraordinary damage to civil liberties. The same war rhetoric, intelligence gathering, electronic surveillance, secretiveness and procedural constitutional shortcuts, both at home and abroad, have morphed into our endless War on Terror - with far greater permanent damage to civil liberties."
Exactly. Glad you came around!
Might I add that Siska wrote for the Guardian about the technique of "touchless torture," which is mostly what is probably going on inside Homan.
No one has provided more context than the Guardian.
The Sun-Times, meanwhile, is running Op-Eds about a story they haven't even reported on - or linked to.
Like the Tribune's schizophrenic reporting that put the inconvenient lead at the end of the story, it smacks of defensiveness.
The local media's initial reaction wasn't to report the story, but to knock it down. And if that means never asking the police a single question and suddenly putting credibility in CPD statements that even skeptical lawyers found "laughable," well, by God, they're gonna go it!
If the term "black site" is what's got you upset, why not report the story for yourselves and give us a different, more appropriate term?
On Chicago Tonight, Durkin basically repeated his argument: Bad stuff is going on, but let's not call Homan a black site. Host Carol Marin was the odd one on the panel though. Maybe there's a conflict-of-interest when she feels she has to defend her Sun-Times colleagues, because that's clearly what she was doing. On the whole, though, Siska (disclaimer: a friend) got the best of it. Watch for yourself.
First, Siska corrects Marin that it isn't the reporter making the allegations, it's all the sources in his story. That's a giveaway - the local media has had the visceral kind of reaction to Spencer Ackerman and the Guardian and not the actual people making the claims in a typical way that reporters react when they've been scooped.
Next, the CPD as well as the Fraternal Order of Police refused to join the panel. If nothing is going on at Homan, why has the CPD clammed up? And why has the local media accepted their story - Chicago Tonight helpfully let readers know that the CPD's joke of a Homan "fact sheet" could be found on its website, which is essentially saying its credible.
In fact, why would the CPD send someone to be on the show when they know Chicago Tonight will just read their statement anyway - or, well, yeah, just post their "facts" on their website?
(Maybe invite one or two of the lawyers quoted in the Guardian story to be on?)
Then into the meat of the show - which is almost wholly about the term "black site."
Siska says from the outset what I said at the outset of this column and previously - that it's an analogy. Durkin goes on to talk about "real" black sites.
I'm quite certain that likening Homan to a black site does not in any way diminish the horror of CIA black sites, but so be it.
Durkin, though, gets loose himself with talk of "domestic terrorism." Um, maybe it's not "terrorism," though maybe you're talking about a domestic equivalent!
Durkin did say that he and just about every other lawyer in town have gotten the runaround from police for years about finding clients. I wish Marin would have asked if he's ever sued because of it, because that's one of the local press's favorite demurrals:
"Part of my job is that I look through federal and civil litigation every week [and] people sue the cops for a whole lot less than what's being alleged in The Guardian," the Sun-Times's Sam Charles told the Columbia Chronicle. "If it's legitimate, go crazy, but if you're chained to a bench for 17 hours and you don't file a lawsuit, something stinks to me."
How long did it take for a lawsuit to be filed in the Burge cases? (Hint: About 10 years.) For chrissake, how long until Nanci Koschman filed a lawsuit? (Hint: Too long.)
I can think of a lot of reasons why no one has filed a lawsuit about Homan (there have been lawsuits about non-Homan arrestee issues), as I wrote last week.
But here's the deal: That's not something you decide in your head. Call the fucking lawyers making the complaints and ask them!
When Siska, though, criticized local media - "just like Columbia Journalism Review has done - for falling down on the job, Marin's response was: "So you think there's a cover-up?"
Way to try to marginalize someone into a nutcase.
Later, Marin asked if we'd all learned a lesson from the Burge case - which the local media ignored for about a decade after John Conroy started writing about it for the Reader.
It's not a cover-up, it's a feature. This country's national media couldn't even get the Iraq War right; my God, it happens all the time. Go review the media's shoddy coverage of Chicago's Olympic bid, or the way Richard M. Daley was portrayed as a managerial genius, or the glossing over of Barack Obama's real record in Illinois. It's not uncommon. Nearly every day I point out the media's missteps. Often, a groupthink sets in - like the crime wave that wasn't and the New York mandatory minimums whose reality was ignored. It's an industry problem that we don't talk about - why quality is so low.
(At least we seem to be past the notion that because reporters have been to press conferences at Homan, it couldn't possibly be a site where police take people to interrogate them away from attorneys; as Conroy reminded us last week, reporters were present at Area 2 when Andrew Wilson was tortured.)
(Also, when asked by Marin what the definition of torture was, Siska helpfully cited the United Nations standard, if we want to get all semantic about this.)
Marin - whom I used to really admire! - then says that maybe local reporters haven't been able to replicate the Guardian's reporting. Everyone else has! "We called our sources in the legal community." Sam Adam doesn't know fuck-all about Homan! Call the lawyers the Guardian talked to! Flint Taylor will pick up the phone! So will Sarah Gelsomino! My God! As Siska said, Anthony Hill was on CNN!
Did the change in General Orders not happen?!!! Check it out!
Marin closed by asking if a federal investigation might be in order. Siska said he doubted the Justice Department would do so in Obama's hometown.
"So you think there's a cover-up on that, too!" Marin said.
Jesus fucking Christ. The president was just here to lead a campaign rally for the mayor. I don't know if the DOJ would have cold feet about this, but for one thing they probably endorse it and for another, Marin has spent countless hours with reporters talking about this very dynamic on a range of issues - I know because I've been part of those conversations! Reporters talk all the time about the influence of DOJ here on, say, who will be the U.S. Attorney and which indictments will be approved and so on and so forth. It's just so funny how quickly local cynicism can turn into local naivete when it suits the moment.
Siska has been talking about Homan for years. To local reporters, even. That's how I knew about it. These lawyers have been talking about it for years. Publicly. Who really are the crazy ones here?
Or is he now a conspiracy theorist?
What the local media is missing.
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Posted on March 10, 2015
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