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Trial Begins for Ex-Chicago Police Lt. Accused of Torturing More than 100 Black Men

Jon Burge oversaw a brutal interrogation program that sent countless innocent men to prison after they were tortured into confessing to crimes they didn't commit.

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AMY GOODMAN: Flint Taylor, can you put this in the context of the four men that were on death row that eventually led to what we’re seeing today and the moratorium on the death penalty that was eventually imposed in Illinois by the former governor, George Ryan?

FLINT TAYLOR: Well, there was a very significant victory for the convergence of two movements here in the city of Chicago -- the human rights movement, the movement against torture, and the movement against the death penalty. And what happened was that Ryan became convinced not only that men should not be given the death penalty and should not be on death row, but that there were innocent men among those on death row and that they were innocent partially because they had been tortured into giving false confessions. And that’s why he pardoned the four men that he pardoned, at the same time that he cleared death row and gave -- commuted the sentences of 164 men and women that were on death row at that time to life without parole. There have been many significant victories here, not the least of which is the indictment of Jon Burge and the fact that he’s actually going to trial.

But, Amy, it's important to understand this case in the context, as Darrell mentioned, not only internationally, but nationally. We sit here in Chicago actually prosecuting a torturer. That hasn't happened nationally. The administration hasn’t seen fit to even give serious investigation to people like Cheney and Rove and those who tortured across this world in our name. And in the same way that the conscience of this country cannot be cleansed without proper prosecutions of those who approved and participated in torture in Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib and places like that, the conscience of the city of Chicago cannot be cleansed until there’s a complete dealing with all of the issues of torture, starting with the mayor, on all the way down, and starting with the men behind bars and starting with all the men that need to be prosecuted. So there has to be an understanding that what we’re dealing with here is a microcosm of what’s going on and isn’t going on nationally, in terms of prosecutions, in terms of restorative justice, in terms of dealing with the victims and the survivors of torture, and compelling the court system and the powers that be to deal responsibly and thoroughly and in a just manner with the whole scope of torture as an issue, both nationally and locally.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Michael McDermott, explain who he is, one of the chief prosecution witnesses.

FLINT TAYLOR: Well, all these years, the first time that anyone who worked with Burge came forward in any form was in 1989. And they -- a detective anonymously wrote me and my partners, while we were on trial in a civil torture case, and told us about other victims of torture and told us that other men, including those who tortured Darrell, were participants in this ring of torture. That started our investigation, and it started us to unpeel the 110 victims of torture that we know about today. But no one -- that man or woman didn’t come forward publicly. It was an anonymous contact. It was anonymous letters. And we never knew who that person was.

It wasn’t until 2004, after the men were pardoned and we had lawsuits for them, that we were able to go out and talk to retired detectives who were black, and they told us, now that they had retired, that they knew certain things. They had seen the torture box. They knew it was an open secret. They heard screaming. But Burge kept them out of the loop, because he knew -- because they were African American, he didn't trust them with the secret of the torture.