Chicago police accused of operating Gitmo-style ‘black site’ for interrogations

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a longtime proponent of closing the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, may have a Gitmo of his own in Chicago.

According to a report published Tuesday by The Guardian, the Chicago Police Department operates a “black site” on the west side of Chicago, where it interrogates prisoners without oversight.

Attorneys told the Guardian that prisoners being held in the facility, a warehouse known as Homan Square, are unable to be found by their lawyers or family while inside the compound.

People familiar with the facility told the Guardian that numerous abuses occur inside, including:

  • 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.

“Homan Square is definitely an unusual place,” said Brian Jacob Church, whom the Guardian describes as a former detainee at Homan Square. “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.”

Some attorneys told the Guardian the site, which is alleged to contain a cage, military-style vehicles and interrogation rooms, isn’t a well-kept secret.

“It’s sort of an open secret among attorneys that regularly make police station visits,” said Julia Bartmes, a Chicago attorney. “If you can’t find a client in the system, odds are they’re there.”

Homan Square
Photo Credit – Chandler West:Guardian.

She also said that a mother of a 15-year-old contacted her in 2013 because she couldn’t find her son and was told by an officer that he was being held in Homan Square.

According to Bartmes’ account, the mother arrived at the facility but was stopped by an officer who told her, “You can’t just stand here taking notes, this is a secure facility, there are undercover officers, and you’re making people very nervous.”

Chicago civil-rights attorney Flint Taylor told the Guardian that the facility falls in line with other unconstitutional practices the department engages in.

Eliza Solowiej of Chicago’s First Defense Legal Aid said she represented a man in January 2013 who suffered injuries at the facility. The man asked to remain anonymous and his current attorney would not confirm or deny Solowiej’s account.

Homan Square
Photo Credit – Chandler West:Guardian.

“He said that the officers caused his head injuries in an interrogation room at Homan Square. I had been looking for him for six to eight hours, and every department member I talked to said they had never heard of him,” she said. “He sent me a phone pic of his head injuries because I had seen him in a police station right before he was transferred to Homan Square without any.”

According to the Guardian, former Chicago police superintendent Richard Brzeczek said he had no first-hand knowledge of abuses at the facility, but said denying access to attorneys is “never justified.”

“Homan Square should be on the same list as every other facility where you can call central booking and say: ‘Can you tell me if this person is in custody and where?'” he said.

“If you’re going to be doing this, then you have to include Homan Square on the list of facilities that prisoners are taken into and a record made,” Brzeczek added. “It can’t be an exempt facility.”


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