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ICAT Statement on H.R. 5688, The Law Enforcement Torture Prevention Act of 2010

August 6, 2010

Just a few weeks ago, U.S. Representative Danny Davis introduced H.R. 5688, The Law Enforcement Torture Prevention Act of 2010, which would allow police officers to be prosecuted for acts of torture, which the bill defines as the “intentional infliction of severe pain and suffering.”  The bill comes in response to the case of Jon Burge. From 1972 to 1991, over 110 African American men and women were tortured by Burge and his detectives at Area 2 and 3 police headquarters in Chicago.  The torture, which was intended to extract confessions, included electric shocks to men’s genitals and ears; anal rape with cattle prods; suffocation with plastic bags; mock executions, beatings, and routine deprivation of bathroom facilities, food and sleep.

These are not mere allegations. A raft of judicial decisions, administrative admissions, findings by a special prosecutor and the recent perjury conviction of Burge prove the cases of police torture. Yet when Burge was convicted in Federal Court a few weeks ago, it was not for these acts of torture, but for lying about them in a civil case. Protected by a code of silence and the statute of limitations, Burge and his henchmen were never brought to trial for the many crimes of assault or attempted murder they committed. Davis’s law, co-sponsored by Reps. Bobby Rush and Jesse Jackson Jr., would make torture a crime, and its prosecution unlimited by a statute of limitations.  The special nature of torture – which violates the body and spirit of its victims, and defiles our most basic national principles of fairness and decency –requires special sanction.

The language of HR 5688 is drawn directly from the United Nations Convention Against Torture (CAT), to which the United States is a signatory. This Convention prohibits the use of torture – both physical and mental – for any reason whatsoever, and obliges states to investigate and prosecute torture committed within their national bounds. Though the U.S. government affirmed its commitment to CAT “throughout its territory,” it at the same time asserted that the treaty is not self-executing, meaning that it will not be enforced domestically without specific federal legislation.  The Torture Prevention Act of 2010 would therefore bring the United States into fuller compliance with CAT while denying impunity for crimes of torture committed by law enforcement officials and other government actors acting under the color of the law.

The introduction of this bill thus represents an important step forward in the struggle to end U.S. sponsored torture both at home and abroad.

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