The US Department of Justice and embattled mayor Rahm Emanuel are under mounting pressure to investigate allegations of what one politician called “CIA or Gestapo tactics” at a secretive Chicago police facility exposed by the Guardian.
Politicians and civil-rights groups across the US expressed shock upon hearing descriptions of off-the-books interrogation at Homan Square, the Chicago warehouse that multiple lawyers and one shackled-up protester likened to a US counter-terrorist black site in a Guardian investigation published this week.
Held for hours at secret Chicago ‘black site': ‘You’re a hostage. It’s kidnapping’
As three more people came forward detailing their stories of being “held hostage” and “strapped” inside Homan Square without access to an attorney or an official public record of their detention by Chicago police, officials and activists said the allegations merited further inquiry and risked aggravating wounds over community policing and race that have reached as high as the White House.
Caught in the swirl of questions around the complex – still active on Wednesday – was Emanuel, the former chief of staff to Barack Obama who is suddenly facing a mayoral runoff election after failing to win a majority in a contest that has seen debate over police tactics take a central role.
Emanuel’s office refused multiple requests for comment from the Guardian on Wednesday, referring a reporter to an unspecific denial from the Chicago police.
But Luis Gutiérrez, the influential Illinois congressman whose shifting support for Emanuel was expected to secure Tuesday’s election, joined a chorus of colleagues in asking for more information about Homan Square.
SPENCER ACKERMAN: Homan Square is a place where a number of undercover Chicago police task forces operate—the anti-gang force, the anti-drug task force—and it operates out of a warehouse on Chicago’s West Side that just sort of fades into the background view of the neighborhood. If you look out on the façade, as we’ve done, it doesn’t appear to have any normal police insignia signifying that it’s a precinct, like you would at your local police precinct. If you look a little closer, the signs are there. There’s a checkpoint out front with a yellow barrier to block traffic. There are both marked and unmarked cars in the yard. There’s an evidence locker in Homan Square that the cops have been saying makes the whole place public, and allows people to go look for that.
But as we started investigating, we had heard reports from lawyers and from police reform activists, criminologists, that what happens in Homan Square, beyond the sort of above and visible practices, involve things that you would only really hear about at CIA black sites overseas—extended detentions in which people are shackled and don’t have records made of where they are. That might seem, on the face of it, mundane, until you think: Relatives and lawyers have no way, when someone’s taken there, to figure out where these people are, which, as we had heard again from the attorneys who had dealt with police there, was a really disturbing thing. Finally, they had told us that when they went, as attorneys, to try and seek out their clients at Homan Square, on the few times that they were able to find out that someone was there, police would either turn them away or, when they tried to ascertain whereabout information over the phone, they would get the runaround and people maybe not telling them that they were sure that their clients had been there, or asking them, “How do we know that you’re actually a lawyer?” We subsequently found out that, you know, kind of sotto voce, in 2011, ’12, local activists and lawyers had brought this up with the Chicago police and had gotten the police to change some of their procedures, to make it clear that attorneys were allowed to visit. But we had found cases even after that where attorneys had said that they had been waiting outside Homan Square for the better part of an hour and gotten turned away.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: I want to get your response to the Chicago Police Department’s statement to your reports in The Guardian about Homan Square. They wrote, quote, “CPD abides by all laws, rules and guidelines pertaining to any interviews of suspects or witnesses, at Homan Square or any other CPD facility. If lawyers have a client detained at Homan Square, just like any other facility, they are allowed to speak to and visit them. It also houses CPD’s Evidence Recovered Property Section, where the public is able to claim inventoried property.” So could you respond to what the Chicago Police Department’s response was to the report, and also elaborate who exactly first likened this facility to a CIA black site? One of the people whom you interviewed for the piece?
SPENCER ACKERMAN: That’s correct. To go first to the Chicago police’s response to our story—and I appreciate you allowing me the time to talk about it—notice all the things they don’t say. They don’t say when attorneys have the right to talk to their clients there. They don’t say when attorneys get to access their clients at Homan Square. They don’t say what those booking—what those records are. They don’t say—that would document someone’s appearance at Homan Square. They don’t say when those records have to be made. They don’t say in what method those are supposed to be public. They never address at all the central question of someone being booked at Homan Square, of records being made available to the public, available to their lawyers and available to their families there. We asked the police those questions when they issued us and other news organizations those statements, and we’ve still yet to hear anything. For that matter, before we published the story, days before we published the story, we sent an extensive list of questions to the police. We got nothing. I went to Homan Square on Friday and was promptly turned away. There are lots of questions here that the police really do have to answer that are outstanding.