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Matt Agorist’s speech at the International Conference of the Foundation to Battle Injustice with a report on «Torture in the secret US prisons: from Guantanamo to Chicago»

Matt Agorist, American independent journalist, US Navy veteran. The editor-in-chief and co-founder of the Free Thought Project, an online news publication dedicated to human rights violations in the United States, took part in the International Conference of the Foundation to Battle Injustice and the Patriot media Group “The Problem of Tortures and Its Undermining of the Criminal Justice Systems of the Modern Countries of the World. Searching for Solutions“, making a report on “Torture in the secret US prisons: from Guantanamo to Chicago.”

Мэтт Агорист
Matt Agorist

Torture in the secret US prisons: from Guantanamo to Chicago

Meera asked me to talk a little bit about Guantanamo Bay and prison system in general and torture. As you all know it’s been 20 years since the Guantanamo Bay prison was first opened by George W. Bush. Far from the US territory the existence of this jail is distant in the collective memories of the US thanks to lack of coverage by mass media. People held in Guantanamo are considered to be major threats to the US national security. It detained extraordinary “dangerous” people to interrogate detainees.
I was going to give a little background of Guantanamo and later about the Chicago black site prison. Despite holding 700-800 people in Guantanamo, it was later revealed that actually only a couple dozens of people were actually found guilty of any crime. Most of the people held in this prison were all innocent. They were mistakenly captured. While Guantanamo Bay prison is certainly a black stain on the US history, there is another dark thing that is taking place and no one knows about it in Chicago. Like Guantanamo Bay it is a secret black site prison, but this one is not for the members of ISIS or Al-Qaeda, it’s actually for American citizens. The Free Thought Project has been reporting on these atrocities carrying out in this facilities for years. It was discovered after filing a Freedom of Information Act request against the Chicago police department in 2015. The newspaper The Guardian discovered that thousands of people have been detained in this facility which is known as Homan Square. The facility became notorious for allegedly denying access to attorneys and committing human rights abuses. The officers at this CIA style black site have been accused of coercing confessions, committing torture and shackling detainees for extended periods of time without allowing them access to attorneys or even a bathroom.
On February 24 of 2015 The Guardian exposed the secret facility in Chicago. Arrestees were kept out of official booking data basis, denied legal representation, and were subjected to physical and psychological abuse.
This prison is known as Homan Square. According to various estimates, 7 000 – 8 000 people were held there from between 2004 and 2015. It was reported that detainees of this prison were subjected to physical and psychological abuse.
They were there for petty crimes like drinking in public. Some of them were there for murder. Although Chicago’s population is just 33% African American, and 33% white, over 82% of people held at Homan Square were black. Like Guantanamo Bay people who were held there, in this prison, were not allowed to speak to attorneys and in fact their attorneys had no idea where they were. Even children were held here. In September of 2013 attorney was denied access to her 15-year-old boy who was detained in Homan Square. He was held there for over half a day and never charged with a crime. Other atrocities consist of officers actually holding knives to people’s throats and actual sexual assault. In October of 2012 officers detained a man named Angel Perez. He was taken to Homan Square so that police could convince him to be an informant for them. He was held in a room against his will and tortured by officers Jorge Lopez and Edmund Zablocki who anally raped him with a gun. He was shackled as the cops tortured him and began to sexually assault him. After been tortured for hours he actually agreed to cooperate. He later set up a sting to net with 170 dollars of heroin. That was it. And the list goes on. Perez was never charged with a crime. In 2013 he won a lawsuit against the city.
Highlighting the similarity between Guantanamo Bay and Homan Square is the fact that former detective of Chicago police was also a Guantanamo Bay interrogator. His name was Richard Zuley and he was sued multiple times for coercing confessions, threatening suspects, going after suspect’s family members, planting evidence, and torturing people. That wraps up everything about Homan Square. I can go into a few more examples or I can answer some questions that you will have.


QUESTIONS FROM MEDIA REPRESENTATIVES:

Dina Karpitskaya, “Komsomolskaya Pravda”: I don’t really understand why these prisons are black sites. How can they make 8 000 people not to talk about what happened to them? And what is the court’s reaction to denying access to attorneys? The sense of it is not clear.

Matt Agorist: That’s the whole problem. People have been protesting this secret prison for years. Just last year over a thousand people protested outside and the Chicago police even refused to engage with protesters. They probably claimed that it is still under operation. They also denied that any of this is going on.

Mira Terada: Do the prisoners or the prison itself have any records or data? There should be.

Matt Agorist: Right. The man I mentioned, Angel Perez, who was sexually assaulted, there is a video of this.

Ivan Melnikov: Did they find out about this video during investigation?

Matt Agorist: Yes, it was released as a part of Freedom of Information Act. To be clear, it does not show the actual sexual assault. It shows Perez being dragged into a room and a door closing.

Ivan Melnikov: And later as I understand medical staff observed and recorded he had physical damage?

Matt Agorist: Yes. He had physical damage.

Ivan Melnikov: And the police still denied that it happened?

Matt Agorist: They lost in the lawsuit but they never admitted guilt.

Mira Terada: This is just one example. Have anyone else of those 8 000 prisoners talked about what happened to them? Have they sued the police?

Matt Agorist: No, another example was John Hubbard who was brought to the facility on February 2 in 2013. He was locked in interrogation room and died several days later. He died of an apparent heroin overdose despite being locked in a cage. The Free Thought Project reported on this in 2015. We found that police were accused of injecting suspects with heroin in order to force confessions,

Ivan Melnikov: I read investigations about this Chicago jail. This prison is not that famous as Guantanamo Bay prison.

Maxim Shugaley: I support the question that journalists asked. There is violence in prison, and of course it is difficult to prove it because this is a closed institution. They do what they want there. If I heard correctly, this is mass imprisonment in black sites, and people get released. This has been happening for a long time. A lot of people must have been released. The very fact that I was in that place, and I was hidden from everyone, is already a proof of the crime. How are the courts reacting to this? Do these people get compensations? To detain someone in a black site is a crime.

Matt Agorist: Most of these people winning their lawsuits. There’s been a lot of lawsuits. For years they’ve been suing the Chicago police and the city. I had a lot of examples.

Ivan Melnikov: Is that thousands of people?

Matt Agorist: It’s not thousands of people who have sued but thousands of people held there.

Mira Terada: How many people won their lawsuits?

Matt Agorist: There’s a lot.

Mira Terada: A number? 100? 150?

Matt Agorist: It’s under 100 people but the lawsuits were in millions and millions of dollars.

Lev Speransky, “Moskovsky Komsomolets”: Question for Matt as a journalist. As a colleague, he was probably trying to find the truth. At the beginning of the report he said that in Homan Square they hold people who committed petty crimes. Who needs to keep the existence of this prison in secret, if most part of the prisoners are not dangerous criminals?

Matt Agorist: We can look at the case of Angel Perez who wasn’t charged of any crime. He was held there so that police could convince him to become an informant for them. The Homan Square was a place where police could bring people off the books. Some of these people ended up in jail because they had actually committed a crime, but many of them were innocent.