Aldermen look to criminalize torture

While the ongoing federal probe into a notorious police torture scandal is a positive step, it isn't enough, some aldermen say. They're calling on the city and the state to criminalize torture and make changes in the ways that it's reported.

"We've decided we're going to be as vigilant as we possibly can to pursue this issue," says Ald. Ed Smith (D-28).

He introduced a resolution today calling on the city's Independent Police Review Authority to separate out torture allegations in its annual reports to the City Council.

The resolution also seeks to criminalize acts that fall under the United Nations' torture conventions. Neither federal nor state law currently recognizes torture as a crime.

Smith and other members of the council's Human Relations Committee voted to defer action on the resolution to allow time to incorporate suggestions from witnesses at today's hearing.

Those suggestions include creating a special unit within city government to monitor torture allegations, holding new hearings for 25 prisoners who confessed after alleged torture, and financial compensation for dozens of people who say they were  tortured by city police but cannot sue because of the statute of limitations.

United States Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's office is  investigating whether former police Commander Jon Burge and other officers lied about whether they tortured over 100 African American men throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

An earlier probe run by Cook County probe validated the torture allegations but concluded that the three-year statute of limitations on crimes such as battery and assault would make it impossible to prosecute Burge.

Smith says it's vital to "open any window" that will bring former police commander Jon Burge to justice and facilitate investigations into torture allegations.

Joey Mogul an attorney representing several torture plaintiffs, says finding ways to compensate Burge victims is important.

"I think some kind of fund or reparations for these men so that they can get psychological treatment or other vocational training is warranted in this case," said Mogul. "I think that this is the least we can do to show that we condemn the torture that was committed by Mr. Burge and others."